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The legendary Italian “Little Flower” who governed New York Son of an Apulian immigrant from Cerignola (Foggia), he is remembered for his strong sense of justice and his commitment to the defense of the poor.
One of New York’s airports bears his name by Joseph Tusiani
Fiorello La Guardia. Image from
the Mayor Fiorello La Guardia Collection
of the La Guardia and
Wagner Archives, CUNY
The election of Fiorello La Guardia as mayor of New York (7th November 1933) made the hearts of all Italian Americans swell with pride: Onorio Ruotolo immediately became the interpreter of their wishes when he wanted to engrave Hercules in the act of torching the seven heads of the Hydra on the commemorative medal. It was what not only the Italians but all New Yorkers expected of “Little Flower”, tired as they were of the monstrous aquatic serpent: corruption, poverty, injustice, racial prejudice, etc. But the sculptor’s metaphor was more subtle than it seemed. Hercules’ second labor implied the first: “Little Flower” had already defeated the Nemean lion, that is, all the forces that had tried to prevent his rise.
The rest is history and history already bears the halo of legend. One of the two airports in New York is called “La Guardia” after him, and the heart of Broadway has taken over the name “Fiorello” for a very lively musical comedy.
The term politician is hardly ever associated with the height of probity, but an exception must be made for this son of emigrants who, first as American consul in Irredentist Italy and then as representative in the U.S. Congress for 14 years, had made his mark as a person with a strong sense of justice and commitment to the defense of the poor. The city of New York needed a La Guardia, who, from the start, set to work by firing corrupt employees, mingling with people to see how certain offices functioned, cutting his own salary before talking about tightening the belts of others, and instituted ‘Welfare’ to help the poor and those unable to work, thereby becoming a flag-bearer for the era of the ‘New Deal’. But he was no dull, rigid administrator. Fiorello La Guardia’s good-hearted, jocular character shone out, and he was often in the limelight. He was not ashamed to have his photo taken while eating pizza or pasta in the company of Italians, and very often, in his unexpectedly tinny voice would use radio microphones to read and comment on the cartoons of his younger listeners, his comments often naughtier than theirs.
In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated him “Chief of the United States Office of Civilian Defense” and, in 1946, director of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), an organ that was indispensable to the reconstruction of a Europe that had only just got over the onslaught of the second world war. Fiorello La Guardia died the following year.
(Translation by Susan Perry)
From: Joseph Tusiani, I grandi italiani d’America (2011)
Edited by Cosma Siani
© Edizioni Lampyris - Centro Studi Diomede, Castelluccio dei Sauri (Foggia)