From Fasci Siciliani to Little Italies: Assimilation Was Never the Goal

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ‘The Old Italians Dying”

Cubans were not the only ones to have such a revolutionary spirit. You can’t embrace Historic Ybor City without walking through the ground of the Italian revolutionaries that made it happen. Joe Maniscalco came to Ybor City in 1910, at a time where people sang in the streets, everyone was like a family, but those days, he mourns, are long gone. Picture it, Sicily, 1891. [7]

Fasci Siciliani meant “Sicilian Bundles” and was a radical response to unrest in Sicily’s working class. Sicilians had long supported each other through mutual aid societies that supported worker’s rights and the empowerment of every day Sicilian. In 1891, Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida organized the first Fasci Siciliani in Catania and it later grew to Palermo. Existing mutual aid societies folded and decided to join ranks with the Fasci Siciliani instead, with a dream of bringing unity and socialism across the island. By 1892 all regions in Sicily, except one, had a Fasci Siciliani branch. Fasci Siciliani brought Sicilians in of all types, varying ages, and did not discriminate based on sex. The Italian government, which had overtaken a once independent Sicily, had stolen land rights from rural Sicilian farmers and rendered them into ruins. Land equated to their wealth and the Sicilian people wanted their rightful land back. [8]

With the combined power of the Fasci Siciliani, they made their move. On January 20, 1893, Sicilians gathered and began working the land that now belonged to the City of Caltavuturo. The Sicilians said the land belonged to them and they were tired of the low wages and lack of ability to prosper. When Italian soldiers tried to force them off, the Sicilians taunted them with whistles and defiance. They were met with gunfire and thirteen Sicilians were murdered by the government. [8]

This ignited natural outrage and the Fasci Siciliani began organizing harder than ever, educating themselves on their rights and freedoms, and learning how to strike and protest. A fight for higher wages, lower rent, and reappropriation of common lands ensued and it gained enough traction to attract the Italian military’s full attention. Unfortunately, the movement was short-lived, when in 1894, the Italian government charged a number of Sicilians with conspiracy and rioting, jailing them without even as much as a trial. But the movement does not end there…[8]

Angelo Massari can remember the Italian bankruptcy and the violent suppression of the fasci movement as the eighteen-year-old celebrated the land known as Ybor City. Giuseppina Spoto bemoaned a visit back to her homeland after having experienced the joys of Ybor City. No one starved, and no one suffered. Everyone had a piece of the pie. The contadini (regular working folks) were tired of the oppression of their government and after their movements had been dismantled, perhaps, there was more to offer in Ybor City. [8]

Sicilians would find Ybor City to become a place of refuge, evacuating from New Orleans after what became known as the “Mafia Riot”. When eleven Sicilian men were executed by the state, despite having been exonerated by a jury, for the death of Police Chief David Hennesy, Sicilians knew that the Anglo population of New Orleans was a threat to their safety. As such, many such Sicilians migrated to Florida and found mutual aid societies to prosper within Ybor City. [9]

It would not be long before Ybor City, however, lost the sense of safety the Sicilians had grown to adore. Angelo Albano and Castenge Ficarotta found themselves on the wrong side of the law when an accountant for the Bustillo Brothers and Diaz Cigar Company wound up dead. The Tampa Morning Tribune reported the story where the arresting officers reported that while taking the defendants to the county jail through the route of Howard Avenue, they were stopped by a crowd who seized Albano and Ficarotta and disappeared into the night. Both men were accused of being part of the “Black Hand” Mafia and upon the feet of their dead hanging bodies read a warning: “BEWARE Others take notice or go the same way. We know seven more. We are watching you. If any more citizens are molested, look at our Justice!” [10]

The timing could not have been more pertinent. At the time, Black Cubans and Sicilians had banded together for quite a strike that had rippled through Tampa’s economy. The workers demanding fair wages had found an enemy in James “Frank” Easterling, the bookkeeper, known for hiring strikebreakers and as such, Albano and Ficarotta faced the lynching for their murder, despite never having been tried. Although Easterling was now dead, the City knew that the lynching of these two men would give the Black Cubans and the Sicilians the message they needed to receive. What was it about unity that had scared them so much? [11]

References

[7] https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00061999/00001

[8] https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/sicily-socialist-fasci-unite-workers-rights-italy-1893-1894

[9] https://themobmuseum.org/timeline_events/black-hand/

[10] http://www.westtampamurder.com/pdf/1910-09-21%20-%20Two%20Men%20Taken%20from%20Officers%20and%20Hanged.pdf

[11] https://books.google.com/books?id=_xX2WKoyfZEC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq=Angelo+Albano+and+Constanzo+Ficarotta&source=bl&ots=XYeBYyKFuT&sig=ACfU3U1f7-YEQVzQ0EI78_y6q31mZqiQXw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjz_-q-qtjtAhXv1FkKHRoGCCY4ChDoATACegQIARAC#v=onepage&q=Angelo%20Albano%20and%20Constanzo%20Ficarotta&f=false T

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Angel D’Angelo

Angel D’Angelo

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I’m not an expert or scholar on anything. I mainly write for me. If others see it, and love it, great :)