Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Felicia Bartolotta Impastato 1916 - 2004

Peppino Impastato’s mother

Felicia Impastato

Felicia Impastato

Felicia Bartolotta was born into a middle class family owning some plot of land, planted with citrus and olive trees. Her father is a communal clerk, her mother is a housewife, as she herself would be. She got married with Luigi Impastato, from a family of little farmers tied with the local mafia, in 1947. On 5 January 1948 Giuseppe, called Peppino, was born; in 1953 it was the turn of his younger brother, Giovanni. During the fascist era, Luigi Impastato had spent three years in confinement in Ustica together with some other mafiosos of the area, and during the war he had been involved in the smuggling of food items. Afterwards he would no longer have legal problems. Luigi’s brother-in-law, Cesare Manzella, his sister’s husband, was the godfather of their village. He was killed in 1963 by the blast of a TNT car bomb.

15-year old Peppino, who had long started reflecting on what his father and uncle used to tell him, was deeply struck by the death of his uncle. Felicia remembered him say: "Real crooks they are then!”. Very soon she ceased to get along well with her husbands. She said: “Soon after my wedding hell unleashed. My husband started arguing about everything and people should never ask what he was doing, where he would go. I told him: ‘Be careful, because I do not want people around our home. If you bring someone here, be him a mafia gangster or a fugitive, I will go to my mother’s ». Felicia could not stand her husband’s friendship with Gaetano Badalamenti, who had become the godfather of the village of Cinisi after Manzella’s death, and quarrelled with Luigi when he wanted to take her to pay visit to his friend. The arguments with her husband would become harsher when Peppino started his own political activism. For fifteen years, from the beginning of Peppino’s activity until the death of Luigi, occurred eight months before her son’s assassination, Felicia’s life was a continuous struggle, which though would never compel her to bow her head. In those years she not only had the problem of her husband’s friends. Now she had to defend her son, who reported the people in charge of the local power and the mafia, and broke up with his father, getting more and more involved in leftwing political activism along with a group of young people who would stand by him until his last days. Felicia defended her son from her husband, who had kicked him out of their home, and at the same time she tried to defend Peppino from himself. When she learned that Peppino had written an article about the mafia in the cyclostyled sheet L’idea socialista, she went all around Cinisi to collect the copies and destroy them. And when Peppino’s activism became more intense, she did not have the courage to go listen to his speeches, but getting a glimpse of what he would talk about she asked his comrades to convince him not to talk about the mafia. And she told him: “Let these disgraced people go!”.

As her husband died in an obscure accident, Felicia understood that Peppino was increasingly at risk: «I looked at my son and said: ‘My son, who knows how this is going to end for you’. I went to see him as he was in bed and told him: ‘Giuseppe, my son, I am scared’. And as soon as I opened the door of the room where my sister used to sleep, I saw my son, and this vision remained impressed in my mind ».

On the morning of 9 May 1978 the shattered body of Peppino was found. After some days of bewilderment, Felicia, decided to bring a civil action against the suspects for his son’s murderers. This decision was also meant to protect Giovanni, her surviving son who, on the contrary, in those years had been worked with his wife (called Felicia, as well), to demand justice for Peppino’s death. Felicia recalled: “I told him: ‘You shall not speak. Let me speak, because I am old, I am your mother, so they cannot do to me what they can do to you’». This decision once again demanded a radical choice from her, i.e. to break up with her husband’s relatives who warned her not to turn to justice.

On the contrary, from then on Felicia opened her home to all those who wanted to learn more about Peppino. Disappointment, when it seemed that nothing could be achieved, and the ailments of her growing age would never compel her to bow. At the trial against Badalamenti (strongly advocated by her and her son Giovanni), which was celebrated 22 years later, with the inquiry closed and then reopened several times also thanks to the efforts of some comrades of Peppino’s and of the Centre dedicated to him, pointing her finger to the defendand and with a firm voice she accused him of being the mastermind of her son’s murder. Badalamenti was condemned, as was his henchman.

Both have died, and Felicia, who had always said she did not seek revenge but justice, to whom asked her if she had forgiven them, answered that such savage murders cannot be forgiven and Badalamenti would not have to go back to Cinisi even after death. And the day on which the deputies of the parliament’s Antimafia Commission delivered to her the report stating clearly that the carabinieri and the judges had misled the investigations, she expressed her satisfaction as follows: “You have resuscitated my son”. Felicia always welcomed with a smile anyone who entered her home, which after a famous movie about Peppino, was crammed almost evert day but many young and older people who wished to meet her. They made her happy and made her forget about the many years in which only a few people stood by her. And she told the young people: «Keep standing up with a straight spine ».

She died on 7 December 2004 in her home in Cinisi.

The Rigteous against Mafia

positive examples to break the criminal oppression

As weel as a strong act is needed to stop a genocide or to spoil a totalitarian regime force, a synergy between democratic state and citizens is needed in order to neutralize the Mafia power, with the creation of an alternative attraction pole, that only individuals’ initiative can create. What is needed is the example of a contagious difference, the civil courage of the Righteous able to move the consciences, as it has happened in the 80s and 90s with the judges Falcone and Borsellino, preceded and followed by other magistrates, investigators, politics, priests, teachers, intellectuals, common people, who broke the isolation by transforming a single shelter in a collective force.

The Righteous are the thorn in the flesh of Mafia power: telling their stories, developing the educational memory about them, honouring them with all of the usual and unusual practicable forms, it is a powerful mean to fight the cosche, because it shows to new generations a way out - the possibility to break oppression and live in a condition of social and personal freedom.