During my time at Sant’Anna Institute, I had the opportunity to take the class, History of the Mafia. During my undergrad years, I mainly took biomedical classes for my degree, so I was excited to try something unique. In my History of the Mafia class, I have learned so much about Italian culture through the lens of organized crime. Many people are unaware of organized crime’s connection to everyday life.
As a student who is living on the coast of Sorrento, I have become familiar with how lemons, oranges, olive oil, and mozzarella, are a delicacy in Italy. However, all of these products have direct ties to the mafia. Most people expect the mafia to be in violent business, but that is not always the case. I learned in this class that the mafia started out doing organized crime by selling citrus fruits, and they could make a lot of money from this. The mafia controlled the water supply, which farmers needed to grow their citrus plants. They would turn off this water and buy the farmlands from the owners now that the farm production was low. Once the mafia owned many farms, they would turn the water back on and start selling citrus. The mafia cut out all competition by doing this, and from there, they could increase the price of their products. This scheme is what started the mafia we know of today.
Another thing I got to experience in my History of the Mafia class was meeting an ex-mafia boss. I met Mr. Luigi Bonaventura, a former associate of the ‘Ndrangheta, also known as the Calabrian Mafia. Bonaventura came from a lineage of mafia bosses, and he was next in line. From the moment he could walk, he was raised as a soldier. This not only included the use of weapons but also how to murder. Bonaventura, by the age of 14, was able to kill and use deadly combat and weapons while being blindfolded. He had about five kills before he started cooperating with the police. His story was intriguing and sad. Bonaventura loved his family, but he never got a choice about being in the mafia. He was forced into it and knew no other lifestyle. It wasn’t until Bonaventura had a daughter that he realized he did not want the same fate for his family. That is when he decided to leave ‘Ndrangheta and work with the police on anti-mafia interrogations and trials. His father attempted to kill him multiple times after finding out this news, and he still faces threats daily. Although Bonaventura does not get to live a normal life for his safety, it is because of him that many Mafiosos have been put behind bars.
Experiences like this are almost impossible to get in the States. However, while studying abroad at Sant’Anna, I got to experience first-hand how the mafia affects Italy’s culture. From political competition to produce production to economic development, the Italian mafia is behind many decisions that occur in Italy. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to understand the organized crime that has happened in Italy, I wouldn’t have understood all the cultural changes Italy has faced.
Written by: Cidney, Fall 2023 Sorrento student, from University of Mary Washington