Geraldine Ferraro: Toughness and Fearlessness Rooted in Hardship

By Vivienne Heston-Demirel

The career of Geraldine Ferraro was remarkable, not only because of her nomination as Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1984, but because of her stellar accomplishments from what were extremely humble origins. She was the daughter of Italian immigrants of modest means. Her father died when she was 10 and her mother had to support her and three brothers as a seamstress. Geraldine was incredibly gifted and driven from an early age.

“In school she used to be captain of this, president of that, I knew she would become a leader,” her mother Antonetta [nee Corrieri] Ferraro told the New York Times in July 1984.

Geraldine spoke often of her mother as a role model of hard work and determination. When as a Congresswoman she worked in favor of the Pension Equity Act that same year, she said: “My mother was widowed at an early age and I saw first-hand how easily a homemaker could be plunged into financial disaster.”

As a young freelance reporter, I was sent to Marcianise, a sleepy, dusty, impoverished village in the Capania region near Caserta/Naples in the middle of that summer of 1984. The area was one of the poorest in Italy with a thriving and violent local mafia: the Camorra that still runs drug trafficking in the area. Marcianiese epitomized the stark difference in economic development between Italy’s north and south.

The then mayor of Marcianise, Piero Squiglia, now a Deputy in the Italian Parliament, made Geraldine Ferraro an honorary citizen of the town and named a street after her. Local people were extremely proud of the Ferraro/Corrieri families and the enormous success they had achieved in less than a generation.

I was invited into the home of a local pharmacist who was Geraldine’s cousin who showed me a photo album with some family pictures. There were none left of Antonetta and Domenico, Geraldine’s parents. Other reporters had +borrowed+ the photos but forgotten to return them.

It is the poverty and the stillness of the area that made the most indelible impression on me. Geraldine Ferraro’s rise testifies, not only to the American story but also to the resiliency and toughness of immigrant parents who against all odds, were able to instill such hope and discipline in their daughter.

For other tributes to Geraldine Ferraro's memory, click here.

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