Like many young men from the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa, Masslo had arrived in Italy seeking a better life and was working harvesting tomatoes, one of Italy's main crops and a key ingredient in many of its most famous dishes.
Returning back to the workers' shed one night, where he slept with 28 other migrants, a local masked gang burst in to rob the migrants of their monthly earnings, which had just been paid in cash. In the ensuing medley, they shot two migrants before fleeing. One lived; Masslo died.
His killing shook the country and alerted many Italians to what appeared to be a national problem with racism and immigrants. The state TV channel broadcast Masslo's funeral ceremony live.
Protesters numbering 200,000 took to the streets of Rome. Within months, the government had issued a decree - later becoming the Martelli Law - which sought to legislate on immigration and regulate the affairs of immigrants. Italy began to move from a country of immigrants to a land of immigration.
Finding a voice from death
Masslo's killing – and the reaction to it - reverberated far and wide, and it was immigrants themselves who were among the first to respond. One was Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan writer living in France, who published his collection of short stories called 'State of Absence, in collaboration with Italian journalist Egi Volterrani. An entire category, dubbed 'migrant literature' or 'witness literature', was being born.
Between 1990-1992, four books seemed to encapsulate this. The first was 'My Name is Ali' by Moroccan writer Mohamed Bouchane and Milanese journalists Carla Di Girolamo and Danielle Micconi, telling of Bouchane's life far from his hometown of Tifelt.
The others are 'The Emigrant' by Tunisian writer Salah Methnani and Italian Mario Fortunato, 'I was an Elephant Salesman' by Senegalese writer Pap Khouma and Oreste Bivitta, and 'The Promise of Hammadi' by the Senegal's Moussa Saido Ba and Alessandro Micheletti.
The books came from the need of immigrant intellectuals to make their voices heard and to communicate directly, through writing, with the Italian public. They are texts, often autobiographies, that talk about violence and the still seemingly unattainable integration of immigrants into Italian society.
From a wave to a ripple
Despite the attention it got and the significance of the era, this nascent literary flame soon began to flicker. The interest of large publishing houses waned, ceding the scripts to smaller, typically left-leaning, often independent publishing houses and those supporting the causes of Third World countries.
Still, immigrants had begun making their own cultural interventions. Literature became a way to overcome the stereotypes and prejudices held against those who came ashore to work, whether it be in the factories or in the homes of Italians, as many thousands of Ukrainian and Filipino women were doing, looking after Italian children and Italian elderly.
It was also meant to help them integrate into their new societies (although the term 'integration' is still a matter of great controversy). The negative image of immigrants being peddled in Italian media meant that changing Italians' perspective of newcomers became both important and urgent.