in AMERICA - Part 3
Between 1850 and 1930
millions of Italians left Italy to go to the USA. By the year
1871 alone, 400 000 Italians had emigrated. They were part of
the mass emigration, attracted by the promise of successful lives and
futures in America, the land of many promises. Italy was divided into
North and South, North being better because of its farm land.
Many areas suffered from earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters.
The people experienced poverty, some persecution and others fled because of war.
Initially, most emigrants hailed from Northern Italy. As time passed, the south
became the place of origin for most emigrants. With this shift also came an increase
in those leaving the nation. The reasons for the mass emigration of the Italians were many,
and there were differences in the reasons that made people emigrate from the south and
north of Italy. However, it is known that the standard of living became worse in the whole
of Italy between 1870
and 1900, especially on the countryside. Diseases and
starvation were the main causes of migration. Food had
become the biggest cost for an Italian family. Many
peasant families spent about 75 % of their money on food.
Despite the high cost, this food oftentimes failed to
even contain enough nutrition to sustain a person. In the
North, the population suffered from pellagra, a disease
which often resulted in insanity and death, whereas in
the south, fatal malaria plagued the nation's residents.
At first, malaria only struck in the coastal areas, but
this changed as deforestation, erosion and flooding
enabled the malaria to spread. The conditions which
people endured in these areas were unbelievable as 2
million Italians died each year.
To make matters worse, the agricultural system of Italy
was not modernized, and there was little hope of
improving the situation. Even so, some regions enjoyed
extended railroads, which allowed peasants living in the
areas around the railroads to concentrate on a single
crop and allowed them to export it, as well. However, the
railroads were not powerful enough to noticeably reduce
the number of people that emigrated to the U.S. Another
important factor in the emigration of the Italians, was
the agricultural crisis that Italy suffered in the 1880s.
During this time, Italian agriculture was hurt by the
increasing amount of products from America that invaded
Italian markets. The price of wheat and other products
fell, and unemployment increased as landowners and
peasants no longer could profitably trade. Many northern
Italians, who probably suffered most from the crisis,
didn't see any other alternative than to emigrate. In the
1890s many southern Italians also started to emigrate due
to economic troubles. Also leading to the great numbers
of Italian emigrants was a lack of democracy (few
Italians had the right to vote) and a low literacy rate.
Italian emigration was assisted greatly through improved
transportation by steamships and cheap railroads. As the
journey became easier, few people hesitated to leave the
country where they had been born.
Italians immigrants passed
through Ellis Island and there they saw the Statue of Liberty for the
first time. Many were not educated, could not speak
the language, worked hard jobs and lived in cramped
neighborhoods. Others, who were better educated fared
better. Not all the immigrants intended to stay, one-third came
with the intention of earning enough money to bring back
to Italy to start a good life. The majority stayed and sent
money back to their families to come to America. Many
started their own businesses, gained success as athletes,
artists, conductors and scientists. They successfully joined
other immigrants from foreign lands in making America what it is
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,
The Bank For Just Plain Folks, Cobblestone v. 13 22-27.