Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Italian Immigrant Experience (3)

"Labor agents, the notorious 'padroni,' enriched themselves at the expense of the "immigrants." The padroni [the loan sharks or flesh peddlers] hired gangs of workmen, charged a heavy commission for the service, and advanced passage money for the journey from Italy, also at a fancy price." (2) The padroni hooked up with railroad companies, factories, farmlands etc., providing work for the gangs of immigrants while charging an exorbitant commission for supplying the labor-power here in the United States.

Without further delay, the masses would pack their meager belongings, household goods and families into beast driven carts. They arrived at ports of departure throughout Europe, including Le Havre, Bremen, Hamburg, Genoa, Leghorn, Naples, Messina, Catania, Palermo, and Venice.

The vessels finally began arriving at the European ports of departures to pick up their human cargo. The emigrants were already irritable, their children hungry and crying. They had waited for days after their arrival at the wharf. The steamship agents had booked as many steerage passengers as they could squeeze on deck, or in the bottom of the ship, in order to make the trip financially worthwhile. These shipping companies made large profits by carrying "human cargo" to the United States. The emigrants on deck without protection and mercy were subjected to stormy cold weather conditions and the dampness of the sea. The days turned into weeks. Water was limited. The hungry emigrants in their desperation would push and shove their way to the vessel's kitchen, knocking down whoever got in their way, grabbing whatever they could to feed themselves and their children. The lucky might find raw potatoes, oats and rice, but they lacked a way to cook such food. Furthermore, the crew members beat the foraging immigrants without mercy if they caught them.

Everywhere there was confusion and disorder. Mothers saw their children starving before their eyes. The filth and the stench of unbathed bodies were overpowering. Diarrhea was prominent among the passengers. Their few personal belongings were often stolen.

Starvation, dampness and filth became the breeding ground for Cholera and death. The bodies were weighed down and tossed into the sea like animals. If they wanted to survive, the emigrants had to stay focused on one thing: "The American Dream."

To be continued: The Italian Immigrant Experience (4)

contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

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