Interview With Lampedusan Activist , Giacomo Sferlazzo: “Trying to change the world and realizing that the biggest risk is to be changed by the world.”

Giacomo Sferlazzo

Giacomo Sferlazzo is a most gracious man.  He is also a very busy man so I am so grateful that he could take the time to answer so many questions.  He is thoughtful and selfless.  And an inspiration.   Those coming to Lampedusa from so far away are , amidst much misfortune, lucky to have the activists of Lampedusa, of which Giacomo is one, fighting, endlessly for their rights, every single day.  If you think you know the story of Lampedusa, you probably don’t.  Sferlazzo’s words paint a portrait of the island in ways I did not imagine.

You are an important activist and Lampedusa. How did  you  come to  do this work?
I do not know if there are  important activists. I have always wanted to improve things around me, certainly improve them according to my way of seeing life. Lampedusa has an important role in the Mediterranean, the thousands of people who pass by here, for me there are only humanity to be welcomed, but they are history, with all its injustices and its expectations. I became an activist because I want to work on the story, of course with the minimum means that I have, of course along with others, founded the Association Askavusa, to which I belong, was one of the decisions that have accelerated this process of politicization of my life . I believe in community and culture are a weapon. Thomas Sankara, who is one of my models, he said:
For imperialism is more important to dominate culturally and militarily. Cultural domination is the most flexible, the most effective, least expensive. Our task is to decolonize our thinking.

Thomas Sankara

What I do is in this sense, and I realize that every day there  is work to do on one’s self. Being an activist in Lampedusa means to be an activist in the world, we must first understand how much we do not know, as we are ignorant, because our mind is colonized.

You are an accomplished musician — and  you have an album that  is dedicated to Lampedusa entitled “Lampemusa” —- — implying that Lampdusa inspires you. Tell me about  this.
Lampedusa for me is a land  that is epic, magical, mythical, spiritual,  it is the periphery and center at the same time, we are in and out of the story at the same time. The sea and the sky in Lampedusa are like two bodies that love constantly, this huge blue and this always have in front of the horizon, you are faced constantly indefinitely. For me Lampedusa is the place where you are reborn, as they say many migrants, the sun, the moon and the stars you see in this way so sharp. I make a clear distinction between Lampedusa and feel like a living being and Lampedusa, and I make this distinction even between the world and its inhabitants. Lampedusa, we say we love our island, but in reality the processes  of capitalism / consumerism also made  Lampedusa an object to be exploited for profit. If I have to look at Lampedusa from this point of view, but also the world, I see it as a wonderful mother tortured by their children.

How  do you  use music as activism?
For me, music is many things. Among these there is also the political and cultural activism.

Sferlazzo in the studio
Photo by Fabrizio Caperchi

I can tell what is happening in their lives and to look at  this particular story is important to the universal, of course if you have a life in which the ultimate desire is to have a new car, a cell phone, lots of money etc. etc., then the songs that will come out will be of some militants in the sense that we understand it. Pass through music messages, position papers. I think that is  the key to all of this is. I’m not sure you’re right, I always leave room for doubt, but that does not stop me from taking a stand and do what I  can because this position will prevail. The thing that feels more dangerous to me is the absence of stances. When no one is  an express how they feel it leaves the field open to indecision, non-choice, then , with their  strong interests , they can act more easily, making their own interests to the detriment of the community. The music, like art, must take a stand if you want to be militant, and I think an important aspect of my music is this:I take position with my songs and say what I think on political, philosophical and cultural, but music you can add many adjectives militant music, religious music, folk music, etc etc. the music is not to be defined is a means by which we can improve things, they can increase men more effectively than they can do politics or science. In that sense, I hope that my music will become increasingly militant.

With regard to the immigration museum in Lampedusa, why is it important to be the curator of the objects left by faceless, nameless lives Has it had an impact?
It is an  extremely important thing is to save the history of mankind.  This means to preserve what many humans have brought with them on  the most important journey of their lives, a journey that is sometimes the last one they will have. It Means restoring humanity to these masses too often deprived of their individual stories, their bodies, their emotions, their ideas, their words. Among some time when the children, the grandchildren, of these people will come to Lampedusa to look for traces of their history will find objects, photos, letters belonged to their ancestors, this will be very important. There are two aspects: the spiritual and the political, which in this museum need to overlap, reporting and analysis of what is happening in Africa with the new imperialism, and the evocation of values, emotions, needs that are common to all the ‘humanity. These objects have the power to do this.

Museo delle Migrazioni

What is a typical day in your life?
Fortunately I do not have typical days.

How  do the people of Lampedusa  feel about  the influx of immigrants to the island? I  have heard, for example, both extremes of emotion.
Many believe that it is a detriment to the island, others understand that Lampedusa save lives and make their contribution because it continues to happen. Let’s say that the island is divided.

Waiting on Lampedusa

You seem to give so much of yourself to the cause — do you ever feel that it is hopeless? That things can and will never change?
It sometimes I get this feeling, like impotence. I think the most important reason is the revolution we need to do each of us, of ourselves. That is the most difficult and complicated, but it’s something we can act directly and without apology of any kind. As for what happens outside of us there are so many factors that we can not control, when we want to change our behavior these factors are significantly reduced. To give a concrete example, decide not to eat meat and fish depends on us, and it is a very important ethical and political choice. Not to buy certain products depends on us, using cars less dependent on us, watch less TV, read more, strive for the common good and not the private etc etc. They are all little things that add up to make a big step forward. This comforts me and motivates me: I can change my life.

Please describe Lampedusa me. 

Lampedusa is a small rock in the middle of the Mediterranean island really is an island, because it is far away from the mainland. Lampedusa has a very unique history and place more meaningful, evocative and important, that sums up a bit ‘all the island’s history and character, is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Porto Salvo of Lampedusa. This site was created as a hermit, was a cave transformed into a place of worship, there was a hermit who officiated the double worship, Christian and Muslim, according to those who arrived on the island (Christian or Muslim), that between the ‘ other was a free port, in the sense that if two ships were making war, arrived in the waters of Lampedusa no longer fighting, he gave respite. In this sanctuary there was an oil lamp on all the time, which was fed by both Christians and Muslims, who left in the sanctuary: strings, cookies, working tools, oil, coins and many other things, a legend said that if someone took something from the sanctuary, leaving nothing in return, remained stuck on the island from the storms, and there are several stories about this.

Another great story is that of Andrea Anfossi, slave of the Turks who arrived in Lampedusa to stop and get provisions, they leave without the slave who had sheltered in the sanctuary. At that time (we are in the sixteenth century) in the sanctuary there was a painting of the Madonna and Child and Saint Catherine.
Legend has it that Andrea Anfossi dig a tree trunk and used the framework as a sail and came to the beach near the home of Taggia dell’Anfossi: Castellaro Ligure, where he was a church dedicated to Our Lady of Lampedusa and where it is still guarded the picture. Another church dedicated to Our Lady of Porto Salvo of Lampedusa is in Brazil, founded by slaves around the eighteenth century, who built with his own hands. Every year on May 12 in the church at Avenida Pasos, we celebrate the redemption of millions of human beings exploited and humiliated by slavery.

On 22 September 1843 Lampedusa was settled on behalf of the Bourbons by an expedition led by Bernardo Sanvisente who wanted to coincide with the religious public holiday, in fact September 22, is celebrated with a procession of Our Lady of Porto Salvo of Lampedusa. They lived on fishing until the mid-eighties, then Gaddafi in 1986 threw two missiles trying to hit the base born who headed west and all the media talked about the island. I was a child and I remember two things in particular of those years: the speed with which the island changed from year to year more and more tourists came, sticking more and more houses for rent, hotels, rentals, pizzerias, all built anywhere, without any criterion , abusively and many left the fishing for sightseeing. The other thing I remember is that suddenly appeared on Lampedusa maps, even there, we were there but not exactly where we needed to be, the Pelagie were represented in a square near Sicily, because otherwise it would stretch far the map to the south.

Immigration was another turning point for the island, for me it is a great opportunity that we have, in addition to saving lives Lampedusa can become a major cultural center in the Mediterranean, but now you have to work to get results in a few decade. The powerful have always used the island as a base or military or prison. Today there are so many things that do not work on the island and all governments at national, regional and especially local, have not done much to improve the situation, but we have not done much. The most critical are the school, which has adequate facilities to carry out educational activities, health: the island there is only one first-aid and specialists come once a week, there is a strong disease-specific mortality on this yet studies have been done, but the situation is critical. Transport for an island are of vital importance, remain precarious, especially in winter, and many other things that I’m not here to say, because it would take a lot of space and a minimum depth to understand better. I think that Lampedusa has an enormous potential, but must first look at its history and its recent past linked to the fishery and to a more communal life, we need to share more and talk more and then absolutely must create a network with the ‘ Linosa belonging to the same town of Lampedusa. The thing that I suggest to all who come to Lampedusa during a period of low season, maybe in the winter, because  it is then the island speaks and  knows how to listen can hear many things.
I know that people have a lot of misconceptions about what happens in the place where so many with so much hope at the end of the earth — what are some of these misconceptions

Sferlazzo with ruins of boats

The idea of ​​an island invaded, many arriving on the island believe they will find thousands of migrants on the streets that “invade” the island, this was built by the Berlusconi government and the media have used this for their campaigns election, for their economy. 2011 was a special year and shameful and images of those months have gone around the world, speaking to many students who arrive on the island from all over the world, they tell me that the image is still that of Lampedusa, of ‘island packed with migrants. The other misconception we have on the island of Lampedusa, which we believe is Rimini or Ibiza Lampedusa, Lampedusa is unique for its history, for its role in the Mediterranean and has for its natural beauty, we must safeguard these beauties and encourage other models of life and tourism.

Can you share a story about hope of the island?
Yes: the island’s history is a story of hope.

What is the hardest part of the work you do?
Trying to change the world and realizing that the biggest risk is to be changed by the world.

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