My Families' Italian Emigration

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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The subject of this paper is the immigration of my forebears to the United States. I shall begin by discussing what was going on in the rest of the world during the emigration of my forebears and how it pertains to their emigration. I will then discuss the time and location of their emigration and the political, economic, and social conditions that led them to emigrate. I will follow this by describing the opportunities they sought in America. Finally, I will consider the traditions and practices of my family and the place those have in my life and in my idea of what an American is.

After World War I, governments were weak and unemployment was rising in many cities through out Europe (BBC/Fascism 2). Mussolini was Italy’s dictator in the 1920s and the 1930s, while fascism was sweeping through Italy with its stringent socioeconomic controls (BBC/Fascism 4). The American Stock exchange crashed, leading to the Depression in the 1930’s (BBC/Hitler 7).

In Germany, Adolph Hitler came to power, in January, 1933 (BBC/Roadwar 2).

“Poverty, overpopulation, and natural disaster all spurred Italian emigration” (Gliah 1).

Life in their homeland was difficult. “For centuries Italy was divided into feuding states, with foreign powers often ruling over several of the states. In this chaotic situation, the feudal system ruled the economic system. The feudal system allowed hereditary land possession to determine one’s political power and social status, so many poor Italians had almost no opportunity to improve their lives” (Needham 1). “The Italian government was dominated by northerners, and southerners were hurt by high taxes and high protective tariffs on northern industrial goods” (Gliah 1). During the early twentieth century southern Italy was plagued with natural disasters. Thousands of people were killed due to an earthquake and tidal wave. Volcanic eruptions were destroying towns (Gliah 1). Like my grandmother, the majority of Italian immigrants to the United States came from Southern Italy (Marist 1).

My grandmother, Carmela Cennamo, immigrated to the United States in 1934 from Naples, Italy. She was one of many family members to immigrate to this country. Her brother and cousin were already here and working when she arrived.

My ancestors came to this country for a better life. The decision to migrate was made by my grandmother’s mother after my grandmother’s father died and the family was unable to support itself. All of them were hard working people and were willing to do whatever they had to, to create a future for themselves. My grandmother and her family believed their dreams would be fulfilled in America.

My grandmother was 17 years old when she came to this country. She was able to find a job doing assembly work. She also worked as a seamstress. She was lucky that she had family here and did not have to rely on a “padrone.” A padrone was usually another Italian who has been in the United States for a while and would act as interpreter for a new Italian immigrant with employers, banks, and so on. Unfortunately, padrones were often dishonest and would take advantage of the naïve immigrants (Needham 2).

My grandmother and many of her family members settled in Jersey City, New Jersey.

(To this day our family lives throughout Jersey City and other suburbs of New York City.) After being in America for five years she met my grandfather who was also from Naples and had a large extended family living in this country. They were married after a five-month courtship.

I learned at a young age of the value of my family. I lived with my grandmother while I was growing up. Having parents, grandparents and extended family under one roof is common in Italian families. “Loyalty to the family was an Italian-American’s supreme obligation” (Needham 2). We had an Italian-speaking household and our meals consisted of recipes my grandmother learned from her mother in the old country. Dishes like pasta fagoli and lasagna were always a treat. To this day, I often call my grandmother for her recipes. I plan to pass them down to my daughters as well.

My grandmother gave me the opportunity to have the freedom I have in this country. She came to this country unable to speak the language. She lived alone as a teenager for the first time in this foreign country. (She told me that it was difficult to leave her mother and her other siblings behind.) It was through her courage and sacrifice that all of her grandchildren have the quality of life she dreamed of in 1934: a life filled with opportunity.

Bibliography Di Franco, J Philip. The Italian Americans. The Peoples of North America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

“Italian Immigration.” 05 November 2001         .

“Italian Immigration.” Gilder Lehrman: History Online. 2001. 05 November 2001         .

“Modern World History: The Rise of Hitler.” BBC. 08 November 2001         .

“Modern World History: The Road to War.” BBC. 08 November 2001         .

“Modern World History: Fascism in Italy”. BBC. 08 November 2001         .

Scivolette, Christine. “Italians in the Hudson Valley.” 05 November 2001 .