After experiencing hardships like poverty, a series of natural disasters, civil war and oppression from Northern Italy the Southern Italians started coming to America in flocks between 1876 and 1976. The most concentrated migrations of Italians happened between 1880 and 1920. Italians came to America not to escape these hardships, but to work and send money home to Italy in order to get their families out of poverty. Seventy percent of Italian immigrants were men and less than ten percent of them worked in agriculture, a sign that their stay in America was a temporary one. While here they worked in factories, construction and opened businesses. Coming to America, Italians were faced with racism, poverty, discrimination, corrupt Padrones and poor living and working conditions. They were Roman Catholics in a country, which was predominantly Protestant. Even the Irish Roman Catholics looked down on the Italians for not being strict or self-sacrificing enough in their religious lives. Once women and children started migrating to be with their husbands and fathers they faced their own set of hardships with high infant and child mortality rates, disease among children and women especially over men. Large families would sometimes live in one room and everyone including the married women and children would contribute to support the expenses. Children either worked or went to school sometimes in Italian community schools or sometimes in English speaking public schools. In order to survive as a community they established their own newspapers and organizations that helped them adjust to their new way of life in America while still maintaining most of their "old country" traditions. The migrating families brought over many things that were new to other Americans such as new food, music and dances.
In a small Southern-Italian town called Forenza, in 1884, a man by the name of Angelo Rugilo was born to a poor family. He unlike seventy percent of other Italians in Italy at the time learned to read and write. He was betrothed to Antionette Caggiano, a girl born ten years later of an ally family in the same city. Italy was at the time in a deep recession. (Italy would not reach the same standard of living as America reached in 1914 until 1964.) This recession was set deep in history as for centuries the country was divided into feuding states. Most immigrants to the United States came from what used to be known as the Independent and Sovereign State of Southern Italy. This domain stretched from Calabria and Puglia to Sicily. In 1860 Southern Italy was overcome and ruled by the Kingdom of Sardinia. Civil war followed for the next ten years resulting in about one million deaths and the defeat of Southern Italy. The Italian Army of occupation murdered the Neapolitans and Sicilians. The National Treasury of the Two Sicilies was robbed and all machines and factories were moved North. A southern Italian family in poverty was unlikely to ever get ahead because of the feudal system that was in place then. Land possession determined a family's political power and social status. The South was subjected to high taxes and protective tariffs on Northern goods plus the south had a lack of coal, iron, cultivatable land, and forests. Not to mention that the south was highly overpopulated. Aside from all that in the early twentieth century, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried a whole town, Mt. Etna erupted soon after and in 1908 there was an earthquake and a tidal wave that hit the Strait of Mesina and killed more than 100,000 people. By the time Angelo Rugilo was fifteen the land was arid and "people only ate enough to stave off death," In order to save money and resources. During these times Italians in the South had practically no other choice but to migrate to new lands. Although the amount of Italians coming to America between 1882 and 1910 seemed endless, with immigrations levels peaking at 400,000 in one year, the...
Bibliography: 1. Ruggelo, Angelo. Interview
3. Italians Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Boston: Gale Research, inc. 1995
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