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IMMIGRANTS FROM ITALY - Article from 1895


From the New York Times, October 6, 1895:

IMMIGRANTS FROM ITALY

After Learning Our Ways They Become Good, Industrious Citizens.

HALF A MILLION IN THIS COUNTRY

Sketch of Those in and About New York, Their Habits and Methods of Earning a Livelihood.

   Of the half million Italians that are in the United States about 100,000 live in this city, and including those who live in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and the other suburbs the total number in this vicinity is estimated at about 160,000.

   The greater portion of these persons have come to this city within the past eight or ten years. The majority of them are from the south of Italy and from Sicily, but of late Iarge numbers have been coming from Genoa and the Riviera. Many of the Italians who came from Northern Italy are now in Colorado. Michigan, Minnesota, California, and along the Pacific slope generally, where they are to a great extent engaged in fruit raising.

   The Italian Consul General in this city, in a recent report to his Government, said that in general the Central and Western States get the better element of the Italian immigrants. The Southerners, most of them laborers, have remained in the East, where they have found work on roads and buildings.

   The principal quarter of the Italians is about Mulberry Street, Five Points, Mott Street, and Roosevelt Street, but there is a large colony known as Little Italy, about One Hundred and Tenth Street and Second Avenue. Again others, many of whom are of the better class, have scattered all over the city. In former years much of the Italian population in this city was a floating one. Workmen flocked in for the Winter months, when work for them was more plentiful, and in the Summer they either went into the interior to work on railroads or took passage for Italy, where they could live much cheaper during warm weather than they could here. Of late years, however, the population has become much more settled, and an Italian banker who deals largely in steamship passenger tickets told the editor of the Italian newspaper, Il Progresso, that during the last two years he had sold hardly any tickets for outgoing passages. It is thought that perhaps the action of the trades unions in getting a law passed that only citizens of the United States should be employed on public works may have induced many Italians to become bonafide residents and to become naturalized.

   The general tone of the Italians in New York has grown higher as they have increased in numbers. Most of their fights and deeds of violence have been confined among themselves, and have been due generally to old feuds or to quarrels over the gambling table. To their credit it must be said that Italian burglars and sneak thieves and beggars are hardly known. Counterfeiting, however, has been, and is, a favorite pursuit with certain classes among them, but it is the boast of their leaders that there are fewer Italian convicts in American prisons than of any other nationality. They admit, however, that among the immigrants a number of restless political spirits came, who had found it convenient for their safety to leave their native land. Among these are Anarchists, and probably members of secret societies, who, under the guise of patriotism, try to live upon their hardworking countrymen by political propaganda or intimidation. Such men, it is said, are passing away like the padrones who formerly brought hundreds of children, and sent them out into the streets to beg, and, when the societies put a stop to that, supplied contractors and the Street Cleaning Department with gangs of laborers, whom they underpaid and robbed. The padrone system, it is claimed, has been almost entirely broken up through the efforts of Prof. Oldrini, the agent of the Italian Government at Ellis Island, who advises the newly arrived Italian immigrants and rinds work for as many of them as he can.

   The knowledge of the country gained by many of the Italians, and their learning to speak some English, has also materially helped to deliver them from the clutches of the pad-ones. A good many men and women have learned to work on the sewing machines, and find steady work as tailors for the large clothing manufacturing firms in this city. They have been charged with underbidding the poorly paid Jewish tailors, who have recently had their great strikes, but they deny that they work for lower wages. A large clothing manufacturer told the editor of Ii Progresso that he prefers his Italian to his Jewish hands, because the latter are always wanting to strike about something or other, while the Italians work along steadily and do not complain. There are also a good many clothing contractors and a number of tailors for ladies' dresses among them.

   Italian fruit dealers are very numerous. It is said there are as many as 10,000 in the city. It is claimed that it is mainly due to the efforts of the Italians that fruit eating has become quite universal here, and that, consequently, fruit culture has attained such enormous proportions and puts millions of dollars annually into the pockets of the fruit growers. To a certain extent this is true, for the Italians have put up fruit stands at every available street corner where there is a chance of selling their wares, and have learned to arrange their fruits so tastefully as to tempt the passer-by.

   The Italian barber has succeeded in thrusting himself into public notice, and the numerous barbers of other nationaIities who settled here before he did have to take him into account, for he shaves cheaper. Where formerly 15 cents was charged for a shave, he asks only 10 cents, and in poor localities a nickel, and where a quarter was charged for cutting hair, he is satisfied with 13 cents. Some of the union barbers years ago complained to the Central Labor Union that the non-union Italian barbers were killing the trade, and asked that a boycott be imposed on all five-cent barber shops, but nothing was done. There are a good many stonemasons among the Italians, but their work is generally confined to the part of the building below the level of the street. There are also bricklayers, shoemakers, and other handicraftsmen.

   Scores of Italian physicians have a good practice among their countrymen, and all are said to be making plenty of money. One physician, who had an office in Grand Street, was said to have saved $45,000 in six or seven years, and then retired because his health gave out. Of so-called bankers, there are several in the Italian colony. Their business consists mainly in selling drafts for small sums to their countrymen, who send money to their relatives in Italy, or to small importers, and in the sale of passage tickets.

   The Italian is working himself into politics, too, and will probably have to be counted with as a factor before long. In one of the recent Italian Consular reports the Consul remarks that Americans formerly complained that Italians were not interested in the welfare of this country, inasmuch as they did not become citizens, and only staid here long enough to accumulate some money and then returned home; but now, however, says. the report, the Italians take a cautious and prudent, but very active, Interest in the politics of the country. About twenty years ago there were practically no Italian voters. Ten years later several began to vote, but for reasons that had better not be mentioned. It was then said that an Italian's vote was worth $2. At that time no Italian political meetings were held where the people could be enlightened. Then efforts were made to unite the various Italian societies in one political organization, to support candidates who promised to favor the interests of Italian residents in this country. This was done in imitation of the Irish and German residents. They soon learned that no other country in the world gives the immigrant such opportunities as does the United States; that there is complete security of life and property for all without distinction of race or nationality; that therefore this country is preferable to all others, and that Italians need no special pleaders.

   It is claimed that the Italians of New York are forgetting their old political differences, and that whatever quarrels occur among them arise from personal differences. As churchgoers, many of the men are very negligent, and many still seem to regard the Pope as a temporal sovereign, opposed to the unification of Italy and in favor of its disruption.


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