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Immigration Experience

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Immigration Experience

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My Home in Italy was becoming hard to live in, especially with the news of the opportunity that existed in America; I had seen a poster that was created by the railroad and steamship companies that portrayed this method of travel as the most affordable way to travel. Many of the steamship lines offered their tickets to be all inclusive to make it a more affordable package to travel to America. With all the stories of opportunity this was the way I wanted to travel to reach my opportunities. The price of the tickets for the steerage or third class was about $25 which was almost three weeks of works pay.

There was protocol to follow if you were taking a trip on these steamships, those protocols were as followed: I was expected to reach the port that I would depart from approximately one day prior to the day I would depart for America. This was so that I could go through an extensive medical examination to assure that I had no lice and that I was as well as my luggage be disinfected and fumigated so that I would not transport any disease with me. I was also vaccinated. The trip by ship took us almost 12 days. My quarters that I would sleep and spend most of the trip in were in the steerage class, which were on the lower decks of the ship very close to the engine rooms. I was given a mattress of burlap stuffed with hay and a life preserver that was to be used as my pillow. The beds in my quarters were like bunk beds stacked two high. It was very crowded. Typically these compartments of the ships would hold approximately 300 to 400 passengers. The meals were served in the dining rooms where I was with the first class passengers. I heard rumors there were problems that occurred with overcrowding, rules of hygiene, as well as promiscuity that went on during these long ship voyages.

As we arrived in the America we went into the Harbor of New York where we were offloaded to go through immigration processes in Ellis Island. The back drop was breathtaking as I could see the Stature of Liberty over shadowing me as I got off the ship. As I entered into Ellis Island I could see that they would divide us by class to process us through, first would be the first and second class passengers that would go through a basic inspection process. The Steerage or third class passengers which is what I was, I had to undergo a complete legal and medical inspection to attain a card that showed that I had been inspected and what ship I came from, what my passenger number was, and it also showed that I had been checked at least once a day by the ship’s doctor. The inspection process took almost three and a half hours. When the inspection was over I was sent to the registry hall waiting to be interviewed by a clerk. The interviewer asked if I had money or a job or would I need to be handed over to a charge to find work for me as well as a place to sleep until I could make my way to Chicago.

Leaving Italy was very difficult for me, but I knew I had to get away from the poverty and try to make something of myself and my family. It was my dream to someday return to Italy with enough money to buy land. Living in a rented apartment, landlords charged outrageous rent and we had no privacy. Buying land would give my family the comfort of privacy and the ability to plant crops and raise farm animals like chickens. Moving to the America would make our dreams come true. Or so I thought.

Word in small Italian towns spread that meat packing facilities and steel factories were in need of laborers. I knew this is where I needed to be. I soon realized settling into Chicago was going to be less than pleasant. As I and other immigrants arrived, we found ourselves in a city of great prejudice. We were labeled “strikebreakers” and or “wage cutters.” I had assumed that everyone wanted to work, but it soon became clear the people of Chicago did not want to share the labor. They wanted to do the jobs that we were doing but for higher pay.

Although we were happy to work for less pay, it did come with consequences. We worked twelve hour days six days a week for less the five dollars a week. This meager earning was not enough to someday by land in Italy. I and other immigrants felt trapped. We were going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. . Because the only job I could do was seasonal I would stand outside in hopes they would call my name. I chose to work in the meat packing industry in the winter and construction in the spring. My work day was long and harsh. The meat factory I worked in was unsanitary and unhealthy. Afraid of getting my wages cut I went without water or breaks several times. The heat was unbearable and the stench from the toilets consumed the factory. It was then that I realized getting home was going to take longer than I had planned.

I have been America for one month now. The trip from Italy was long and near unbearable. But, we are in the land of America now and everything is going to be great. I do wish we made more money so we could send some home, but the jobs here are not coming very fast. The bosses that have the jobs do not like Italians very much, so we are only allowed to work the jobs the Americans do not want and they pay us much less than they pay the Americans. I hope as I stay longer the Americans will get to know us and begin to like us. I am not sure how long that will take because there are people here from all types of countries and they do not seem to like them either, especially the Black people here. I am confident that soon they will warm up to us, even though they really do not act like they think anyone should be here if they were not born here. I am not too worried I will win them over.

The money I earn sure does not go very far, by the time I pay for staying at the tenement house. For what myself and the other immigrants are forced to pay it seems like we could at the very least get the landlord to put in some windows. In the long winter it gets so very cold without any heat or any way to stop the wind. After working many hours it is hard to rest after I get home, no running water or plumbing (Shultz 2014), but it is better than living on the streets like when I first arrived. It is very puzzling the crime that is so prevalent in the tenement houses, the only people living here are all immigrants, why does a fellow immigrant steal and hurt a fellow countryman, I ask myself. I just keep telling myself someday soon I will be able to leave these houses. Soon the Americans will know me and begin to like me, soon, I think soon.

In the late 1800’s Italian immigrants was awarded their first chance to experience American culture. The first American island that we visited was in New York. The island was called Ellis Island which is considered a well- known legend now. In 1920 the immigration of Italians tapered off. However, between the 1800’s and 1900’s over 4 million Italians had come to America. The Italians represent 10 percent of the foreign born population. In the late 19th century decades of social chaos along with internal strife left a legacy of violence that contributed to the widespread of poverty in Italy. Most of us lived in the poor southern rural area of Italy and Sicily with, little hope of improving our life. In Italy we were faced with natural disasters and diseases that swept through our nation. Conditions were so bad that the Italian government could not afford to bring in aid to help our people. Political hardship was also a factor in motivating immigration. In the 1870’s the government took measures to repress political views such as anarchy and socialism. (From, Europe to America, 2014). Also, in the late 1800’s transatlantic transportation became affordable for Italians to travel to Ellis Island. This made it possible for the Italian immigrants to experience some of the many opportunities that America had to offer. The vast majority of Italian immigrants consist of farmers and laborers who were seeking a source of any work that would prove to be steady. Many of us dreamed of owning land in Italy. So, we moved to America to work and earn money (From Europe to America, 2014). Plenty of our single unmarried Italian men traveled to America to seek out their dreams. Many stayed in America all of their lives while the others returned. Within 5 years, between 30 through 50 percent of this new generation of immigrants would return home. Many of the Immigrants who stayed in America stayed in constant contact with their family. They worked hard to earn money which they sent home. In 1896 it was estimated that Italian immigrants sent or brought home millions each year. The money that the immigrants earned increased the revenue in many sections of their country which can be traced to the money earned in America.

During the migration, Italian culture place little value on education. As soon as our kids were old enough, they were introduced to the work force to earn money for the family. Education for the Italians consisted of passing moral and social values through parental instruction. In the 1920’s the new generation of Italian immigrants had a greater acceptance for education. From the 1940’s to our present time, the children of Italian immigrants can be found in all states in the United States and in many careers. Today the Italian culture is a vital piece of New York’s identity. For example, Fiorello Laguardia was just one of New York’s long term mayors who served as an enthusiastic representative for his lifelong heritage and city. Furthermore, Italian Americans are represented throughout United States society, from the National Academy of Sciences to the Supreme Court to the National Football League and National Basketball Association. Over one hundred years after the great era of Italian migration began, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren continue to celebrate our heritage that our forebears brought to our new home.

References

Digital History, 2006, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/italian_immigration.cfm

Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1381.html

From Europe to American: Immigration Through Family Tales, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~molna22a/classweb/politics/Italianhistory.html

Immigration Italian: Library of congress, Retrieved on April 17, 2014 from http://www.loc.gov

Journey to America, Retrieved on April 17, 2014 from http://www.mattivifamily.com…...

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