Did you know that Sicily is both the largest region of the Republic of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea? It is one of five semi-autonomous regions in Italy (indicated by pink on the map). The native Sicilian language is still widely spoken and consists of multiple dialects particular to the area in which it is spoken. The island hosts the tallest, active volcano in Europe: Mount Etna. Another fun fact: cannoli comes from this part of the world and blood oranges are often used as an ingredient! In fact, the best cannoli I ever had was from the Bar del Duomo in Cefalu’, on the northern coast of the island.
Sicily has long been the “breadbasket” of the world, enduring multiple invasions and social policies designed to keep the poor in poverty and enrich the coffers of the wealthy. Prior to 1900, many Sicilians were considered to be peasants and, in fact, named as such within the civil records, a leftover designation from feudal times. The peasant class in Sicily consisted of five general types of occupations: agriculture, fishing, peddlers, traveling artisans and small shopkeepers.
The genders held distinct roles in Sicilian society. The father was the head of the household with the mother carrying out the decisions of her husband and handling the family’s finances. The wife’s main objective was to pick wives for her sons when the time came and to make sure they had a dowry for all the daughters and a bridal gift for their sons. Church marriage was the only form of marriage until about 1870 when civil marriage took precedence. After that, you will often find a couple marrying twice, in the parish and the town hall.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Sicily began to hemorrhage its people. Hunger, poverty and forced military conscription featured strongly in many a Sicilian’s decision to emigrate. Large concentrations of Sicilians immigrated to North and South America, as well as Northern Africa. In the last quarter of the 19th century, nearly half of all Sicilian immigrants came from the Palermo province. This mass immigration forever changed the dynamics of many Sicilian families.
The region of Sicily offers stunning views of the sea, great food, and glimpses into ancient history whether you visit the ruins of a Greek theatre in Taormina, the beaches of Favignana, or the charming fishing village of Cefalu’ – just to name a few. So, ‘esploriamo di Sicilia’ on your next visit to Italy!
 Robert Franz Foerster, The Italian Immigration of Our Times (Harvard University Press, 1919), vol. 20, pp. 104-105; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/: accessed 26 October 2016).
André Vieusseux, Italy and the Italians in the Nineteenth Century: A View of the Civil, Political, and Moral State of that Country: with A Sketch of the History of Italy under the French: and a Treatise on Modern Italian Literature (London: Printed for Charles Knight, Pall Mall East, 1824), 203-204, digital images, Google Book (http://books.google.com) : accessed 26 October 2016.
Salvatore Salomone-Marino, Costumi E Usanze Dei Contadini d Sicilia [Customs and Habits of the Sicilian Peasants], 1897, Edited and Translated by Rosalie N. Norris (Associated University Presses, Inc., 1981), pp. 42, 184.
Other photo credit: Tomas Anton Escobar