My name is Michael Cavalieri. I’m a proud Sicilian American, and my story starts with my Grandfather Agatino Alibrandi born in 1900 and his immigration from the humble mountain town of Limina, Sicily to New York City in 1921. Agatino was the inspiration for my journey to find my Sicilian roots.
It began like any voyage to get to a small Italian town, up a steep mountain around 700 meters to the town of Limina in the province of Messina. I will never forget the long winding dirt roads that led me along gently and decisively, to the top. I could smell the fresh Sicilian air and see the lemon trees waving in the distance. I remember hearing the bells of the goats rattling in the nearby mountains. I remember that day very clearly, when all my emotions welled up on the way. Tears trickled down my face, because I was getting closer and closer to my roots.
As I looked out the passenger window, I knew I belonged. Being here was my destiny. Me and Limina, united by a deep connection, years in the making. As we approached the town, I saw a big sign saying “Welcome to Limina”. My heart was racing, beating out of my chest. I asked my driver Vincenzo to stop. I got out of the car and jumped onto the cement wall next to the sign, reached up and touched it with both hands. That’s when I burst into tears.
I remember saying at that moment “Grandpa, I made it. I made it for you and mom.” I’ll never forget the feeling that moment brought to me. It changed my life forever. The red blood that runs deep through my veins IS Sicilian and my heart is filled with Sicilian pride to the core. At that moment I felt like I had finally made it home and it was this feeling that filled an empty void I was searching for my whole life. I’ve always felt a deep sense of respect and admiration for my Sicilian roots and for the Sicilian people. They are my family, now and forever.
And that experience that I’ve just told you, is what inspired me to dedicate my life to the Sicilian culture, and to honor it with my very first film.
“Ritornato” is the award winning short film that I wrote, directed and starred in. My movie is based on that experience, and was shot entirely on location in Limina, Sicily the town where my Grandfather Agatino was born. It tells the story of a man who goes back to his roots to fulfill a promise made to his dying mother, and in turn finds out a family secret that will change his life forever. I shot my film in a neo-realistic fashion, using only local people in the town, not actors.
Why was I compelled to tell this story? I wanted to make this picture not only for me, but for all the immigrants and ancestors who paved the way for people like me, to have a chance at a better life. We must remember it was not too long ago that Italian immigrants in America were considered slaves by some people, or looked upon as “the unwanted immigrants”. But, the passion, the love, the hard work and the relentless pursuit of a dream by those immigrants paved the way for a new America. Remembering our past, informs our future. Paving the way for better decisions.
I hope that my film “Ritornato”, can awaken and inspire other Sicilian-Americans of my generation to go back, search for their roots and share their own stories. The Sicilian culture is very special and I believe we have much more to offer than to just tell the stereotypical kinds of stories, like Mafia and mob style narratives. They do not represent Sicily, or Italy.
I will continue to try to portray Sicilian-Americans in a positive light through my movie “Ritornato”, and all my future films.