About Il Siciliano
Hi! My name is Nino Russo, and I am a Sicilian-American, but, as the song says, a true Sicilian. I have been in the States for a long time, and I feel very attached to this land, for all she has given me, for how she has treated me, and because there is no other land like this. My kids were born here, and their kids, and now I am a proud "Grandpa" of nine of the most beautiful and handsome grandchildren.
America is blessed by God, not just by the usual blessing, but by a particular blessing, a different blessing, a unique blessing. It seems as if God made her last by using all the experience that He had acquired in making all the other lands, all the other countries. This is a mystery to me, and I do not want an explanation for it: Do not look in the mouth of a gift horse.
We all come from somewhere, most from long time ago, others from just sometime ago, and others from a little while ago. As you can see, the country is on the move, as it has always been. Fresh new blood is added continuously to old blood, mostly from here now, but still some from elsewhere. And as we all come from somewhere, we all have ties to a country, to a culture of our own, to a distant land that gave me and others a reason for leaving that land, a concrete reason, in most cases, and not just a whim. One adores the mother he/she has, and longs for her when she is away, and many do not know who or where their mother is. But, non the less, still our mother, and we still love her.
Interactive map of Sicily. Click to view.
If a DNA could be taken from our souls, and could tell us where we come from, then, I am sure, all of us will feel more humble and we will be kinder to one another, and the world could be a better place for this, and life could be much easier for all. Our soul longs to know who we are, this is the reason that pushes man to develop and use is mind, all the time, to the point, at times, of insanity. This is the reason for which, for sometime, I have been almost obsessed in a search of my roots.
I came from Sicily, and came in the middle of my life, I was at a good age. I grew up in my home town of Sicily, went to school there, I played and studied there, I laughed and cried there, and have lots of memories, mostly good memories, of my Mother land. Here in the States (and this is the irony), I came to know the most beautiful part of Sicily: The history and literature of Sicily, the passions and sufferings of its people.
Through this I came to a better understanding of the traditions, the customs, the psychological make up of my people: Hard working, sincere, faithful, generous people. At my time, when as a child and then a boy, and as a young man, I went to school, I never heard anything mentioned about Sicily. We studied Italian language, and all that was Italian, and, don't get me wrong, it was beautiful, I loved it and still do, but we were told nothing about Sicily, and nobody ever complained, nobody ever even had a thought about it. It was as if we had been brain washed. Sicily was the land where we were, wasn't this good enough for Sicily? What had Sicily ever given us? Wasn't it enough that we consented to live there? What else Sicily wanted from us? We had other and more important things on our mind. After all it was Sicily's duty to give us all we needed or at least, all we could get. In the high schools we studied the history of Italy, starting lightly with the foundation of Rome; the Italian literature, and all that pertained to the interests of Italy, but very little was dedicated to the Sicilian literature, and even that was in passing by.
These omissions in the school programs worked with our young minds, where we failed, due to lack of exposure, to see and recognize the jewels of Sicily, be these natural, historical, philosophical or literary. To understand this one must undergo a long study of the history of Sicily, its place in history, and the external and internal forces that Sicilians have fought for centuries... no, for thousands of years, just to be able to endure and stay alive. I do not have the knowledge to explain to others what I am beginning to just barely see now, but we can do this together little by little.
I will do all I can to bring to you much "ancient" news, and at the same time I will try not to be monotonous, and, I hope, to make what you read light and playful, but always try to listen to what I am telling you. With the advent of Mussolini to power, the emphasis, more so than before, was given to the Italian language, and the Sicilian language was regarded crude and in bad taste. Nobody said then, or maybe knew, that if Frederic II, King of Sicily, would have lived twenty more years, and maybe even less, (he died at 56), the Italian national language today would have been the Sicilian language.
By the end of World War II, you could tell that a very strong and semi-voluntary substitution of the Sicilian language, in to the Italian language, had started. I say semi-voluntary, because while the new generations were taking as a "cool thing" to speak the Italian language, the teachers and/or any school authority did not do anything to block this outrageous progress, this genocide of a language, on the contrary, they required that we did not speak the Sicilian language at all. Unfortunately this was the fruit of politics and other dirty factors including, but not limited to, insensitivity and close mindedness of most high placed officials. This conversion of language is still going on, and it is not the natural evolution of language: it is a conscious and voluntary slaughter of the Sicilian language. To day, in Sicily, the school programs push some of the Sicilian literary agenda, but it is very little and maybe too late.
I happened to come across some Sicilian literature when I was a teenager: some poems of G. Meli (one of our greatest Sicilian poets), like "L'Origini di lu munnu", The Origins of the World, a comical poem where Jupiter, the father of men and gods, explains how he is going to create the world; and "Sarudda" a dithyramb, where the wines of Sicily are praised and a group of hard drinking friends, drink themselves to kingdom come. But what mostly caught my attention was a poem from the 16th Century, about the untimely death of the Baroness of Carini (La Barunissa di Carini). I did not have yet any interest for knowledge about Sicily, and I never took anything seriously about Sicily. I visited a couple of places, but with no interest, and I did not see what was clearly written over those ancient ruins.
In 1986 I had back surgery. Being idle for about two years is not a good thing, but it almost was a blessing to me. Unable to do any physical work, I dedicated myself to reading. It was in this occasion that I, in searching my library, came across, again, the Baroness of Carini. Together with this booklet, I found other copies, of the same poem, from other authors. I became curious and I started to compare the different editions. It was clear that all the different authors had different sources of information. The poem had been sung from generation to generation and never written. It was Salvatore-Salomone Marino who was the first to get interested in the poem and started a search by interviewing many, many people, who knew some of the poem. In 1870 he published the first edition, and in 1872 published the second edition reviewed and corrected, which is the most known in Sicily and elsewhere.
Anyway, soon I noticed that the differences among them all was, at times, great, as far as the story goes, and the actions was not keeping together with the times. One author would have some of the beginning and another had some of the end, and so forth. So, I thought, what if I tried to rearrange all and make a poem from start to finish? This will give the poem a chronological aspect, and may sound a little more interesting. My interest wasn't literary, but only practical: give the people a beautiful poem, where they could follow the story from start to finish, and enjoy it.
It took me some time to finish the project, even because I did not have all the material that I needed at my disposal. So, for some time I let it go. In the mean time something else happen: I had come in contact with other Sicilian poems, other Sicilian literature, and around 1990 or '91 I came to know of a Sicilian cultural club, in New York city, called Arba Sicula (Sicilian Dawn), and I subscribed to it. The publications that I received from Arba Sicula, opened my eyes and humbled me at the same time. Suddenly I saw how much I had missed. Suddenly my life seemed whole but too short at the same time. I had found the missing link. Was it too late to enjoy all the treasures of Sicily, that have always been there? We'll see.
Sicily is an incredible country. Its history is carved in the most deep corner of time. To follow Sicily throughout its history is the most satisfying experience anyone can have, even if one happens not to be a Sicilian. W. Goethe in visiting Italy and then Sicily said that "Italy without Sicily is nothing, here is the key to everything". Such are the diversions of its history, that it is of global interest and importance. Beside the help from books, I found another helper many years ago: the computer! With the computer I have been able to help myself a little more rapidly, and it gives me a place where to store my information and not to lose them.
I have been thinking, for quite some time, how I could share my love for Sicily and my enthusiasm and my pride for its history and poetry with the many Sicilians in United States, and I found that, again, the computer might be my best means. I am not a cyber traveler, I struggle with this monster that many times tells me that I am wrong, or that does not want to do things that I tell it to do..., but I hope I will manage. Now I ask you. Help me to put out, to divulge, the jewels and the glories of Sicily. Come and show to all our Mother land. Let us give our faith and our love to America, of which we are adoptive sons and daughters, but let us not forget our blood Mother.