Yesterday, NIAF’s 2017 Voyage of Discovery (VOD) program – a group of Italian American college students brought to Italy by NIAF on an all-expenses-paid, two-week trip to rediscover their heritage – visited the Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, as well as law students from the University of Palermo and the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF scholars in the Sicilian city of Palermo.
Our VOD students learned about the legacies of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and their impact on Sicily’s judicial system, which was especially poignant, as yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death at the hands of the Mafia.
The Fondazione Falcone was founded in December 1992 after the assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was killed by the mafia in May 23, 1992 alongside his wife, Judge Francesca Morvillo, and three escort guards. The principal aim of the Fondazione is to promote the values of the rule of law and legality among young people, and to combat the presence of the Mafia culture in today’s society. NIAF and the Fulbright Program have partnered with the Fondazione Falcone to create the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF Program, which allows one Italian student and one American student to study law and criminology in each other’s countries for a full year.
Our VOD students had the opportunity to meet with one of our award recipients, as well as hear both Judge Giuseppe Ayala – a magistrate who worked alongside Judge Giovanni Falcone – and Mayor Orlando speak. In their speeches, both men expressed the sentiment that “Palermo was once the Italian capital of the Mafia. But in 2018, Palermo will be declared the Italian capital of culture.”
Judge Ayala spoke on the importance of collaboration with public prosecutors Rudy Giuliani, Charles Rose, and Louis Freeh back in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was with this international partnership and open line of communication that the city of Palermo – and other parts of Sicily – was able to begin deconstructing the Mafia network. That connection was fundamental in the fight against the Mafia. And while Sicily has not defeated the Mafia completely, they have at least given it “quattro schiaffi in faccia;” that is, they are slowly breaking the organization down.
For our VOD students, hearing the words of these incredibly brave and important local leaders in Sicily was especially important, as the purpose of the Voyage of Discovery program is to reconnect our young Italian American students with their heritage. Much of the discrimination against Italians and Italian Americans that our community struggled with (and continues to struggle with) stems from the history of the Italian Mafia. We are both vilified for its connections to our culture, but also placed on the silver screen and celebrated, in television shows like The Sopranos. Understanding the damage that the Mafia has inflicted on local communities in Sicily showed our VOD students the realities of what the Mafia is, as well as the efforts that Italians and Sicilians make in their continued fight against the organization.