The word Guappo (pronounced-wop) as uttered by my ancestors, came from an ancient organization known as the Garduna whose members (the Guapo) were the struggling peasants of Southern Spain. These brave men fought the power of the corrupt Government and the Moors conspiring to control Spain and Europe. The Guapo's legacy almost died, when their fight came up against the unjust discrimination of the unstoppable Spanish inquisition. This Garduna was nearly broken, when myth and lies about them were spread. Some of the Guapo escaped Spain to become the Guappo of Italy; where again, they valiantly tried to protect the Italian peasantry subjected to the Spanish inquisition starting in Sicily.
Sadly, most Guapo / Guappo were never strong or educated enough to resist the abuses of power; so their lives were cut short and meagerly documented. As a group they posed such a great threat to the power -- the inquisition of the day -- that lies and stories were fabricated just to stop their numbers. Now most mistakenly believe that the word Guappo means a flamboyantly dressed clown or an "Italian pretty boy."
While the word Guappo in the United States became wop the English word unquestionably meant the verb to hit. Various early 20th century American dictionaries purveyed different definitions for "wop". In English and popular American poetry it undoubtedly meant to hit as in the most famous Rudyard Kipling line "When the ship goes wop (with a wiggle between)" from the poem Forty North and Fifty West.
Sadly recent dictionaries and encyclopedic sources claim that the original Neapolitan Guappo were associated with the Camorra or Neapolitan mafia. Contrary to my families original stories of Italy which taught that the individual Guappo was a "well-regarded and righteous figure" independent of national identity. He was a hero who rose above the crooked government and the abusive rich by attempting to bring some justice to the downtrodden. Sadly most of these old stories were buried over time and subjected to perversions brought by political correctness. In the once Spanish, Neapolitan Italy (the Kingdom of Naples) and The Kingdom of Sicily, he valiantly sustained and protected the poor. Perversely, around 1900 the Camorra claimed they represented the Guappo to increase their power. Many were led astray by the false claims that they represented the Guappo and their ideals. In Sicily and Sardinia a similar scenario played -- causing unrelenting suffering to the poor that still affects us today. "Old" Calabrian folk stories, myths still repeated, tell of three knights or pirates who were shipwrecked and settled in Calabria, Naples, and Sicily. The legend grew spreading the lie that these "Knights" became the heads of: the Mafia, the Camorra, and the Ndrangheta. My family elders vehemently denied these stories. It was an outrageous injustice to even suggest -- barely hint -- that the Guappo were associated with the Mafia. To do so was an injustice to my family -- a disservice to their identities and ancient heritage. A huge slight against those who fought for basic human freedoms and dignity. Modern research now bears them out -- the "knights" or "pirates" were more than likely the good Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisitions. They not only travelled to Italy but also to the New World. Their travels are well documented in Ed Kritzler's book, The Spanish Pirates of the Caribbean. Kritzler definitively explained how an entire people escaped the growing power of the Spanish church.
The accounts of Guappo subtlety depicted by my family showed that he appeared when society needed him most, like a Robin Hood, or a William Wallace -- just common men who sacrificed everything for the good of society. It was like the myth of the Guapo --Zorro -- who only appeared when society desperately needed a power to hold sway over the corrupt; and lessen the torment of the poor. These rare heroes are sometimes here -- living with us today. They are the ephemeral personalities that take the more difficult road for society's benefit.
In Italy, people still hear their cry:
BARI, Italy (Reuters) Thousands of Italians marched on Saturday in an anti-mafia protest and called on all citizens to take a public stand against Italy's powerful crime syndicates. Crying openly and shouting "Basta!" (Enough!); politicians and anti-mafia leaders made emotional appeals against keeping silent and read out the names of people assassinated by the mafia. "The mafia has not been defeated and above all the incurable ill of turning a blind eye needs to be defeated," said Enzo Longo, the Mayor of the Sicilian town of Capaci best known for the 1992 killing of a judge and his entourage by the mafia. The founder of anti-mafia group Libera, Don Luigi Ciotti, led the march holding a small piano flute that belonged to an 11-year-old boy strangled 15 years ago by the mafia, who then left his body to dissolve in a tub of acid. From: Yahoo! News Sat. March 15, 1:06 PM EST 2010
Whether you believe in the Guappo -- or do not -- or even if the "Wop" never existed, makes no difference. In the end the facts, the beliefs, and actions of one man, sometimes mistakenly called -- "the American Wop" -- my Grandfather -- made the legacy real for a boy and a force in the community.
My families often spoke that Italy's troubles were only magnified by Italian Americans' who returned to their homeland, with leveraged finances. They bought farms and property which inflated values and living costs. Their American learned gilded age habits stressing production destroyed the old methods that preserved natural harmony. They ruined the land and left the farmers and poor homeless and destitute. After, Thousands could only find refuge by immigrating to America. They arrived with only their stories of the disheartening fantasy and hell like reality for those left behind.
Most of these same problems including sickness and starvation are occurring in third world countries today. Drug money, finances the undeserving in South America which helps drive the property speculation in many other countries.
With so many poor increasingly suffering worldwide, our gilded age habits obviously have remained to grow and haunt us.
This is in part a story about my Grandfather (a boxer, a newsboy, a shoe shine boy, a gas station owner) and his family, whose lives were a product of both the technological revolution and the gilded age's excesses. It's a family story against the phony backdrop -- the hubris -- of those controlling industrial and technical development in the United States.
Their stories explains how the waste and destruction of natural resources helped create the brass and button industries that encouraged rampant industrial growth and bottomless economic crashes. One of the results of the age was a corrupt and sterile boxing industry that only benefited a few while destroying many. These drastic changes which eventually lead to a war-torn America and world -- are the topics of this book. The story is devoted to my Grandfather whose life of service to the downtrodden, also brought a relatively richly lived life and an unusual tragic death. American Wop -- a life, fought unrelenting against the injustices in our world to the bitter end.
The story naturally unfolds its rich history, that questions the technological changes that affected all aspects of life and demonstrated how rapidly changing media quickly swayed the masses. The narrations teaching a family and world history come from: the Scottish machinist who weaves his story of Americana just before he dies, an aging boxer who explains his meaning of life, and relatives who vibrantly shout out an America's history. Finally, it's a story of the a grandfather whose antics are impossible to forget, and pose serious thought on Rockefeller's big question -- "What does it mean to be human?"
This first book: Beaver Buffalo Buttons Brass Boxing and Beer" helps explain what it means to be human; adding undeniable context to the statement, "That's why you're here!"