Eric Jaffe in Smithsonian Magazine:
The final season of “The Sopranos” begins April 8. But don’t count the bureau’s Matt Heron among the millions of viewers—he’s seen enough in his 20 years on the beat. Instead, Heron tells Smithsonian.com about the mafia’s rise to power, its most influential character and its first big rat.
Why did La Cosa Nostra come over from Sicily?
It started in the early days as a strictly Italian thing, a Sicilian thing. Over time that morphed into the term “mafia,” a Sicilian term that has since become generic, like Xerox. They started coming over into this country in the latter part of the 19th century, in the 1880s or so. The first indication I’m aware of was down in New Orleans. Everyone thinks it’s New York, but it wasn’t.
Why did they come over to this country from Sicily? One, to escape economic hard times in Italy. Also, to get away from the oppression being forced on them by the ruling government in Rome. Sicily is one of the most conquered pieces of land on the face of the earth. Consequently, it’s a mixed bag of cultural influences. Sicily for the longest time was looked upon as the red-headed stepchild of Italy, especially once Mussolini came to power. The concern was keeping the Sicilian mafia under control, so lots of guys said “we’re out of here.”