Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Italian Immigrant Experience (5)

Many of the immigrants arrived penniless, having exhausted their savings on the journey; those few with a meager savings soon fell prey to the waterfront sharper.

"All immigrants want to see New York even if bound for the West, and these "swindlers" would load them into the wagons, haul them five or six blocks uptown and tell them it was New York and dump them out after collecting a dollar a head." (3)

The newly arrived unlettered immigrants at the landing depot, unable to speak English, as well as ignorant of the ways of their new world , became easy prey for the professional con men. Frauds of all kinds were perpetrated upon these poor "greenhorns." Con men better known as "sharper or swindlers" would wait for the opportune moment, then sweet talk these immigrants in their native tongue, convincing them that they were fellow countrymen who wanted to help them get settled in America. The con artist could get them a job and find them a place to live, he said. This way, he discovered how much money they had. The immigrants would respond to the friendly faces by bearing their souls to the "sharper," confidences that eventually left them to face a life of poverty and extreme hardships.

Canal Street to Fourteenth Street was filled with houses of ill-repute known as brothels, , engendering infections that endangered the health and lives of all classes of people. The young immigrant girls were especially targeted by the houses of ill-repute and dance house keepers, searching for fresh young blood whom they enticed with promises of profitable employment. These often innocent girls would believe the cunning words, their naivete rewarded by their being drugged and forced to lead lives of shame.

The young male immigrants often sought out their countrymen--already labor agents or owners of businesses--hoping that they could get them a factory job, or possibly help them start their own peddler business. For entertainment, the single immigrant would seek the social life of the saloon. Here the young men were often lured into gambling away their money.

To be continued: The Italian Immigrant Experience (6)


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