Louis M. Chibbaro Jr., an Italian American of Sicilian ancestry, has worked for more than 25 years as a journalist in Washington, D.C., covering government and politics.
He developed a strong interest in Sicily while growing up in New York City and Long Island, where he lived in neighborhoods with large Italian American communities and amidst an extended family with ties to Sicily.
He has followed developments in Sicily since his first trip there in 1985 as a student enrolled in Temple University’s Summer In Sicily overseas study program. Justin Vitiello, a professor of Italian at Temple and a writer and collaborator with the late Danilo Dolci, the internationally acclaimed Sicilian reformist, created the program as a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding Sicily‘s history, culture, language, and contemporary problems.
Lou visited nearly two dozen cities and towns during his 1985 stay in Sicily, participating in seminars with mayors, community activists, school teachers, writers, and farmers. Seminars with Dolci and Dr. Umberto Santino of the Centro Impastato of Palermo, a reformist organization fighting organized crime, were among the highlights of the program.
The Summer In Sicily program provided a solid foundation for Lou’s subsequent coverage of current events in Sicily as a journalist.
Lou’s visit to the towns in Sicily where his grandparents were born, and where he met his relatives in Sicily for the first time, strengthened ties to his Sicilian roots.
His paternal grandparents and great grandparents were from Lercara Friddi, a town located about 35 miles south of Palermo in the island‘s interior. They emigrated to New York City in the first decade of the 20th Century before settling in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Lou’s maternal grandparents and his mother were born in Salice, a small mountaintop town located to the north of Messina. The town overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and provides a view of Stromboli, the island volcano.
He visited more cities and towns in Sicily in 2000 and had the opportunity to meet relatives in the town of Compobello di Licata, who provided a first hand account of life in a small, picturesque town in south central Sicily.
Lou has attended numerous conferences and events related to Sicily and Southern Italy. Among them was a United Nations conference in New York in the late 1980s on the Casa Per Il Mezzogiorno, Italy’s controversial economic development program created to improve the standard of living in Southern Italy, including Sicily. Among those participating in the conference, with whom Lou had a chance to meet, were Giovanni Spadolini, the former Italian prime minister and leader of the Italian Republican Party.
Lou also met and corresponded with the late Jerre Mangione, the Italian American writer and academic who wrote about his Sicilian roots in the highly acclaimed book Mount Allegro. Lou is grateful to have had the chance to speak and correspond with Mangione about his interest in Sicily and his association with Danilo Dolci, about whom Mangione wrote in a subsequent book, A Passion for Sicilians: The World Around Danilo Dolci.
In part due to his study of the works of Mangione and Dolci, and the opportunity he had to observe Sicily first-hand under the program headed by Justin Vitiello, Lou developed a strong interest in writing about present-day issues and problems associated with Sicily.
“The richness of Sicily’s history and culture -- marked by the incredible archeological and architectural sites depicting Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, and Spanish influences, among others, and the varied and beautiful churches and cathedrals in the cities, towns, and the countryside, among other historic destinations -- is something that Italian Americans and everyone else should experience by visiting Sicily,” Lou said.
“But for Italian Americans, and especially Sicilian Americans, learning about Sicily’s past is only part of the story of this fascinating island,” he said. “To truly know Sicily -- the land of our forbearers -- we also need to know about it in the here and now.”