On August 23, 1927, 88 years ago, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed by electrocution for murder during a robbery. Their murders were the result of anti-Italian sentiment prevalent at the time. However, at the time, many people protested this injustice, including one of my favorite writers, Dorothy Parker.
I thought I would mention this on the anniversary of their execution, as my blog also touches on Italian American history as it pertains to food. Vanzetti had trained for six years in Italy at pastry shops and bakeries. He was a caramel maker. Although, he did not like it because of the awful working conditions. When he came to the United States, through an agent, he found a job as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant. He worked at two other restaurants and he was fired from both. Later, he found out that these agents paid the restaurant owners for every worker they hired, so it made sense for a restaurant to fire and rehire new employees. He described his experience at one of the restaurants:
“The pantry was horrible. There was not a single window in it. When the electric light for some reason was out it was totally dark, so that one couldn’t move without running into things. The vapor of the boiling water where the plates, pans and silver were washed formed great drops of water on the ceiling, took up all the dust and grime there, then fell slowly one by one upon my head as I worked below.
During the working hours the heat was terrific. The table leavings amassed in barrels near the pantry gave out nauseating exhalations. The sinks had no direct sewerage connection. Instead the water was permitted to overrun to the floor. In the center of the room there was a drain. Every night the pipe was clogged and the greasy water rose higher and higher and we trudged in the slime.”
Vanzetti wrote an autobiography while awaiting execution. It is a wonderful piece of literature and is every bit as relevant today. If you have a chance, read it here.
His beautiful last words are here. Unfortunately, we still live in a time where man is wolf to man. He said, “If it had not been for these thing
I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men.
I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure.
This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for men’s understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words, our lives, our pains – nothing! The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fishpeddler – all! That last moment belongs to us – that agony is our triumph.”
Vanzetti and Sacco were killed that day, but their message lives on. Hatred, violence, intolerance, discrimination, bias, abuse are words that should not exist. But man’s inhumanity to man continues. Labor issues and economic interests are still at the forefront of our lives. The owner of Alibaba buys the second most expensive house in the world while the Chinese people are dying in factory explosions.