Thursday, September 15, 2011

Today's Music: What's Hot And Why

By Miriam B. Medina

Music is timeless, ageless; it even transcends culture and language. Today, like any other time in history, is alive with vibrant, energetic music, much of which will stand the test of time. This article discusses what's out there today in modern American music, what's HOT and why. It's surprising to me how some music can meet different age levels, how many similarities there are between Broadway music, classical, pop, heavy metal, even hip-hop and salsa. There are many different things that go into making bands and various performers stars, but it all boils down to the music, the talent and the persona of the performers themselves.

Perhaps that's what makes American Idol Winners so unique they have an over-riding talent and charisma that even eclipse the music itself. It's extremely rare that stars like Kelly Clarkson or Daugherty emerge from American Idol to lead powerful careers, because so few of them have song writing skills or musical skills that outlast the talent of simply performing. So what is it that makes bands famous, what turns adults on, teenagers on, and people of all ages, so that a musician and their music become immortal? What is it that pushed a band or a performer to endure endless years of struggle and turmoil to find that pot of gold at the end of the musical stardom rainbow? What pushes these artists to work and create their own unique masterpieces that eventually stand the test of time, a work of art that will entertain people and influence people for years to come?

The fact is while there are millions of kids listening to Eminem there are hundred hip-hop artists passing out free CD's on the walkways of Venice Beach trying to get their acts noticed. For every Britney Spears or Madonna, pop stars that stand the test of time there are numerous flash in the pan heartthrobs like Justin Bieber and The Hansons. Remember the Hansons from about a decade ago? Their song 'MmmmBop' topped the charts in the summer of 1997, and they were teen heartthrobs for about 3 months, then they disappeared. Like Justin Bieber now, they packed out coliseums and arenas for a summer.
Now they are struggling to put 150 people in a small club as they endlessly tour across the country. That's the fate of most musicians that actually ever have a career in the music industry. They spend countless hours practicing, playing for nothing or next to nothing, and then struggling to play clubs or small gigs, perhaps latching onto a larger bill at a bigger venue now and then as they wait for their shot or they feed off of a short-lived reputation they received from a small period of time when they managed to 'hit it big.'
Take a look at a few rock bands right now. Seether and Nickleback are huge, and deservedly so. They are extremely talented, and they produce fantastic tunes, some that still get a large number of airplay after a decade, but what separates them from Billy Talent or a powerful college touring band like 99 Burning. Both Billy Talent and 99 Burning fared remarkably well on college radio charts for a number of years. They toured. They played the small clubs. They have large, rabid followings in certain areas. Billy Talent is huge in Canada, but they don't draw or get much hype in the United States. 99 Burning is prominent in the Mid-Atlantic but have struggled outside of that area.

Why? What is the difference between those 4 bands. Talent level, there might not be a huge difference, and obviously, in such a fickle business, luck makes a difference. But a lot of it comes down to drive, perseverance and determination. If Billy Talent and 99 Burning keep pushing as they have for the last 5 years, playing as many gigs as they can and expanding their audience, in another 5 years, they might reach the heights that Seether and Nickleback have reached, playing in arenas and topping the BillBoard charts like Seether and Nickleback do now on a routine basis. In fact, Billy Talent finally has a national distribution deal in the United States, and after tons of work, it appears as though their time might very well be arriving. Given the chance, in 100 years, maybe fans will still be enjoying their music, their hypnotic guitars and their haunting vocals and lyrics. They certainly have the talent, skill, and song writing ability to create some lasting classics, such as Pins and Needles and Falling Leaves, which were big hits abroad and have been acclaimed by reviews and media. The same with 99 Burning, whose songs Political Insanity/Wasted and She's My Nightmare still get airplay on college radio stations around the country, 3 years after their release.

.What we must remember is that what matters is the universal principles of music, and personality and creativity of the artists. Mozart and Beethoven were child prodigies, they had a buzz before they were mature, but they had the goods to back it up. Their music is, as pertinent and important today as it was 150 years ago. However, there were hundreds of composers in their day who are long forgotten, as is their body of work. For each Cats on Broadway or every A Chorus Line, there are thousands of Off-Broadway musicals that are forgotten before the show even closes.

What's important is what the music does to you. I can close my eyes on the subway, listening to a beautiful classic piece and picture a moody moon, hanging in the desolate horizon on a lonely moor. I can feel the loneliness and pain, and taste the desperation in the feelings invoked by the song. The guy sitting next to me might get the same feeling from a TuPac recording, and the girl across the aisle might get those feelings from Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway. That's what matters, does the music translate the feelings that the artist felt when they created that song. If they did, the song will likely stand the test of time, and what's hot today will still be pertinent and listened to in a hundred years, just as artists in today's world sample and reuse Mozart. Music is timeless when it is truly classic, and if the artist believes it and works hard enough, their creation becomes eternal, and we all benefit from the work.

With 13 years of research experience, History in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion, and she loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. So be sure to check it out at, a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Standing Tall In The Shadows Of A New York Tragedy That United The World: September 11, 2001

By Miriam B. Medina

It has been almost a decade now and there's much to remember when it comes to the tragedy that befell New York, The United States and the world at the hands of Islamic terrorists on September 11th, 2001. The catastrophe itself was a real horror for those killed and injured as well as for the family of those attacked in New York City, in planes, in the air, and at the mighty Pentagon. Those people should not ever be forgotten. Pain fades but it creates scars and scars never disappear, but for those who survive, it takes plenty of help to move forward. In light of the apparent death of Osama Bin Laden, there is some closure in regards to the actual crime that was committed against humanity that day, but from every great tragedy, there comes stories of extraordinary heroism, bravery, hope and humanity. September 11th was no exception. A decade later I want to remember the good that came from the aftermath of this tragedy, the help, solidarity and compassion shared by New Yorkers and the rest of the United States in the face of such a tremendous man-made catastrophe.
Most people know the heart breaking details of what happened on 9/11. On a cool, crisp autumn morning, a handful of terrorists kidnapped several commercial jetliners. One crashed on its way to Washington D.C., killing all aboard, including a few brave passengers who tried to take the plane back from the terrorists. The plane plunged into the ground, thus saving hundreds or perhaps thousands more lives than if the aircraft had reached its destination. Two more planes flew into the World Trade Center, toppling and forever destroying the wondrous man-made towers. Many that were inside, simply going through a seemingly normal day at work, died in their attempt to escape the destruction or in their efforts to save people from the catastrophe. A third plane plunged into the Pentagon, killing many more people working to protect American lives and interests.
When all was said and done, 2819 people died in that tragedy. Over 400 firefighters, policemen, paramedics and civil servants died saving many people, and trying to save many more. We have been at war with terrorism ever since. This was an unabated attack on innocent civilian lives, affecting many more than those killed or wounded in the attack itself. It also affected many more than just New Yorkers. Over 100 different nationalities lost citizens in the attack. The Twin Towers were more than just a few extremely tall buildings. The World Trade Center complex was a beacon illuminating hope in the city from 1973 to that fateful day in 2001. The designs were finalized in 1964 for the 7 building project with the Twin Towers to be the heart of the finished complex. Construction began on August 5th of 1966. The completed towers were 1368 and 1362 feet tall respectively, 110 stories in height, once and the tallest buildings in existence. They housed approximately 50,000 employees and saw 20,000 visitors per day. People came to see the grandeur of New York. The towers were part of the financial hub of the country and the world. To many around the planet they were a symbol of freedom. Many people from many nations went there to build a better existence for themselves, as well as for their families and their communities.
That is America in a nutshell, opportunity and hope, where anyone can come and enjoy the freedom. We are a nation built of immigrants, and New York is the epicenter of the melting pot. This was no more evident than when such a large number of people from so many nations died along with thousands of New Yorkers in those buildings, and when the intrepid New York public workers, firefighters and policemen went into that building facing death or injury, they went to save anyone that they possibly could, not just New Yorkers. People from around the nation streamed to New York in the days that followed, making extensive attempts in whatever way possible to offer their help, as well as searching for survivors and victims. America always has unified in times of crisis, even if we squabble when there is no crisis. However, that's the beauty of America. We argue and fight to find the best way for all, so we can each enjoy our own freedoms without hurting others, and if need be when push comes to shove, we will even help each other out. America often gets a bum rap, as do New Yorkers. We are often labeled burly, loud, grumpy, and so forth, but September 11th perhaps more than any other tragedy exposed the true heart and character of Americans and New Yorkers. The love and sympathy and unity that grew from that tragedy showed who we are.
New Yorkers, in spite of their many differences, attitudes, and famous lack of patience, have always managed to come through for each other and the world. Believe it or not, New Yorkers are one giant family of dedicated citizens that help each other out in times of sorrow and need. We always have. Although New Yorkers are accustomed to social, political and economic upheavals, crime, overcrowding, deterioration of neighborhoods, intolerable housing, outrageous rents and high taxes, they accept the turbulence that is associated with daily life as a normal and inevitable way of life. However, it still doesn't stop them from being aggravated with these issues and complaining about them, as well. There are a few rotten apples in the Big Apple too, but then there are rotten apples and chronic complainers everywhere.
But what about all the emergency workers who bravely sacrificed their lives in the face of enormous endangerment that day and what of thousands of other emergency workers and New York citizens who faced the same peril that day and survived? Those terrorists didn't just violently take down the Twin Towers and kill thousands of hard-working people they attacked the American Dream personified.
Keep in mind that when we remember 9/11, we must remember New York and America's response to that attack. The bravery, the unity, the poise that was displayed, and love and human bonding that formed. In place of the victims and the towers that fell that bloody day stood a unified city and nation, united to seek justice against terrorism wherever it might run and hide. The commercial hub of the United States, the epicenter of trade, fashion, entertainment, banking, publishing, and shipping was assaulted, as were freedom and hope. Nevertheless as always, we persevered.
Leaders like Mayor Giuliani displayed resolve and poise. He guided the city through the horrors that we endured. Like him or not, he was a picture of leadership during that crisis. He did not sway but remained calm and focused. He gave the city and the nation the stoic, resolved face that it needed to see at the time. What of the united policemen and emergency workers who lost friends and relatives, who stood together exhausted as the President, addressed them and vowed justice. What of millions of New Yorkers who donated time, energy and resources to help the survivors get through the crisis?
It wasn't just New Yorkers who displayed the unity that the country and the world felt in the aftermath of 9/11. At the first home Boston Red Sox game after the sports world resumed as all pro sports ceased for days and weeks after September 11th, thousands of Red Sox fans stood and sang "New York, New York" to honor the victims of 9/11 and the citizens that survived. The fact that Boston fans, die-hard fans of a team with a 100 year heated rivalry with the New York Yankees, would show such love and support to such a hated rival says a lot about this nation, its true feelings for its fellow citizens, and its understanding of true priority.
Numerous nations around the world held a unified moment of silence to honor the victims. Many nations sent donations and assistance to aid in the recovery. In New York, as in the rest of the United States and most of the world, humanity exists, even in this day and age. We must always remember this.
We must also always remember September 11, 2001. We must remember the 400 emergency workers that gave their lives to save others to protect the symbol and ideal of hope, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We must remember the brave passengers on flight 93 that gave their lives to stop the hijackers from attaining their goal. The famous last words of a heroic victim, Todd Beamer, who died aboard that plane, were: "Are you ready? Let's roll."
Those words must not have been uttered in vain. Let's roll means to move on, to take action, and they hold more contexts in regards to September 11th and its true meaning than to take a plane back. We must move on and forward. We must learn from the heroism displayed by victims, by New Yorkers and Americans during that tragedy and its aftermath. We must roll on in the name of hope and freedom. We must roll on in honor of those victims. We must remember the unity, support and love that New Yorkers and the nation shared. We must always remember and pay homage to the wreckage and destruction of the symbol of the American Dream that were known as the Twin Towers. We must always remember and pay homage to the victims caught in that destruction and to those that have died since, protecting the very American Dream that the Twin Towers personified. That's the irony of it all. By destroying the symbol of freedom and the American way, the terrorists utterly failed. They united us in the name of those principles, strengthening our common bond. We must continue to build on that strength when we honor and remember those that died on September 11, 2001, and we must continue to prevail.
How about it America, are you ready to roll? Let's go build upon the American Dream that the terrorists tried to destroy on September 11th. Let's continue to protect and honor freedom, and lead the world by our actions and deeds, not our words.

Let's roll.

With 13 years of research experience, History in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion, and she loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. So be sure to check it out at, a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students.

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Friday, September 2, 2011


A.) Getting To Know Mimi (B.) N.Y.C. History (C.) Italian Harlem(D.) Spanish Harlem (E.) Black Harlem (F.) New York State (G.) Tenement Living: Social Issues Of Urban Life (Poverty, Crime&Vice, Homelessness, Group Conflicts, Diseases, Gays&Lesbians: Gender Identity, Domestic Violence, Drug&Alcohol Abuse, Police Brutality )

(H.) Chit-Chat Over Coffee Swirls

(I.) Jewish Knowledge (J.) Self-Improvement (K.) Historical Facts On England & United States

Table of Contents (5)
(L) Miscellaneous (M.) Timetables (N.) Ethnic Groups (O.) Legal Talk(P.) Entertainment: Backward Glances (Q.) Immigration

R.) Women__Bio Sketches, Feminine Fancies, Recipes, Kitchen Talk.(S.) Worship

(T.) A Little Taste of History, (U.) U.S. History-Transportation, (V) U.S. History-Panics, Economic Depressions, Business Matters

(W) El Rincón En Español (The Spanish Corner: ) . This section is dedicated to articles of historical facts, poetry, self-improvement, human interest stories etc. written in Spanish.

(X) So Mr. President, What Did You Do During Your Term in Office....? (The Series)

(Y) Brusciano, Italy News/Events

Y) Brusciano, Italy News/Events

(Z) The Italian Niche

Pensieri di uno scrittore italiano: dott. Antonio Castaldo

Thoughts of an Italian Writer: Dr. Antonio Castaldo

I) "El Rincón Borinqueña"

II) Arts and Entertainment

III Architecture

IV Education

V Wisdom: Thoughts From the Indian Masters

VI Understanding Music

VII Published Articles Written by Miriam B. Medina

Click on Icon to view articles on Ezine or on Table of Contents

VIII New York City Neighborhoods

IX Memories (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Personal)

John J. Burkard

X Red Hook, Reflections on History

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Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 4 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

Let's not forget the founding of the "NIAF", The National Italian American Foundation, which not only preserves the rich history of Italian Americans but also praises their innumerable contributions to American society. The NIAF's efforts have enabled many Americans of Italian descent to realize their dreams academically, artistically and culturally, while contributing to the tradition of their great heritage. It also supports education by offering scholarships and research awards for Italian-American students.

The Great Depression took a heavy toll on the Italian Americans, especially the men that worked in the construction industry. Regular employment was difficult to come by to support and feed their large families. The wives then had to take in homework just to keep her family afloat. It was easier for women to find work. Even the children needed to help out. If the wife was lucky enough to find work outside of the home, she still had to continue performing her household jobs, cooking, dish-washing, washing clothes and caring for the children. At the end of the day the exhausted wife sometimes fell asleep at the table until she went to work the next day. One thing for sure, as a rule, the unemployed men would never take over the household chores. The role of wife, mother and working woman was not an easy task during the early immigrant and depression years. As the Italian woman became more Americanized, "she took up mainstream values and fought for education and equality." By the 1920's and 1930's, Italian Americans were beginning to be assimilated into the American way of life. In the 1940's, there were still a large amount of unemployed Italians, but then the economy started to improve. By the 1950's, Italian-Americans were able to move to better housing and sanitary conditions. World War II was a major turning point for the Italian Americans in regards to acceptance into American society. Improvement in the American economy, expansion of higher education, suburbanization and government assistance to veterans occurred in the post-World War II years. These conditions provided opportunities for the second generation of Italian-Americans. They made rapid progress by achieving the success of home ownership, which gave them respectability and independence. Out of all the immigrant groups in America, they were known to have the highest percentages of home ownership. Owning a home was also a step toward assimilation.

Since the 1890's, the term "Mafia" along with crime and violence has been unfairly associated with Italian-Americans. This negative image has prevailed as public prejudice. The percentage of Italian-Americans that have been involved in organized crime is small in comparison to the vast majority who are hard-working, law-abiding, patriotic and civic-minded American citizens.

After the great era of Italian immigration, which began during the late 1800's into the early 1900's, Italian immigrants have moved steadily into the mainstream of American society seeing their children grow up as Americans. Many have moved from poverty and working class labor jobs earning higher educational levels, resulting in extensive accomplishments and economic success. The Italian-Americans have become respected members of their communities, contributing their talents and knowledge to America as a whole in the fields of arts, entertainment, politics and much more.

The early Italian immigrant, ingrained with the customs and traditions which were held sacred in the old world culture, in their attempt to transfer these same family values and traditions to America, created divisions and conflicts between both generations. The second generation found themselves straddling two cultures while developing their own identity. They became Americanized too fast, undergoing a substantial degree of change. They did not retain the language, the traditions or the customs, or accept the way of their immigrant parents thought. As the second generation became completely absorbed into the American mainstream, their lifestyle practices, their manner of dressing, and their choices of recreation and entertainment created a schism between the two generations. This culminated with much irritation, friction and unhappiness. Interest in the old world culture became minimal or nonexistent. However, the flip side to this is that there has always been Americans of Italian descent that would experience the best of both worlds, proudly retaining aspects of their culture and celebrating the heritage that their ancestors once brought to their newly adopted home while enjoying the best that the American culture has to offer. Today, we are all Americans, but Italian Americans hold a unique place in the building of the foundation of American Society, and they proudly celebrate both the heritage that helped them earn their place in this great Melting Pot and the position they hold in modern America!


With 13 years of research experience, history in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion. She loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. For more insight on today's subject matter, please visit The History Box is a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students.

To contact: or miriam

Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 4 (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

"Whatever the individual does is recognized and American Democracy gives him a fair chance and reasonable opportunity." Assemblyman Chas. Novello of New York City 1921

In this final part of a 4 part series examining the history and heritage of Italian- Americans, we will explore the importance of the family unit and the neighborhood to the successful assimilation process of Italian immigrants. In the previous 3 parts, we examined the background of Italian immigrants, their reasons for coming to America and the hardships they overcame.

In America as well as in Italy, la famiglia is a tight-knit unit. Respect and support of the elderly is very important to Italian-American families. During the early days of immigration, the father was looked upon as head of the household. The women ran the household, influencing the social and religious lives of their children, as well as making important decisions with regards to the family. One of the most important aspects of the religion of the Italians that was brought to the New World was the celebration of a patron saint: the Madonna with processions, fireworks and worship, invoking protection for the village. In East Harlem there were 50,000 celebrating the Feast of Mt. Carmel at one point. The Feast of Sant' Antonio is celebrated annually in the same fashion as Italian ancestry did and still do today in Brusciano, Italy, by building a Giglio and dancing with it in the streets of Manhattan, N.Y.

Although the early Italian immigrants did not wish to pursue agriculture in America, many dedicated themselves to working the land as a form of economic survival. As they traveled throughout America in search of employment, some Italians would seize upon entrepreneurial opportunities. They converted swampy lands of Southern regions into fruitful soil. On the West Coast they grew lemons, oranges and other fruits. The wine industry was undertaken on a large-scale. The early Italian immigrants became suppliers of fruits and vegetables to large cities, making major contributions to the economic strength of America. Skilled Italians worked as masons, stone-cutters, mechanics, shoemakers, tailors, musicians and barbers, practicing their trades and crafts in the neighborhoods and cities in which they lived. Those who were not skilled during the early 1900s were forced to take jobs as common laborers and factory workers, finding employment in shipyards, mines, railroads and in construction.

Many became peddlers, selling fruits and vegetables. Some worked as waiters in restaurants and hotels. Little by little the familiar sight of Italian vendors displaying their wares from push carts were seen along the crowded streets of Little Italy and down by First Avenue in Italian Harlem. Small enterprises began mushrooming all over the United States within Italian communities becoming an important part of the settlement process. Not only did these small Italian enterprises play an important role in their own economic progress, but they also obtained key positions in the enterprise system that has made America what it is today, the financial center of the World.

As the Italian population increased, a leading Italian Newspaper, "Il Progresso Italo-Americano" in New York, was established. Its purpose was to help strengthen the immigrant's ties with Italy. This newspaper was an influential tool, assisting the Italian immigrant in their assimilation to American Society. One of the largest and most influential Italian organizations established in America commenced in New York City in 1905, the "Order of the Sons of Italy in America", which provided numerous benefits, meeting the needs of the Italians living in this country. The Sons of Italy were an immense help in softening the demeaning image of the "Wop," providing psychological compensation through their Italian-American program, keeping alive a love for Italy, retaining the Italian language and stressing Columbus Day as a symbol of solidarity between America and Italy.

To be continued: Part 4 (B)

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Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 3 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

Poverty forced the immigrants to take whatever work was offered, accepting the jobs that other Americans didn't want, just so they could support themselves. Since most of the Southern Italian immigrants were farmers or farm hands, the only jobs they could get were unqualified and dangerous with the lowest pay-scale possible. Many families would create sweat shops and bring projects into the home. Everyone participated. Even children were sent out to find work in factories, mines or on farms.

There were many that were not fortunate enough to find steady work. They returned to their native Italy, discouraged with empty pockets. These Italian immigrants, tricked by the stories told to them in Europe about plentiful work and big wages in America, were induced to leave their native land, only to find suffering and hunger as a result of the deception of the steamship agents. The illusion that American streets were paved with gold and that there was steady work at high wages only added to their disappointment when they realized that America was by no means the labor paradise they expected.

There were others with an entrepreneurial spirit, armed with knowledge and skills. They were able to live a better existence. Northern men accepted tough jobs at lower wages just to survive and keep their families together. In 1912, the Northern Italian immigrant averaged $11.28 in income per week, while the Southerner earned a meager $9.61.

The early Italian immigrants were not welcomed in America; they were verbally abused with slurs such as "wop," "guinea," and "dago," which resulted in open hostility, suspicion and distrust. In some areas, the early Italian immigrants met with anti-Roman Catholic, anti-immigrant discrimination and violence, such as the lynching in 1891 of eleven Italians in New Orleans, Louisiana, even though they were found not guilty of murder. They were disliked and treated harshly by Americans. They found themselves in a strange land where they were forced to adapt to an urban way of life, contrary to their own backgrounds. They were looked upon as ignorant and unworthy, living in crowded apartments where disease ran rampant. They were even associated with crime, namely with the Mafia.These aspects of American life influenced an unfavorable American experience among the early Italian immigrants. Most of them had no interest in assimilation.

The treatment they received from Americans gave the immigrants a greater wanting to keep to themselves. For the Italian, family was and still is extremely valuable. Anyone outside the blood line was treated with suspicion and indifference. Associations were limited to family and paesanos.

The early Italian immigrants from all parts of Italy set aside their pre-existing differences and deep divisions, banding together and fending for themselves in this new hostile environment. Most of the Italian immigrants settled in cities, establishing their own neighborhoods according to their native province or village of origin, almost independent of the life of the great city. An Italian neighborhood, undaunted despite discrimination, hardships and suffering, has always worked diligently and consistently, preserving and promoting their cultural heritage. It was a neighborhood where life-long relationships never ceased to be formed. So powerful was this sense of neighborhood, that many families and their descendants till this day spend their entire lives living within its confines?

They possessed a fierce pride and loyalty to provincial customs and dialects. In these neighborhoods they could be free to speak their own language, eat their own ethnic foods, and practice their customs and religion as if back in their homeland without any hindrance. These communities were designated as "Little Italy". Here, the people followed the customs and ways of their forefathers. They would put their savings into Italian banks, Italian newspapers were published for their benefit, Italian theaters and moving-picture shows furnished them with recreation. The stores would display Italian names; Italian priests would minister to spiritual needs.

In the last part of this series, we will explore the importance of family to Italian-Americans in both the past and present-day.

With 13 years of research experience, history in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion. She loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. For more insight on today's subject matter, please visit The History Box is a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students.

To be continued: Part 4 (a)

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 3 (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

In this, part 3 of a 4 part series that explores Italian immigration into the United States, we will explore the progression and ascension of Italian immigrants into American culture. In part 1 and 2 we discussed the background of various Italian immigrants and why they came to America, and the often poor treatment these immigrants received at the hands of both Americans themselves and their own countrymen.

Newly arriving Italian immigrants were much different from those who had previously arrived. These were mostly laborers and farmers looking for steady work. They only came to visit for a short time, a minimum of five years, just long enough to make a decent amount of money to take back to Italy to gain economic security. These Italians were called "birds of passage." Most were young men in their teens and twenties who left their parents, young wives, and children behind, determined to return as soon as possible. The ones that did decide to stay, taking occasional visits back and forth to their homeland, worked extremely hard to send money to their families or to bring their families to America. The Italian government stood to benefit from this exodus by $4 million to $30 million each year.

One of the first procedures at Castle Garden and Ellis Island that the immigrant had to face as they arrived in America was the medical evaluation. The second test was to determine mental deficiency. Immigrants who showed no signs of mental or physical deficiencies were asked questions by the immigration inspectors in the native tongue of the immigrant. The Italians who didn't have papers had tags hung on them with the letters W.O.P. (without papers).

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

From the hills and vineyards of Lombardy and Tuscany, from the mountains of Abruzzi and the farms of Basilicata and the mines of Sicily, they all came with big dreams and great expectations. Upon release from Ellis Island, the new Italian immigrants would fan throughout New York City. New York consisted of crowded and neglected tenements in the lower part of Manhattan. Once in America, Northerners and Southerners were treated identically. They all had to find a way to survive. Since the majority of Italian immigrants expected their stay in America to be brief, they had to live as inexpensively as possible. This led to intolerable conditions. Large numbers of Italians were confined to a claustrophobic indoor life, existing in the worst tenement living conditions of the Mulberry bend of Lower Manhattan. They had to live in damp smelly cellars or attics, up to 6 or 10 people, men, women and children, packed into crowded single rooms where "filth for so many years reigned undisturbed and pestilence wiping out hundreds of lives annually." These tenement buildings were dangerous fire-traps, a breeding place for murderous rodents that would kill babies in their cribs. The poor did not have the luxury of water, especially if they lived on the upper level. Water had to be carted from the fire hydrant in the street all the way upstairs. The Italian immigrants would come to the dumps to search for rags. They would bring food with them, squatting down in the filth to eat their lunch. As they did not plan to stay long in America, assimilation was the furthest thing from their mind.

To be continued: Part 3 (b)

Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 2 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

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 exodus 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 earth productive. Parasites destroyed most of the vineyards in Southern Italy. The Sicilians did not have the opportunity to climb any financial ladder. Instead, they were reduced to being sharecroppers and they were obligated to wait until they paid off their debts.

Labor agents, the notorious 'padroni,' enriched themselves at the expense of the "immigrants." The padroni [loan sharks or flesh peddlers] hired gangs of workmen, charged a heavy commission for their service, and advanced passage money for the journey from Italy at a fancy price. The padroni hooked up with railroad companies, factories, farmlands, etc., providing work for the gangs of immigrants while charging an exorbitant commission for supplying labor here in the United States. Since the ignorant Italian laborer was in a strange country and not able to speak English, he couldn't find employment on his own, or even look after himself, so he would depend with a blind belief on the "Boss" for all his needs. These "Bosses" were ignorant men themselves, trying to make as much money as possible from the ignorance of others. It was this lack of knowledge and dependence that gave the padrone power. Of course, the unscrupulous padrone was more than willing for a sizable sum to help his fellow countryman. The padrone would find employment, and while he was working he would find a place for the immigrant to stay, write his letters and 'take care' of his finances. The Camorritti of Naples was members of a secret organization, at one time more powerful than the police. They subsisted largely by extorting money from the peasants. "The majority of Italian immigration came from the southern and perhaps least favorably known provinces, Abruzzi, Avelliuo, Basilicata, Sicily, Naples, and Calabria. Most of them were of the peasant class and accustomed to hard work and meager provisions, illiterate, but of a childlike mind and imagination, quick to forget, and easily led astray by schemers. "

These early immigrants were hired out to whoever was willing to pay the padrone's inflated prices. The padrone would pay the laborer the least amount of money for his hard work. If anyone dared to complain, he would be discharged, threatened with stiff penalties, or severely abused. The women suffered the most; some were placed in houses of prostitution and never seen again. Even the children were sent out to the streets to find work to add to the coffers of the "Boss." The Italian laborer submitted to such extortion only because there were no other choices as he was in a strange country with a strange language. To protest was useless. Besides, who would he complain to? Did anyone care? They had a choice to either work for the "Boss" or starve.

With 13 years of research experience, history in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion. She loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. For more insight on today's subject matter, please visit The History Box is a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students

To be continued: Part 3 (a)

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Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 2 (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

This article is part 2 of a 4 part series that explores the history and assimilation of Italian immigrants into American society. In part 1, we explored the importance of immigration to America and the background of Italian citizen's lives as they existed in Italy, exploring reasons that led to immigration. In part 2, we will finish examining the background of the Italians and continue into the immigration process.

In Southern Italy you had the nobles, the large land owners, the artisans, the peasants who owned or leased small plots of land, and the day laborers who were always in transit and looking for work. Many of the clergy controlled the political life in the villages.

Even though the inhabitants of Italy were all considered Italians, the Southerners would condemn the Northerners as not being true Italians. They felt that the Northerners became too European, adapting to the European culture, not adhering to the family tradition which has always been the primary focus of the Italian culture. Family, Southerners felt, provided status and security as an individual. Thus, they felt that they were true Italians. On the other hand, the Northerner considered himself better off, looking down at the southerner, condemning them for not working hard enough to call themselves Italian. Thus, the contention existed between both Northerners and Southerners.

"A statewide educational system has been in existence in Italy since 1859. The Casati Act passed in 1859 bestows educational responsibilities on individual Italian states. In 1861 the Italian unification took place." Through the Casati Act, primary education became compulsory in Italy. This law was actually not enforced.

On July 15, 1877 the Coppino act was introduced, establishing compulsory education for all children age's six to nine. Even children up to ten years old should attend school.

According to this Act, the subjects of instruction for the three compulsory years of schooling included elements of civics, reading, penmanship, the rudiments of the Italian language, arithmetic and the metric system.

The Southern Italians were not impressed by this type of education. They felt it only reflected the values and traditions of the elite ruling class and therefore rejected it.

The Northerner was of a much taller standing with a lighter complexion than the Southerner. He was intellectually prepared and was able to read and write. This made them more acceptable by the Anglos in America, thus making the assimilation into the American mainstream an easier transition. He usually had skills in some trade with a definite purpose, not having to depend on a padrone, who was a labor broker. The Southerner was of a shorter stature and was dark-complexioned. A large number of Southern Italians could not read or write and were unskilled farm laborers. They were considered a suitable candidate for exploitation by the padrone, whom they had to depend on in America to find jobs and to understand the language.

Prior to the mass immigration to the United States from the 1880s through 1924, Northern Italian artists, mostly educated professionals, had come to America seeking a new market to capitalize on. Many contributed to American cultural society as musicians, artists, educators and businessmen. Less than 25,000 came between the years of 1820-1870.

To be continued: Part 2 (b)

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Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 1 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

In order to comprehend the role of the early Italian immigrant community in the process of assimilation, some of the aforementioned issues will be examined in this study. Without further delay I would like to start with my narration of "Once Upon A Time in America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience."


As a result of the Industrial Revolution's effects throughout Europe, the Northern part of Italy developed manufacturing facilities which created an economic boom for the Northern provinces. This meant jobs for the northerners, resulting in less scarcity of commodities and minimized agricultural problems. In the Northern part of Italy, the soil and atmosphere were more favorable than in Southern Italy. The Northerners were more prosperous and more "European" than their Southern counterparts. If the Northern Italian working man could not find work, he would cross the border into the neighboring European countries or sail to Argentina, Brazil or the United States to make money, then return to his homeland and family when he had enough.

Whereas, in the Southern part of Italy, the Southerners that lived in the coastal areas were able to sustain themselves by fishing or via trade. Those that lived inland had to resort to farming to make a living. Since transportation was limited to the interior, and farming was not a dependable source of economic stability, this created severe hardships for the inland population. The elements that contributed to this factor were the harsh environmental conditions that the area was subjected to, including:

1. The scarcity of land worth cultivating
2. Soil erosion
3. Deforestation
4. Lack of sufficient rainfall
5. Overpopulation

There were other problems as well. Disease affected the grapevines, malaria destroyed the lives of many, and natural disasters such as the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried an entire town near Naples, not to mention the 1908 earthquake that contributed to Southern Italy's predicament. So in effect, the Southerners suffered more distress than the northerners.

In part 2 of this 4 part series, we will continue with the historical background of the Italians, many of whom immigrated to America.

With 13 years of research experience, history in all its manifestations is Miriam B. Medina's passion. She loves nothing more than sharing what she learns with everyone. For more insight on today's subject matter, please visit The History Box is a one-stop resource center for writers, journalists, historians, teachers and students.

To be continued: See Part 2 (a)

To contact: or

Once Upon A Time In America: The Early Italian Immigrant's Assimilation Experience Part 1 (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

"The chief contribution that the American of Italian extraction may make to our democracy is to remember that while his goal is AMERICA, his starting point is Italy; that he is not to submerge his Italianism in America but to merge it with Americanism at its highest." --Rabbi Stephen S. Wise

Since the commencement of this great nation, the United States of America has been receiving immigrants from all parts of the world. They have been attracted to its shores by the lure of freedom, wealth and opportunity. It has opened its doors to the hungry, the poor and the downtrodden. Italian immigrants have made quite an impact on American culture, but this has taken much time and effort to transpire. This article is part 1 of a 4 part series that explores the history and breadth of Italian immigration and assimilation into America's great Melting Pot.

These early immigrants, upon their arrival to an unfamiliar world, began forming strong, concentrated communities, practicing features of their native cultures that were responsive to the natural adjustment to Anglo-Saxon culture. At the same time, this bonding slowed down the assimilation process of integrating with a social unity. The need to connect with their roots gave these immigrants a sense of security and identity within the receiving society. Some of these people, those who came from the same town or locality, that conversed in the same language and practiced the same religious beliefs, tended to stick together to help and support each other.

For some, the gradual assimilation process was easy, while for others there were several serious problems associated with this process. As to how long or how fast it would take for that person to adjust to this newly adopted social environment, it depended on that person's ability to manage the difficulties and frustrations that they faced daily. Some of these problems may well not have arisen from assimilating to the American way of thinking and doing things. Most were due to conflicting values and attitudes that were imbedded from the country of origin and social class. While many lived in this state of conflict, even to the point of wanting to return to their homeland, regardless of the consequences, they also adjusted and readied themselves for a new life in America. Once that person became absorbed into America's mainstream and progressed economically, staunch attitudes and ways of the "Old Country" were easily given up.

As each ethnic group moved from one culture to another, key changes began to take effect in their life patterns. These changes not only affected individuals and their families, they also affected American society with respect to economy, education, and inter-group relations.

Most immigrants that arrived in this country over the centuries have had their own dreams and expectations for the future, which they would like to see fulfilled in their lives, yet the only way to achieve the American Dream is through hard work, sacrifice and thriftiness.

With respect to the acculturation process, unfortunately, there have been some negative effects which have resulted from discriminatory attitudes of American society towards newly arrived immigrants. For example, the presence of racism played a decisive role.

Non-white immigrants were less readily accepted by American society, which, in turn, slowed down their assimilation. For those who possessed a higher education in comparison to the unskilled and illiterate, the assimilation was quicker. The higher their social class and professional status, the easier the acculturation became. Other relevant factors to consider include the English language and the amount of time that the immigrant spent in this country. The shorter the time frame, the less that person would learn about the roles, norms and customs of the receiving society, and how to interact with them, which is of crucial significance to the assimilation process.

To be continued: Part I (b)
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