report by Susanna Jacona Salafia
There is an old italian proverb that says "the fathers faults fall always on their sons." If it were always true, then there wouldnt be any hope of changing or progressing in a society: the father would transmit to his son, and that one to his son, in an unbreakable chain. But now, in southern Italy, that part of the country subjected most heavily to mafia activities, people want to belie that ancient proverb. The hope of a better society in southern Italy is coming from the children, from some of those very sons of mafia families who are proverbially destined to become like their fathers.
Gela is not only that Sicilian town where pople are forced to move to another city and change identity to escape the mafia revenge, as happened to Antonino Miceli, who refused to pay the "pizzo" (the monthly sum of money, extorted by the mafia from all shopkeepers): Gela is also a place where kids are rebelling against their mafia families. There is a real army of teachers, operators, and volunteers hard at work assisting them.
The mafia makes up only a very small part of the people in Italy, but it has lasted for centuries, basing its power on the traditional Sicilian "omertà", or the conspiracy of silence. But little children are now acknowledging that the real meaning of mafioso, is not, as in the Sicilian dialect, "beautiful, smart" but violent and deadly.
"My father was killed by the mafia and I hate it. He was a part of the mafia and was killed in revenge," confesses a ten year old child in a letter to her school teacher. "Enough with violence. Enough with the mafia because it brings only sorrow. Now I am alone as a little bird that missed the way home. I miss my father. I dont want to be addressed as a mafiosa but as a victim of the mafia."
In Gela in past years there has been a violent and cruel war between two opposing "cosche mafiose," Stidda and Cosa nostra, staining the road of this Sicilian town with the blood of more than one hundred people killed in retaliation. There are hundreds of widows and orphans abruptly hit by mafia violence that want to sever their links with the past.
"The mafia is a very bad thing, even for the sons of mafiosi," wrote another child of nine in a letter to his school teacher. "In fact, when we go to school we are rejected by our schoolmates. We are badly considered because having a mafioso parent.
"We know that sons follow the example of their parents, that they can easily continue their fathers work, creating a long chain," continues the child. "This chain now needs to be broken, for humanitys good, and because we could be all happy that way."
"These kids, sons of mafia parents, sometimes have problems of integration in a class, especially when their fathers have been killed by the mafia," explains a social operator, "All of our efforts are in this direction. The mafia can be fought not only through repression by the police, but above all by helping this new generation cut ties with their past and be integrated into a new social context. Make them aware that there is another reality apart from the Mafia. Its a very difficult process, especially when, for example, a schoolmate of a class gives a party at his home and doesnt deliberatly invite these kids because they are supposed to be mafiosi. The risk is that they feel refused and turn back again to the other cultural model proposed by the mafia."
"Enough war, each one must protect his future, without war, life is most beautiful" goes the short poem of another child of a mafia family. Sometimes its really difficult to forget what some fathers have been... and to break the wall of prudence and mistrust-- even in front of a little child-- is not so simple. But the "Antimafia" culture doesnt mean to simply reject all mafiosi, but above all behave with a sense of solidarity towards people that need help... because the fathers' faults shouldn't always fall on their innocent sons.
Susanna Jacona Salafia is a freelance reporter and editor in Italy. She has worked as a writer for Italian television, newspapers and magazines.