Are Sicilians Black? No, but the warmth of it’s people, culture, food and multiculturalism makes Sicily my favorite Italian region.
While starting my travel series, Ciao, Sicilia, I had a think about why I love Sicily. What was supposed to be three short sentences turned into paragraphs. Yes, Taormina, Sicily was where Michele proposed but even touching down in Sicily, in Catania, immediately, I knew I was going to love it.
It’s the warmth of both the people and climate.
When we first arrived in Catania, it was a hot June afternoon. The heat was oppressive but seeing the ornate balconies of the beautiful Sicilian baroque buildings, I wanted to take it all in and explore. Smart Sicilians had shuttered themselves inside to avoid the mid-day sun. The aged decadent architecture reminded me of Havana.
The first thing we did was eat and the heaping portions and warm smiles serving the food reminded me of my own family’s West Indian background. On another trip to Sicily, I even spotted a Jamaican restaurant in Syracuse!
Sicily is a cultural melting pot.
The strong influence of the Arabic and Moor (even the story behind the ubiquitous Sicilian moor’s head) culture is obvious in the architecture, art and cuisine. You’ll see Roman ruins and Greek temples — in fact, at one point, Syracuse was more important to the Greek Empire than Athens. Sicily was a big part of Magna Grecia. Sub-saharan merchants came through Sicily, people from Asian dynasties, Germans, Jews. You’ll see churches on mosques on synagouges. It’s spectacular. Modern-day Palermo is home to over 25,000 immigrants and has a thriving Muslim population. One of the most outspoken politicians against Italy’s anti-immigrant policies has been Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando.
Minister Salvini isn’t against Muslims, Minister Salvini isn’t against immigrants, Minister Salvini is against Italians. He is against our culture of hospitality, he’s against our Mediterranean soul, he’s against our history.Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando
We like the familiar, and to me, Sicily is familiar. A lot of Italian Americans are Southern/ Sicilian. Southern Italian food is familiar to me. Though, don’t get me wrong, I love the food from all the regions. But here’s the most fascinating familiar to me a Black American woman. Maybe it’s that Sicilians are Black Italians? Yea, despite that famous scene in True Romance, that’s not true.
Is she Black? No, she’s Sicilian.
This was a common refrain Lacey Schwartz, director of Little White Lie, heard throughout her childhood. In the documentary, Lacey described how relatives explained away her copper skin, black curls and full lips: attributing them to a Sicilian grandfather. Wendy Williams calls Italian-American Real Housewife of New Jersey, Dolores Catania (née Spagnola), Black Dolores. Wendy explained that sometimes Dolores “looked like a sister.” I see it. And I am often transfixed by Dolores’ beauty. Other Black women definitely see it. The reality star later revealed on the Wendy Williams Show that her dad is 3% Nigerian.
And maybe some of that familiarity is a bit of the opressed recognizing the oppressed — while in Italy, I want to be clear. That distinction is best highlighted in an excellent op-ed in the New York Times that is an enlightening read How Italians Became White by Brent Staples.
In Italy, Northerners had long held that Southerners — particularly Sicilians — were an “uncivilized” and racially inferior people, too obviously African to be part of Europe.How Italians Became White, Brent Staples, New York Times, 2019
You’ll hear people disparage Sicily for being chaotic, unorganized, terrible trash collection system, a hub of organized crime… and yes… some of these things are true. But for all the beauty, all the good, I’ll deal with the bad. So, are Sicilians Black? No, Sicilians aren’t Black… but ehh… menomale and as Issa Rae said.
And with that energy, my love affair with Sicily continues.