To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was.” It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.
–Walter Benjamin

Nonna and Nonno

The Edge of Cicero

Cicero, the gritty Italian neighborhood on the edge of Chicago was known in 1949 for nothing if not for its bigotry and mafia control.  The summer when Rose Baretta decides to get rid of the child she is carrying, is a time when men stroll the streets and women hurry home to get supper on the table.  Rose, a shy Italian woman would rather lie to her husband than give birth to another child.  Sometimes, on clear nights, when her husband’s voice floats into the bedroom, she longs to tell him everything.  Her real dreams are not to have another baby, but to be an American woman who wears lipstick and walks to a job in high heels instead of standing in front of an ironing board in her old, stiff slippers ironing her husband’s shirts.  Amidst the turmoil of her unwanted pregnancy, her husband Nick is desperate to put money in his pocket and is seduced by the gangster, Mister D.  Rose cringes at the thought of Nick working for scum and becomes more certain she doesn’t want to have another child.  In desperation, she turns to Asmara, a fierce and independent midwife, who believes every woman has the right to decide for herself whether she is strong enough to keep a baby close to her heart or let it go.  With shoulders squared and her spine erect, Rose gives herself over to the rattle of a snake’s tail and chicken feet, knowing her husband will never forgive her for getting rid of his baby.

When her husband gets some money in his pocket, he decides to go into business selling cars in the Negro neighborhood and Rose and Nickbefriends Thomas Lee, a Negro who owns his own car repair shop.    It is a friendship that takes Rose from the edge of Cicero, into the center of racial violence instigated by Mister D and fueled by her brother’s jealousy.   Rose must survive the powerful blow of mafia street justice that almost kills her husband and find the courage to confront Mister D in order to save her family and her dream of becoming a strong American woman.

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Betty Herself

Betty LaSorella

was born into an Italian family in Cicero, Illinois. After a lot of rabble-rousing and kid-raising, she now writes books and cooks up mischief and good food in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Kenyan Journey

I spent a month in two small villages working in the schools in Kenya. To read more about my adventure and to see how you can help bring clean water to the schools, watch this space for stories and ways to help.
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