Italians In America Before 1914 Essay

1196 words - 5 pages

Italians in America before 1914 Before the year 1871, Italians were not a common site in the United States of America. Over its history, only 400,000 people had emigrated out of Italy. At a rate of 20,000 emigrates a year, it seemed that Italy didn't have to deal with a large emigration, as did Ireland and many other European countries. But due to many economical and social problems, the rates skyrocketed and by 1914 as many as 2 million Italians had left Italy for America and they were leaving at a rate of 750,000 per year. But why would all of these people leave their homeland to go to a new land that they had never been to before in their lives? At first, the Northern Italians were suffering from a disease called pellagra, which causes the victim to go insane and die. Then, in the south, malaria began to spread rapidly. At the same time, peasant families were having money problems. Of their small income, they had to spend about 3/4ths of it on food, and even then, they didn't get enough food for any nutritional value. Lacking enough money for anything but food, the standard of living in Italy dropped rapidly. Most lived in total poverty or in the slums. The only way to make everything better seemed to leave the country and because many wanted a good education and other rights, like the right to vote, most Italians decided to immigrate to America. When an Italian family decided they wanted to move to America, the men of the family would go first. This was to ensure a home and a decent income so that the family could survive in America, if they survived the trip there. Crossing the Atlantic to America was a difficult journey. At the turn of the century the only way to cross the ocean was by boat, and it had not improved much since the pilgrims first sailed. The boats were packed with immigrants, not just Italians, but many different ethnic groups. The approximately two-month trip was spent with almost no hygiene. The different ethnic groups, lack of hygiene and over crowded ships had many consequences. Food was scarce so it was not rare for the immigrants to starve. With the mixed ethnic groups, the Italians were exposed to diseases that they had never encountered before, and their immune systems could not fight off the disease, resulting in death. Those that lived through the trip had no idea how difficult it would be to assimilate in America. Ellis Island was a welcome sight to the Italians after the long and grueling trip across the Atlantic. Wanting to get off of the ship, the Italians and other immigrants were stopped. First, a Quarantine Officer had to inspect the ship to check for diseases. If the Officer believed that the ship was infected, then the ship had to turn around and all of the immigrants had to return to their homeports. That didn't happen very often though. After the ship was cleared the first and second class passengers were usually allowed to leave the ship immediately. The steerage class would...

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