In this new episode of  “INTERVIEWS FROM THE PAST”  we are going to talk with an iconic Italian character who fought against the Mafia in New York: Giuseppe, known as Joe, Petrosino. 

 -Luigi (the interviewer): “Good morning Mr. Petrosino, thanks for being here. It’s a real pleasure and an honour for us. Let’s start with some questions! Where were you born and why did you move to New York?”

Joe Petrosino: “Good morning everyone. It’s my pleasure! I was born in 1860 in Padula, in the province of Salerno, in the South of Italy. When I was a teenager my family decided to move to New York to try our luck and because we hoped to find a job and a better life there”

-Luigi: “How was your neighborhood in New York?”

Joe: “We settled in Manhattan, in the neighborhood  called  Little Italy, an area full of honest labourers but also gangsters and criminals, unfortunately.  At the beginning it wasn’t so easy: everything was new to me, but I made friends, I learnt English and I tried to earn a living as I could: I did a lot of jobs and I worked  as a street cleaner, too.

Luigi: “Interesting! How was  life in the USA for Italian immigrants?”

Joe: “Well…I must confess that at that time there were a lot of stereotypes about different ethnic groups living there and sometimes I could even feel racial discrimination and social isolation. Especially Southern Italians, like me, had to struggle more to be integrated into the American working class. We were mostly considered like Mafia gangsters or ice-cream men…there were some prejudices about us even because of our small stature or because of our darker complexion: sometimes we were called “Guineas” like our friends of African and Caribbean descendance. However, America was our dream and gave us a lot of great opportunities! So, I’m really grateful.

-Luigi: “How did you join the Police Department?” 

Joe: “I know…it sounds incredible! From street sweeper to the New York Police Department! I must say that languages helped me a lot! I was fluent in many Italian dialects: the Police noticed me and asked me to work as an informer in Little Italy. So, I finally joined the NYPD and I  was probably the first Italian language speaker in the NYPD ever! Anyway, apart from languages, I was considered a gifted detective and a master of disguise so I started to work in the investigation section.

Luigi: “Wow…amazing! And what about your friendship with Theodore Roosvelt?”

Joe: “Before becoming the President of the USA, he was the Police Commissioner: we became friends and I was promoted to Sergeant Detective. What a great satisfaction! 

Luigi: “So, you were a sort of Italian Sherlock Holmes in New York!” 

Joe: (laughing) Probably! You know, in the USA there was “the Black Hand”, an Italian type of extortion racket practiced by gangsters of the Mafia and it was considered as a big problem, of course. So, together with some other Italian policemen I created the “Italian Squad”, a sort of special squad that was responsible for investigating and uncovering the Italian Mafia in New York City.”

Luigi: “Exciting, satisfying but dangerous! What are your best memories of your career as a policeman?”

Joe: “I remember when I saved Enrico Caruso’s life: you know, I’m a lover of opera and I helped him catch those criminals who were trying to demand him money in exchange for his life. What’s more, I can’t forget when I discovered  the killer of President William Mc Kinley. Well, in all honesty, I had an amazing career. I’m proud.”

Luigi: “Yes, indeed. You must be proud of it! But what was your worst regret or moment in your career?

Joe: “This question hurts me a bit. When I went to Palermo, in Sicily, to uncover the secrets of the Black Hand in order to fight it. I only remember that day was 12th March 1909 and I was in Piazza Marina and….sorry but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” 

Thank you Mr. Petrosino…a true hero and a source of inspiration  to all of us! 

See you soon again in the next episode of “INTERVIEWS FROM THE PAST!”

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