Thursday, October 6, 2016

Under the Shadow of History: Four Dates for "Suosso's Lane" Before the Election

            Given the attention to terrorist attacks and political unrest both internationally in the US, added to the hateful election season targeting of immigrant groups, 2016 is growing remarkably similar to the year 1920 when Nicola Sacco and Plymouth resident Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested in a climate of violence and political repression.
             Before the Presidential election takes place, (Nov. 8) I have a cluster of program dates to present "Suosso's Lane," a novel based on the scandalously unjust trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti for a murder for which very little substantive evidence pointed their way. My novel treats the Plymouth, Mass. origins of the famous Sacco-Vanzetti case, and a history teacher's search 80 years later for lost evidence would prove Vanzetti's innocence.
             I'm taking part in a new book program at Milton Public Library on Sunday, Oct. 16, called “Fall Into Reading: Meet Local Authors.” Participating authors will have an opportunity to introduce themselves and their book to the public. And each of us will have a table on which to set up our books, meet with potential readers, offer books for sale, sign them, or just hang around. The event takes place from 2 to 4 p.m.; the library is located at 476 Canton Ave., Milton.
            The next evening, Monday, Oct. 17, I will be speaking on "Suosso's Lane" at The James Library and Center for the Arts, 24 West St., Norwell, Mass. The time is 7 p.m.; it's free.
            Later in the month I'll continue my rounds of Plymouth Country libraries with a program on "Suosso's Lane" at the West Bridgewater Library, 80 Howard St., on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m. 
            Finally, one more date before the election, on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m., I will be speaking on the book at Pilgrim Hall, the nation's first public museum, at 75 Court St., Plymouth. I hope to see some friendly faces somewhere along the line
             With the election less than two weeks away on that day, I hope to be able to draw some attention to the lessons of the Sacco-Vanzetti by pointing out similarities in today's politics to those of the 1920s when Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted of murder largely because of the unpopular beliefs and their nationality. For "Italians" in the first decades of the 20th century, substitute "Mexicans" or "Muslims" and you'll get the picture. 
             I believe the historical events dramatized in “Suosso's Lane,” while they took place a long time ago, raise questions that are still with us. Do we learn from the past? Can we? Perhaps it helps to remember what social and political condition were like in America a century ago.
             Among the social, political and economic issues important then and are equally important now was the stark disparity between the very rich and the masses of the poor, including those who worked long hours in low-paying, exploited labor. In "Suosso's Lane," Vanzetti's disappointment at discovering this aspect of life in the 'New World' is depicted in a chapter I titled "America Taught Him Who He Was."
               Though he had begun to think for himself in Italy and had been worked nearly to death in pastry factories in Italian cities, Vanzetti was not an anarchist when he reached the shores of the "new world" in 1908. By the time he trudged in Plymouth in 1913, his experience of life in this country, at the bottom of the heap where thousands and thousands of immigrants, as well as native-born Americans, struggled to survive, the still young Vanzetti had committed himself to a cause. His struggle to survive in America (and his observations of what life was like for the man), Vanzetti reflects in "Suosso's Lane," "taught him who he was, even before any of all the other things he was: a man, an Italian, an immigrant, a pastry chef, a reading man, a kind man, even a son. He was an anarchist."
           But simply being that thing was regarded as a threat, an evil, and sometimes a crime in itself by a frightened society in a time of social and political stresses, could prove a danger. Especially when combined with another strand of identity also abhorred by the 1920s American mainstream: Italian nationality. 
            "I am suffering," Vanzetti told a court in Dedham, Mass.,  after being condemned to death, "because I am a radical, and because I am an Italian." 
             In America today some people also suffer simply because of who they are. It's a troubling truth, a dark side to the American character. And it's used by unscrupulous people to seize power for themselves, especially in anxious times such as our own.