Italian Immigration Essay, Research Paper
Italians immigrated in large numbers in the early 1900’s. It is estimated that nearly three million immigrants came to the United States between 1900 and 1914. They immigrated to America to better themselves. Most of them lived in poverty and desperately needed an alternative. America was their alternative for a new way of life, a new horizon. I will discuss the arrival and acculturation experiences of Italian immigrants in New York City and Chicago.
To understand these immigrants, one must first look at where they came from. Most of them came from areas in Italy that were heavily overpopulated: “As Antonio Mangano, who studied the emigration, wrote in 1907, ‘Overpopulation in districts difficult of cultivation, heavy taxation, fearfully low wages and . . . . high rents have combined to keep the people poor and little better than the Middle Ages, and, at last, have compelled. . . . [many] to go elsewhere, usually to America.” (Global View, Origins, Italy, Farmers in Southern Italy) In addition to overpopulation and poverty, most Italians did not own land: “Most peasant families did not own land — in Basilicata, three-fourths were landless, in Calabria and Sicily, as many as five-sixths were without land . . . . Day laborers earned little, about 30 cents a day for men, less for women and children.” (Global View, Origins, Italy, Women in the fields of Calabria) When Italian immigrants arrived they were able to find jobs with better pay, and were able to have their own place to live. “Of the Italian arrivals one out of eight is unskilled, one out of four is a farm-laborer, one out of three is a common-laborer, and one in 250 has a profession.” (American Cities, New York, Italians, Neighborhood: At Work, Italians in America), Most of them went from being farmers to working in heavy unskilled labor, usually railroad, mine, and quarry industries. Some other Italians worked as bakers, cobblers, and barbers. The work available for Italians did not differ too much between New York and Chicago.
At home the Italians in New York and Chicago lived in somewhat similar housing: “As densely as Italians lived in Chicago, conditions in New York City’s lower east side tenements were far worse, yet overcrowding inside homes in Chicago could sometimes rival circumstances in New York.” (American Cities, Chicago, Italians, Neighborhood: At Home, tenement conditions) In New York, most Italians lived in tenement housing with six or seven floors, each floor with 14 rooms. These buildings were built almost on top of each other, immigrants could reach out their window and touch hands with others in the building next door. These were the most common places for all immigrants in New York City; “tenement floors contained fourteen rooms and accommodated four families each. In most, only one room per apartment boasted a window that opened to direct light and air. otherwise windows opened into narrow shafts between buildings.” (American Cities, New York, Italians, Neighborhood: At Home, tenements) In Chicago however, it was slightly different; “Interspersed with the wooden cottages are newer three-, four-, and sometimes five-story tenements, housing in crowded quarters a large number of people. A similar condition prevails of course in many parts of Chicago, making a sharp contrast with the high brick tenements of New York.” (American Cities, Chicago, Italians, Neighborhood: At Home, tenement conditions) In Chicago, there were two or three story frame cottages and some tenement housing but not as much as New York. Be that as it may, housing in each city was pretty overpopulated and not in the best shape.
It took the Italians a long time to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. It was difficult for the first arrivals to understand and speak English: “We find that an Italian who has come here younger in years, or who has received a good education, becomes speedily a thorough American, even if his occupation brings him into contact mostly with his own countrymen. And children born in this country of Italian parents can scarcely be distinguished by their speech or their habits from the children of Native Americans.” (Global View, Reactions, Welcoming New Americans) The second and third generation were much quicker to become ‘americanized’ than the first generation. The Italian immigrants always had strong ties to family overseas. They saved up most of their money to either send home or to use for passage of more family members to immigrate to the U.S. The assimilation process varied as to where the immigrant came from in Italy. Northern Italy was generally more skilled and had better education. Southern Italy was overpopulated and had little or no education. Education was the main factor in how fast an Italian immigrant would become ‘americanized’.
Italians immigrated to America to better themselves. Their idea was at first to make more money to send home to the family. Some even went back to Italy after making enough money. However the majority realized that America was a promising land where goals could be achieved. They saved up money and sent it home so the rest of the family could migrate as well. Once reunited in the States, they organized themselves so that they could be successful and live out their dreams.