TRACING the FAMILY 'S  Tracing the Family's Footsteps !! FOOTSTEPS
...........TO A NEW LIFE !

" Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of nations. " Walt Whitman

Immigrants Living in AMERICA - Part 2


As foreign speaking immigrants entered America, many were met with hatred and discriminated when they first arrived. Their customs and their Catholic faith was oftentimes feared. They  were looked upon as different from the old generation of immigrants and were often viewed as people of lower class. Many residents of the United States feared that they were lazy and lacked intelligence. In reality, however, there was little difference between the old and new immigrants.   They all came to find their fortune, but what they  found were barriers to good paying jobs because of language and culture. For all immigrants, it was difficult to adjust, or assimilate. As they came to America they all brought with them their own traditions and languages. Their culture became their safety, the only thing they could rely on. The Italians largely distrusted American insurance companies, just as they themselves were not trusted by the Americans. As a result, many Italian communities formed their own associations to aid families in times of need. The Italians also brought with them their own means to obtain work. In Italy, it was common for a boss to find jobs for the unemployed (though they were often unskilled) by negotiating with employers. This was called the pedrone system.  In America, these bosses made a lot of money, as they cheated many non-English speaking immigrants. In time, however, the immigrants were able to make their living without the help of these bosses.   Many immigrants, who were mostly males, came to America to earn money instead of settling and begin a new life. However, as time passed the urge to return to Italy became less powerful. A few  did return home, but it was usually just to get married or to visit.  As time went by  more and more decided to remain in America, the number of women and children that immigrated increased. As a result, the image of foreign speaking families became more common in 19th-century America.


Though the "old" cultures were very dear to the immigrants, in time it became impossible to hold on to one's traditions. No day went by without contact with a completely different culture.  Many  were Americanized in some way or another, but still remained with the old ways  in other aspects. Even though many customs could be upheld, the conditions for upholding such customs had changed. For example, in America, it was impossible to make an "family dinners"  without using American food, or to be understood by everyone without using English. Therefore, they adjusted to English, as it was needed at work and in school. As a result, many  quickly learned the language, though it was largely unpopular. Partly because of their knowledge of the English language, the  immigrants came to influence American society, especially in when it came to religion.   The Catholic faith increased as Italians, Poles, Hungarians and Slovaks joined together religiously. Such large numbers of Catholic believers greatly impacted the American society of the 1900s. Even today, the Catholic religion has a great impact on American life. Even so, the Catholic faith has adjusted to the United States. As time passed, it became more and more common to use English in the churches, even though services were supposed to be performed in Latin. The Italians largely resented this Irish-dominated American Catholic Church. As a result, they formed their own parishes and built their own churches.  

The Italians came to compete with the Irish for the same occupations, and as the number of Italians in the United States increased, they began to dominate many of the occupations that was earlier controlled by the Irish. Most Italians came to live in the industrial cities, especially in the north-east of  United States like New York and Pennsylvania attracted many Italian immigrants. There they worked in various industries, such as woolen mills and shoe factories. Some Italians also became miners.   In time, the Italian women came to compete with Jewish women in the clothes industry, many were skilled seamstresses and tailors.   Many started their own businesses and were successful.  Some of their achievements were authors, entertainers, conductors, artists.  

However, many worked in the worst kind of professions. Many were garbage collectors. others dug sewers or built railroads. Though many of these workers had lived under hard conditions in their mother country, oftentimes their life in America was much worse. many lived in the worst of slums, crowded together in construction camps, or railroad wagons. In the cities, they lived in the worst apartments. Very little light shone through the windows, as their houses were packed so closely together. The hopeful, now had only their shattered dreams as their companion. They worked at least ten hours a day, seven days a week, and it was still impossible to improve their situation. They continued to live miserably in areas were diseases resulted in the highest death rates in the whole of New York. Tuberculosis was the most common disease in the dark alleys and narrow streets, which blocked all hope of fresh air. However, there was some hope of a healthier life for at least part of the year. Many  were able to find work on farms, where they picked berries and helped with the sugar harvests. Despite their prosperity, not many of these workers remained in the countryside to make their living, even though those who did were successful with their vineyards and market gardening in California. In San Francisco, fishing became important to many. Even so, most immigrants born on foreign soil still lived in the slums of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.


Unfortunately, the education of the children eventually was greatly ignored. Most parents felt that they could teach their children what they needed at home. Children were seen as an economic resource, contributing to the stability of a family's income. Even so, immigrant children were eventually forced into schools where they legally had to attend until the age of 16 (the previous year of graduation was 14). The parents of these children felt betrayed by the American government. These children were not only losing out on contributing to the income of their family, but also were losing the opportunity to learn of their family's customs. Schools were increasingly seen by parents as something to be avoided. As the  children became Americanized, they sought to be accepted by their classmates. As a result, a gap between the different generations  widened and conflicts increased. The elders did whatever they could to hold on to their  culture, whereas the youngest generation was ashamed of the same customs. Many didn't even reveal to their friends that they were of foreign descent. As the problems within families increased, so did the problem of lawlessness among the children. Though the statistics said otherwise, many Italians came to be seen as violent criminals in the eyes of many Americans. The distrust of Italians only increased as gangsters such as Al Capone became famous and as the Italian Mafia was established. In every city with a Little Italy, the Mafia was alleged to exist. There were horrible incidents resulting from the hatred that many Americans possessed for the Italians. Mobs forced their way into Italian communities and destroyed the homes and lives of many innocent people. All of the hopes that once had consumed the minds of Italian immigrants had now become a symbol of frustration. Many Italians felt that the decision they had made to leave their native country was in error, as they dealt with the difficulties of the new continent.

Causes of the Italian mass emigration by Linda Magnusson 
 Adrian Lyttelton "Chapter 9 - Politics and Society 1870-1915" 
The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy George Holmes. New York - U.S.,
 by Oxford University Press Inc. 1997. p.238,240
Harry Hearder "Chapter 8 - The Fascist Disaster, 1922-45" Italy: A Short History . Cambridge - UK, 
Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge 1990. p.233
Italians in America by Linda Magnusson
 Maldwyn A. Jones "Chapter 9 - The Italian Exodus" Destination America .
 London - U.K, Thames Television Limited 1976. p.193-216 
 Mary Beth Norton, David M. Katzman, Paul D. Escott, Howard P. Chudacoff, Thomas G. Paterson, William M. Tuttle, Jr. 
"Chapter 19 - The Vitality and Turmoil of Urban Life, 1877-1920" 
A People and a Nation Ann West. U.S.A, Houghton Mifflin Company 1998. p. 544-551

Blohm, E. Craig, December 1992,
Cobblestone Magazine Enrico 
Fermiís New World, Cobblestone v.13, p.30-33.
Zuber, L. Shari, December 1992,
Cobblestone Magazine Buon 
Giorno America!, Cobblestone v. 13, p.4-8.
Italian Americans Success Stories, Cobblestone v.13, p.25.
Hong, E. Karen, December 1992, 
Cobblestone Magazine
The Bank For Just Plain Folks, Cobblestone v. 13 22-27.

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 They Came to America  Immigrants Living in America  Italians in America   

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Date of  last revision: 10/18/16 04:25:27 PM.