News Archives - DECEMBER 2011
The Latest News…from an Italian American Perspective:
Lucia Mann is one angry Sicilian and wants everyone to know why.
A journalist turned author, she has made it her calling to bring awareness to the public of the prevalence of contemporary slavery. Her book “Rented Silence” is a fictional account of a slave set not in the 19 th century American South, but rather in the late 20 th century, primarily in Africa and Sicily. Illegal in almost every country in the world today, the slave trade has nonetheless grown over the years and represents a crisis that most people would be surprised even exists.
Born to a Sicilian mother, Mann has experienced firsthand the ravages of modern slavery. Her mother was a sex slave to a landowner in South Africa, where Mann was eventually orphaned. Now living in a cabin near the mountains in British Columbia, Mann spoke to PRIMO about her work in exposing contemporary slavery, her background and ways her Sicilian blood helped her cope with the contentious past.
Your family is originally from Sicily. Please tell us specifically where?
Modica, Sicily, in the province of Ragusa. Thus, I am naturally, Sicilian-bred. I’m proud to have inherited the blood of brave island warriors. An entry in my mother’s journal: “I speak Italian, but I’m not Italian. I am Sicilian. There is a difference.”
How has growing up Sicilian helped you in your career today?
I was born in the wake of World War ll, abandoned at birth in British Colonial South Africa, and did not know that I was “Sicilian” until the classification by the British government - “mixed-race” – “colored” - cropped up on paperwork much later.
You mentioned that your mother was a sex slave at a concentration camp in World War ll. Please tell us about your mother and the situation of her internment. Was hers a unique situation among Italian women or common at the time?
Sadly, I never knew my mother in real life. Only after her death, was I able to fill in the missing jigsaw pieces. Her story and mine have been exposed in my book: Rented Silence. With an author’s licence, I have fictionalized events for dramatic purposes. This is very painful for me to talk about, but what I can tell you is that my mother (whose Jewish ancestry dates back to the Spanish inquisition), was rounded up with other children during the last year of the war, taken to a brothel, (period of time there unknown) then shipped to a concentration camp which I believe was Auschwitz. There, she was tattooed with the letter Z: the German identification for Gypsy. My mother was extremely dark-skinned and had Romany features and a Catholic. I’m not sure if her Jewish background was identified at the time of her incarceration.
After the war, she was sent to a displacement camp in Italy and later (as a refugee) boarded an ocean liner for South Africa. There, she was a migrant worker on a white-owned sugar refinery. Subsequently, raped by the owner and kept as a sex slave (period unknown) until her escape in late 1945. Sad to say it but her situation was not unique during World War II.
How have you coped with the knowledge of your mother’s past and the events that led you to be orphaned?
My mother, age 14, was very young, practically a child herself, totally ignorant of what pregnancy meant. She was in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, and with no one to turn to, she panicked. You see, she was a "possession" of an evil man. I have to feel sorry for her... put myself in her shoes... I don't know if I could have kept children (twins) the result of a rape bound to her womb for nine months. I forgive Maria for discarding her children, but there are days that I deal with the clinical abandonment issues. However, my mother gave me the best gift ever----humor! It has been a Sicilian gem in my survival kit. I tell people that I'm a discarded half-eaten mango found in a compost mound.
How pervasive is the problem of slavery today? Does it exist in Italy?
The statistics speak for themselves: According to the United Nations, there are more than 27 million – 27 million - slaves worldwide, which are more than twice the number of those who were enslaved over the 400 years that transatlantic slavers trafficked humans to work in the Americas. Eighty percent are female, and 50 percent are underage children. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, over 2,000 Haitian children have been sold into slavery.
A Canadian TV station recently highlighted the abuse of African immigrants who worked as seasonal tree planters in the British Columbia interior. These poor people were subjected to unthinkable slave-like conditions. Men and women worked from 4:00 a.m., to long into the night. Their one meal a day consisted of bread and peanut butter. They received no breaks or fresh water to drink. They bathed and drank from a river, relieved themselves in the woods and traveled and slept shoulder-to-shoulder in a beat-up old van. All the while, they were subjected to belittling vulgar vocabulary, racial slurs. And they remained unpaid for their labor. It is inconceivable in this day and age. But the fact that unconscionable people, even politicians and heads of state hire foreign housemaids, nannies, cleaners, gardeners, etc.; at very low wages, is nothing more than virtual slavery. What about displaced migrants who will never have any human rights? Like Daniel Velez, U.S. prosecutor in Philadelphia said: “Modern-day slavery is hiding in plain sight.”
Slavery is omnipresent. Italy’s sex trade, children trafficked to Italy, is now topping other countries with the highest rate of pedophiles. There are cutting-edge documentaries: “Italy’s Sex Trade Pulls Teens Pushed by Poverty.” Liviu Tipurita, a Romanian reporter, filmed a 14-year-old boy being pimped by his own father on a street in Milan. In Britain, details are surfacing of dozens of teenage girls in the care of social services who have been kidnapped by organized gangs and forced to work as prostitutes abroad, mainly in Italy!
What can be done to stop slavery in Italy and here in America?
Badger – protest, march to make the Italian government pass laws toughening the penalty for human trafficking – stiffer sentences like the 140 year prison sentence handed down to a woman in Atlanta. Not just a slap on the wrist as I’m told often occurs in the Italian court system. I personally, would like to throw away the key!
Many victims are killed before they can testify.
The Roman Catholic Church has to step up to the plate, open their doors just like they did during World War II, and give safe haven to victims, especially non-native victims who have nowhere else to turn. Make it known that a trafficked child/teenager/adult from wherever, can knock on a monastery or convent door and be given protection – not to be handed over to the police – who, in turn, hand them over to their slave pimps. Unnamed victims simply disappear. Some commit suicide. Some are murdered before they can put their evil captors behind bars.
Set up a hotline for victims – offering protection so that victims are willing to testify in court.
Wake up! Write letters to your MP/ congressman anyone who is willing to listen. You tell them how you would like to address this problem.
I’m convinced that there is a solution to this despicable, intolerable practice if we, collectively, highlight man’s injustices to men, women and children. Undercover operations – more police stings – expose profiles/faces of these criminals; run a mug-shot gallery in all media outlets. It will help to protect the public if they see the faces of their would-be predators. The fact that slavery has never left our shores – should be “breaking news” every day.
Also, by raising “honorable and responsible child”, only then will we begin to change the thinking of the left-brained literal and right-brained emotional people.