Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Italian Immigrant Experience (2)

Everyone was looking for a piece of the action as America expanded. Steamship companies, railroad companies, state immigration bureaus, as well as industrial firms and private enterprises, turned to workers in Europe. Ruthless businessmen hired unscrupulous agents to work on commission. They were sent to Europe with a collection of enticing pamphlets, advertisements, drawings and pictures. "Remember promise them anything, just get them over here. There's big bucks in it for you."

The commissioned agents, the "Smooth Operators," exploited the vulnerability of the masses. These operators promised wealth that would prove an illusion. But to the oppressed people of Europe, the hope of economic betterment for themselves and their children was the promise of a life they had long dreamed of. The smooth operator convinced the downtrodden that land was cheap, that jobs were plentiful and that some day they could return to their home country as wealthy land owners.

Between 1881 and 1917 four million Italians , mostly males, entered the United States. Many intended to return to their homeland after making enough money to establish a higher standard of living in Italy for themselves and their families. The industrialization of Northern Italy, which established a higher standard of living, slowed the emigration from this area. In contrast, the people from Sicily and the southern provinces struggled economically at the end of the 19th century. The land was not looked after properly; little was done to make the soil productive. Parasites destroyed most of the vineyards in southern Italy. The Sicilians did not have the opportunity to climb any economic ladder. Instead, they were reduced to sharecroppers, and they were obligated to stay until they paid off their debts.

To be continued: The Italian Immigrant Experience (3)

Contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

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