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The Italian, Chinese, And Jews Essay

810 words - 4 pages

In the beginning of the 19th century, America was known as the place for people to come to start a new and better life. Ethnic groups tended to stick together and in result, “claimed” their own territory in the New York City slums. Many of these ethnic groups worked low-wage jobs, and were struck with poverty. The only affordable shelter for most of these people that was close to work and their community were crowded housing tenements that were not suitable for living in any way, shape, or form. Jacob Riis tells a very intriguing, yet grotesque, experience of the lower class life.
In New York, the Italians were at the bottom of their social class. The Italian immigrant portrayed in this book understands this, and accepts it along with saying he “is content to live in a pig-sty and submits to robbery at the hands of the rent-collector without murmur.” (p. 48 Riis) From the start, individuals persuade him that he will make more money and have a better life in the U.S., but he is basically being used. Greedy steamship agents and “bankers” tell him that they will mortgage his home, belongings, and wages for months in order to receive a ticket to the “American dream.” He believes that this is the truth but he does not know any better. It also does not help him not knowing English, unlike the German who began learning English from the point when they reach America until they could fluently speak. The Italian eventually receives support from his son, which is used by the middleman that he pays up to. He ends up being hired by a railroad contractor that makes large amounts of money from his work. Even though the Italian has small earnings, he is able to be better off. They live a conservative lifestyle and only buy necessities. This Italian immigrant may also make money from the ash-barrel. Only a few years beforehand, the city hired groups of men “to trim the ash-scows before they were sent out to sea.” (p. 50 Riis) When the workers did the trimming, they leveled out dirt so the scow was loaded evenly. For this strenuous labor, they were only paid a dollar and a half after a full day of work. Throughout this time, they kept certain things of value that they found, and let the many Italians do the hard work for them....

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