Preparing to Leave
Preparing to leave was an enormous undertaking and challenge for our Tyrolean relatives. The dream and aspirations of a fabulous country, “Merica,” was their way to escape poverty and raise their standard of living. Being wrenched from their villages and their lovely environments, the pain of separation from their relatives and friends, the distance to “Merica,” the uncertainty of the future all combined to make the departure a traumatic experience. These traditional farmers, contadini, were headed to coalmines with all their dangers and pitfalls. Facing unknown difficulties ahead, many emigrants prepared their wills even though very few were considering permanent settlement. Many sold everything including their houses. Others borrowed from relatives and friends to pay for their travel expenses. Both the authorities and the clergy disapproved of their departure making the emigrants feel ever more isolated.
After the first wave of emigration, 36 years passed before there was to be a focus on the emigrants. In 1904, there was established the Office for the Mediation of Labor in Rovereto that attended to emigrants and by 1910, there was published the Guida dell`Emigrante Italiano. The Guide contained all the information emigrants needed: the economic situation in the USA, the physical conditions, steamboat fares, a timetable of trains from Trent, the names of the naval companies, ports of embarkation, the documents needed, procedures for naturalization and citizenship, location of the various consulates, facilities for medical inspection, various diseases and the agencies in the Trentino. It detailed the dangers facing the emigrants such as the infamous Padroni or merlo that took advantage of them. It further explained the information needed for the transoceanic trips as well as the names of the ferry boats to Ellis Island and the railroads leading from New York to the mines in various states. The Guide provided the names of St. Raphael Society in New York for moral and financial aid, US postal rates, insurance, accidents, legal aid, currency, measures and the risks in the mines.
Those who left the Trentino went to Trent by some jolting cart. At the window of the Gottardi Agency at Via Lunga (now Via Manci) they bought tickets for 500 crowns which included boat fare and the first expenses in the United States. The long trip began from Hamburg, Germany, Antwerp, Belgium or through Voralberg via Switzerland to a French port, Le Havre. Tickets for steerage from Le Havre or Hamburg to New York City cost $15 in 1880 and $28 in 1900.
On the departing the village itself, often in the wee hours of the morning, since they had to walk or journey down to Trent, the whole village would gather at the church to pray and send off one of their very own beloved brother or sister, an image of solidarity and intimacy that kept our immigrants connected and associated with their roots.
The History of Our Emigration…
Well before the emigrants from the Tyrol began arriving to our coasts at the end of the nineteenth century, the emigration of a sort had begun in the Tyrol and other Alpine areas of Northern Italy. This “emigration” was linked to the seasons so that laborers such as grinders, woodsmen, chimney sweepers, and repairers of straw chairs traveled throughout Europe seeking “seasonal” work. Such a movement did not have the separation and difficulties that of later movements to the Americas. It was actually a blessing providing the alpine populations with an opportunity to compensate for the climactic and environmental difficulties of these areas that affected the local economies and the nurturing of their individual families. One could say that this type of “emigration” was quite compatible with the production cycles of alpine areas.
Things changed radically between 1875 and World War I. The migration floodgates opened and the result was a great surge of people leaving the Tyrol, individuals and families. The first waves of migration headed toward South American and then to the USA and Canada. The reasons were economic, demographic, and social. The population was just too large for the cultivatable land, and industry and manufacturing were non-existent. The only sector of manufacturing that remained active in that time period was the production of silk. However, disease struck the mulberry bushes of the small farmers and ruined that one production possibility. In 1882, there occurred a great flood devastating the entire area. In that time period, the Italian states were striving for independence and in their third war of Independence, Austria lost the territories and/or states of Lombardy and the Veneto. All these states, along with the Tirol, had been unified as part of the Austrio-Hungarian empire and as such were part of that domain and viable trading partners with the Tyrol. To leave the Tyrol which extended from Rovereto to the Brenner Pass, one needed a passport to enter the newly formed Regno d`Italia. Trade with their former partners became difficult, complicated, and expensive requiring expense duties exacerbating the economic condition.
In this context of economic crisis and natural disasters, the heavy Tyrolean emigration went primarily to South America: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and then to the mining areas of the USA. With the outburst of World I, our Tyrolean relatives and ancestors…specifically, the able bodied men between 21 and 42, were enlisted in the Austrian Army, the Tiroler Kaiserjaeger, the Tyrolean Hunters of the Czar. They fought in Russia and subsequently returned to fight against the Italians.
The Emigration from the Trentino continued after its annexation to Italy at the conclusion of the war. It was greatly reduced during the period of fascism. After World War II, it resumed again due to high unemployment, the very weak industrial sector, and the absence of infrastructure. The majority of this post-war emigration was to South American, but greater numbers emigrated to European countries that experienced greater post-war reconstruction and activity: Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.
Our Emigration: the “Miseria”
Renzo Grosselli is a noted journalist of the Adige and author of many books. He has studied, researched and written about the migration phenomena of the Trentino. He will be providing us with on-going features of how our people needed to leave their beloved villages and valleys and recreate their lives and establish their lives and create families here in the USA.
Around 1875-1900, the time of the “great emigration”, in the Italian Tyrol more than 20%of the children died prior to they were one year old. Tuberculosis and pellagra afflicted the valleys and the towns. This might very well be the picture that explains why thousands of Trentini left their lands to emigrate to other European countries and in America…in the USA more than anywhere else.
We deal with that “misery” which has always been considered the reason of every migratory wave. What was this “misery”? It is best to explain it by the analysis of the commentators of that era, the commentators in the specialized journals, the medical journals or the scientific journals that were present in a very poor area but was strictly connected and tied to Middle Europe, part of that Empire of Austria and Hungary to which the peasant class was sincerely and emotionally attached. The first information that springs to our eyes, in the various publications, was that of the infant mortality rate. In the varied districts of the Italian Tyrol,the rate fluctuated in 1880 and 1890 between 18% and 24.5%. One child in every five died prior to his first year. What were the causes? More than 20% of the new born would die from an illness that the doctors defined as “congenital weakness”. But what were we dealing with? Here is a diagnosis of one such doctor. “The skin is withered, the stare is semi-alert,the brow is wrinkled, as if there had occurred the difficulties of life; they do not have even the breath to cry.” The coloring was yellow and the children of several months were not able to remain seated since they had not the strength. It was a death tied not only to hunger but to a severe malnutrition. These young ones were the children of mothers who were themselves undernourished and who had to work exceedingly hard in the fields and in their homes, all the way up to the birth itself. They resumed this difficult regime of work shortly after their delivery, while still not full recovered. Those newborn, therefore, who were still breast feeding, were fed with a breast milk of little caloric content so that in the mountainous areas, the breast feeding lasted just several weeks and we learned that the premature weaning was often the cause of their deaths.
There was yet another endangering illness: tuberculosis, diffused primarily in the lower valleys. In the major centers: Trento, Rovere to and Riva del Garda, in the last decades of the nineteenth century there were the greatest incidents of the disease up to 10% of the population. But conditions were getting worse. The doctors, in fact, since tuberculosis was considered a “shameful” disease, often avoided the reporting, referring to the causes with euphemisms.Consumption was killing young people between 18 and 35 primarily. Yet another illness that was victimizing the valleys of the Trentino in the period of the great emigration: Pellagra. This illness about whose causes were not known was according to a study by a doctor from Rovereto. “It had three stages of development. At first, the patient saw his skin flake and dry on certain parts of the body exposed to the sun, elbows and knees. As a result, this weakened the patient and made it difficult to work. In the last phase, pellagra led to muscle atrophy, pulmonary tuberculosis,and in many cases even madness and suicide.” Only later did doctors and researchers discover that pellagra is caused by a vitamin deficiency. In the 1980’s, those afflicted with pellagra were 60,000 in Lombardy, 40,000 in the Veneto while there were no exact statistics in the Trentino. A study was attempted that found that 5% of the deceased in Rovere to were due to pellagra and that 20% of the mental illness were due to the illness. A disturbing finding was found in Terragnolo in the Municipio near Rovereto. In 1896 there were 650 people afflicted with pellagra, 27% of the population. These individuals while working spend more than what they have and do not repair sufficiently the wear and tear of their work. They are contadini (farmers) who pay with their premature deaths this time imbalance and with the exercise of one of the most sacred and holy functions, their work, they dig fatally an early grave.
These were not the only sicknesses that afflicted the Italian Tyrol. Many children were dying of scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, consumption. Widespread among all ages was scrofolosi, tuberculosis of the lymph nodes and rickets that was referred to as the dominant disease. Rickets created deformations of the bones in every part of the body. A doctor of that time wrote that among us the deformed flourish like mushrooms….Even this infirmity had as a principal cause bad nutrition. One lived poorly in the Trentino in second part of the 1800’s. In every one hundred children, there died 23 prior to their first year and 43 would die before their twentieth birthday. The median life expectancy was between 36 and 37 years of age.Meanwhile the life expectancy of a German or French child was 43-45 year while a Scandinavian child was 48- 50 years. It was evident that such a situation was due to a complexity of conditions. Sanitary practices were not well known and there was an absence of medical practices and instruments. But the principal reason was nor the lack of such practices since in 1890 in the Trentino there was one physician for every 2770 inhabitants and 8 hospitals that had infirmaries in various valleys. In 1889 such infirmaries numbered 703, 408 midwives and in 1882 there was established the Association of Trentino Medical Practice.
But it was a medical science at its very beginning and the cures to which the majority of Trentini, the farmers, resorted to were those of a typical nature tied to the use of herbs, to the practices of tiraossi (bone pullers-primitive chiropractic), and cavadenti (tooth pullers performed by blacksmiths) and those who treated sickness with magical-religious practices. These were signals that indicated the transition from the “ancient world” to modernity. There were yet another significant cause for the diffusion of the sicknesses that devastated the population. These causes were connected with the type of habitation in which lived the Trentino peasant class but also the poorer urban classes: environments poorly heated, in a land that offered long and rigid winters, small rooms that were poorly ventilated. The houses were juxtaposed that did not allow the sun to enter; houses wherein was situated their stables, rooms in which they lived many hours every day, especially in the winter…gathered frequently for the real Filo`. The ally ways were replete with water that ran and carried with them garbage and wastes. The mature of the cow used to fertilize the fields were accumulated proximate to the homes.
But above all the Trentino people, the unfortunate, the small farmers principally, would poorly nourish themselves in the latter part of the 1800’s. From the information gathered in the part of the 19th century, we can assert that in 80’ and the 90’s, the amount of food was greatly reduced. The heart of their meals was polenta, few vegetables, milk and cheese. Meat was almost totally absent as well as bread while the consumption of potatoes because ever more widespread in those years. Polenta, which today is the very symbol of Trentino folklore, could have been considered a condemnation.Many times…wrote an observer…especially among the poor, and during the hot months when the work increased and the need to restore what is lost by the body increases, it is not infrequent the case of farmers forced by the economic conditions to eat polenta, the base of their food, combine their leafy vegetables, turnips with the remnant of sour milk. Since even in the mountains, where it was common to rear cattle, milk, butter and the cheese needed to be sold to overcome the scarcity of food for their families. Here then is a brief overview of the “miseria” in the Trentino of the 1800’s. Insufficient nourishment hence was widespread sickness. Coupled with this, there was a way of life based on extraordinary physical labor. The farmer, who had insufficient land, was forced to work many hours a day to bring home the bare minimum to live. It equally engaged women, children and the elderly to work as hard. It was the only way to survive, a thing that needed to be done in times of grave economic and social crisis. The miseria that led to the emigration sprung from the impossibility to nourish oneself properly and the necessity to work ever more to put on the table ever less and from the poverty of their houses and villages in which they lived.
One lived badly in the Italian Tyrol in those times of crisis. Very bad! But there was yet another circumstance. From the world of Central Europe, Great Britain and especially the United States, there arrived news of a totally different way of life; news of great consumption ma also of liberties and freedoms unthinkable in the Trentino. In the Italian Tyrol, the farmer, the very majority of its population, stood on the lowest level of the social scale. He was over-shadowed by the few but powerful rich, the clergy and the nobility. These were the social classes that farmer grouped into word and concept of “siori,”the rich. They improvised a song as they faced the unknown and emigration. Aisiori del Tirol/ noi ghe daren la zapa/ la zapa e anca el badìl./ I siori a menar i boi, le siore a menar el plof (aratro)/e i contadini en Merica/ a béver el vin nof. To the rich of the Tirol, we will give them the hoe, the hoe and the shovel, the rich women will lead the oxen, and the rich women will pull the plow…while the farmers will to America to drink a new wine. How then had they arrived at this point? It was because in the second part of the 1800’s, they found themselves on the threshold of hunger. But how they arrive to this comprehensive miseria. Truly, it was because in the second part of the 1800’s, the Italian Tyrol was on the threshold of hunger. TO BE CONTINUED…
T — total in honesty
Y — youthful in nature
R — regard to his fellow man
O — obedient to our laws
L — loving proud & independent
E — economy above all
A — always willing to help others
N — nobility
When you have met a Tyrolean, you have friend…
These words and image were combined into a small card by Dasalina Valentina Dalvet who lived in Middleport, PA.She was extremely proud of her Tyrolean heritage and identity
Prologue to the Great Emigration
How was it possible that the Trentino peasantry had arrived to such a point of suffering and despair? Historians for decades have referred to certain events that would constitute this state of suffering in Trentino or the Italian Tyrol. In the first place, several “diseases” heavily afflict-ed the most productive sectors of agriculture. From the 1850s, grapes were severely hit by cryptogram, which for twenty years reduced grape harvests and wine production. Shortly afterwards, pebrine appeared, a disease which halved silk production. Wine and silk constituted two of the most important exports from Trentino and above all two of the few products that allowed Trentino peasant families (those who lived in the lower and more populated valleys, where vineyards and mulberry trees grew, the latter was food for silkworms.) to earn a little bit of money. The peasant economy was still pre-capitalist, and of subsistence: each family produced almost exclusively what was necessary for its survival.
Politics also contributed to this crisis: in 1859 and in 1866 the Wars of Independence in Italy separated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which Trentino still was a part of, Lombardy and Veneto. They were two markets from which Trentino could import and export:from then on, the Italian Tyrol would have to turn towards other regions of the empire, more distant and more economically developed. The craft production of the Dolomite region was not able to compete with those regions due to quality and price factors. The rise of custom barriers towards Veneto and Lombardy dealt a decisive blow to the technologically backward craft-industrial sector while also transit trade between Lombardy and Veneto and Europe decreased the number of jobs for hundreds of men that lived in Trentino such as: rafters,carters, owners of inns and taverns. The Vienna Stock Exchange in 1873 experienced a dramatic crash that triggered an economic depression that lasted several years and also affected the Trentino economy. While in 1882, 1885, and 1889, the Dolomite region experienced devastating floods, particularly destructive was the one of 1882, with deaths and immense damage to local work-shops and factories.
But these were not the only reasons that led to mass emigration from the Italian Tyrol. It was about, rather, other facts that worsened the conditions that had already made sorrowful the lives of Trentino farmers and their families. For example, militarism was dominating European political life during the 19th century: the Austro-Hungarian Empire was threatened from within by many nationalities from which it was composed and driven by desires to create new homogeneous nations based along ethnic and linguistic lines. But it was also threatened from the outside by the expansion of new and old powers: France, Russia, Italy, and Germany. This led to the strengthening of the army, which meant militarization:all males aged 19 to 39 years old not only had to perform military service, but also be available every year to under-go military training lasting for long periods of time.From the end of the 18th century, compulsory education became law for children and teenagers. This greatly benefited our immigrant ancestors. But compulsory education and military service took away workers from rural families. They could only hope to survive with the contribution of everyone, the scarcity of land available, the lack of agricultural mechanization, and the low productivity of land in the mountains. Furthermore, school and military service that led young people to leave for other parts of Europe contributed to opening their minds,making them less willing a life of just survival, made of hardship and hard work, in a difficult land like Trentino.
But there was a phenomenon still even more important that brought the peasantry of the Italian Tyrol to despair and mass emigration. Some information can spread light on it. From 1860 to 1898 there were 32,000 forced real-estate auctions and between 1850 and 1860 the value of land fell by over 50%. Rural families were losing their land or they were forced to sell it or the courts were taking it away. Why? There were many reasons that led to this phenomenon. But one was more important than all the others. During the 19th century, especially during the 1860s, the imperial governments imposed upon citizens a modern tax system that, among other things, was based upon a property tax, to put it vulgarly, a “land tax.” Often it was not large sums of money to pay annually, but two factors made it painful and at times impossible to pay this obligation for Trentino farmers. In the first place,the silkworm crisis and the production of grapes and wine took away from Trentino families the few monies of which were available. In the second place, the Austrian law had established that municipalities could in turn charge their own taxpayer percentage of the property tax: up to 300% and for higher percentages each municipality would have to ask permission from government authorities. Well, many municipalities in the decades between 1870 and the First World War, were constricted to overcharge the smaller landowners by 400%, 700% or even 1000% of the property tax and these had to pay the government every year.
Why? It was a “wretched wheel” of events. The Austrian laws required that each municipality had to assist its citizens in difficulty by providing food, clothing, along with the cost of education (obligatory) for children. The municipalities provided only a few kilograms (4 pounds)of flour, two rags for clothes, and the exemption from paying scholastic fees. In times of crisis, in which poverty was increasing, this translated into spiraling costs for small municipalities that had few resources and were obligated to assist citizens less fortunate. Here the high percentage of over taxed land fell on the impoverished farmers and forced many of them to sell their properties.Consider that the average ownership of land in the Italian Tyrol was 1.4 hectares (3 acres) by 1890. Since large properties existed, above all those of the Roman Catholic Church and the nobility, meant that the average-size property of farmers was reduced for the majority of households to an half hectare (1 acre) of land that almost always was unfertile and unproductive in mountain areas.
Poverty, undernourishment, and diseases all were factors afflicting the Trentino peasantry. From the middle of the 19th century, many Trentino householders and their older male children began to emigrate, at least temporarily: for work in the construction of roads and railroads in Europe and then throughout the world, to the textile factories of Vorarlberg which began to employ women from Trentino, to the mines of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and France. This phenomenon, which brought workers in contact with capitalist society where there were jobs and higher earning power, opened the minds of those peasants and made them less willing to a life of survival and misery at home. But slowly over time from across the ocean America began calling. With two factors that resulted in being irresistible to the Italian Tyrolean peasant. The United States had the strength of the dollar that tempted the migrants: sometimes a few years of work in the mines and in the factories were enough to return home and revive the family business. The great American power was hungry for workers in its chaotic industrial development. While Brazil and Argentina offered to Trentino farmers vast tracts of land: far beyond their greatest dreams. Consider that Brazil offered to each family 20 to 30 hectares (50 to 75 acres) of land at a low cost and payable in only a few years. There were by now all the conditions ripe for a large-scale emigration from Trentino.
Renzo Grosselli is a noted journalist of L’Adige the main newspaper of the Trentino. He has researched the history of emigration from the Trentino and has published the book L’Emigrazione dal Trentino dall Medioevo all Prima Guerra Mondiale (Trentino Emigration from the Middle Ages to the First World War).
The Great Emigration
How many Trentini left for the United States of America between 1870, when there began the Great Migration, and 1970, when for the first time the number of those returning home (a small number) was greater than the number of those leaving? From the statistics compiled in 1888 by Lorenzo Guetti, the priest and founder of the Trentino Cooperative movements, we can deduce that between 1870 and 1888 about 4,000 “workers” went to the USA, of a total 25,000 emigrants who left for the“Americas”. It is yet more difficult to determine how many followed them until the outbreak of the First World War, a period when the great and invincible North American country proved a magnet for European immigrants. While there are no official statistics, we can rely on three annual surveys proposed by the European Mediation of Labor Chamber of Commerce of Rovereto. We can conclude that in the fifteen years that preceded the war the force of attraction of the United States on the masses migrants had become overwhelming, so much so that in some years, 70-90% of the workers who came to America had chosen the United States and only the remainder headed to Brazil, Argentina,Uruguay. In absolute terms, the Office’s investigations can make us think of an annual flow of 2,000-3,000 Trentini to the States. From 1890 to 1914, he could then calculate 50,000-60,000 workers started from the Dolomites to New York, to which are added the 4,000 earlier. According to our studies, another 6000-8000 Trentini would follow them in the period between 1919 and 1939 . After the end of the Second World War in Trentino the emigration to the U.S. becomes reduced to several hundred. In short, the United States of America opened its doors to approximately 60,000-70,000 workers parties from the Italian Tyrol and, after 1918, from Trentino.
Here is indeed a major finding: the United States of America was the country that welcomed and accepted the greatest number immigrants from the Trentino. More than double the number of immigrants, for example,found hospitality in the USA than in Brazil or Argentina,as well as the many more than who entered in the same period of time in France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, the most common destinations for emigrants from Trentino in Europe. In contrast, more workers from the Dolomites gravitated and found work in the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Accordingly there are two considerations. Firstly, this movement toward these areas was an “internal immigration” until 1918 since the Trentino was part of that empire.Nonetheless, they moved to a region with a different language, costumes and economy. This was also for those who went to live in Vorarlberg or in Bosnia. This circumstance was a movement representing a temporary or seasonal migration just for one or few seasons with an eventual return home. Even among the Trentini that entered the United States, many then returned home. It is difficult and frustrating to define how many did this turn around. We merely have indirect information that suggest that 50% went and returned.
There were years, possibly decades, especially between 1890 and 1914, where many males of the Italian mountains would leave. It had become almost a custom, a difficult and painful habit, however, to go to the United States whenever the household could not sustain itself and whenever it was difficult to find work. They were the famous “birds of passage”. They were the immigrants that the American ruling classes did not like too much since they worked a while and then took away a small amount of capital from the country instead of spending it on the spot, settling there and forming the manpower available to the local capitalism needed to maintain a low level of wages. They instead lingered a handful of months or a few years, sacrificing and saving and eventually brought home the hoard of dollars that, given the high exchange rate, was used to replace the house, to buy a pasture, a field, a set of woods. It was also, and especially with these dollars, these “rimesse”remittances that the Trentino economy managed to recover the great crisis that had prostrated it in 1870-1890.
Enrico Gentilini, a Trentino pharmacist who lived in Trinidad, Colorado and for a time worked for the news-paper “L’Unione of Pueblo traveled around the States and he estimated in 1914 that there were about 40,000 Trentini, including children born there. Silvio Bernardihad sent a report to the Secretary of Trentino emigration that there were 40,000 Trentini in the USA that included 567 “colonies” in the USA in 35 states. In 1900, the Trentino had 360,000 inhabitants while tens of thou-sands of people had emigrated to Brazil, Argentina and other European countries.
From which Valleys did the emigrants come from and where did they settle? According to the statistics com-piled by Don Guetti, from the very beginning, the great-est amount migrants came from the Val di Non followed by those from the Val Rendena. Among those of the Val Rendena were the “moleti” the knife grinders who were able to make their way with their craft in the large cities like New York and Chicago. With their experience of the Cooperative Movement of Don Guetti, they formed efficient labor guilds, they achieved a good standard of living and often a life of ease, creating prosperous business enterprises. So, too, migrants came from the Giudicarie Valleys, the Val di Chiese, Bleggio, Banale eLomaso, Val di Cembra e the Val di Pine`. Other valleys had migrations from time to time: the Valsugana, Basso Sarca and the Val di Ledro.
An enormous question: in those decades of enormous economic and social crisis, how did these migrants find the money to cross the ocean to get to the USA? Hardly a silly question: it was very difficult to put together the few dollars to buy passage on some ship to the USA. In addition, the U.S. government also enacted laws that sought to prevent the entry into the country of poor and needy people that would weigh on state coffers or private charity. This became the way: who had already emigrated sent to friends and relatives the money for the trip. They returned the funds a little at a time as they found work. Indeed, those relatives and those friends were often the ones who found employment for the arriving new emigrants. There developed a system of “bordo” or boarding houses wherein the new comer who stay in a house, would be served meals, have their laundry done in exchange for an agreed weekly or monthly compensation. Even in this way, here and therein the United States, there developed “ valley islands”since the Nonesi would recall Nonesi and those of the Bleggio those of their area and villages.
They would continue to head to the United States in great numbers. The emigrants from Trentino continued to leave their land with small numbers even in the period between the two World Wars up to 1960-1970. But the U.S. government virtually prevented the flow to continue. In the 1920`s a number of laws were passed to restrict the entry of immigrants in the United States, whose capitalist system was now focusing on the development of the internal market, and consequently on a policy of high wages, thus requiring less and less of a massive immigration as had been the case for the previous decades. At the same time, to prevent the arrival of an illiterate labor force with no financial resources, Americans approved of some laws creating quotas which drastically limited into the country the entry of Latin,Slav, Greek, Arab emigrants as well as other nationalities and ethnic groups. Note that even among Italians, especially those in the south, illiteracy was very high and that both the north and the south of the country , workers departed who did not have even a small amount of money. As a result, the Anglo-Saxons, the Germans,Scandinavians were favored and preferred.
The Trentino region, we know, had entered World War I as Austrian but had exited Italian. So even for her children that Percentage Bill of 1921 had an impact since it imposed a limit and a quota of only 42,000 to the Italian immigrants who had entered in the previous decades in the hundreds of thousands per year in the country. The Secretariat of Emigration for the Tridentine Veneto wrote sadly regarding the Trentino emigrants: “…there exists a certain mistrust of Italy in them (the Trentino immigrants) since as the once Austrian subjects in America, they were most respected and well regarded of the Italians”. Rightly or wrongly, however, almost always the result of prejudice, this was another reality with which the Trentino emigrants had to deal with from 1918 and certainly not just those bound for the United States of America. Even so, now that they could no longer boast an Austrian passport, they could no longer differentiate themselves from emigrants who came from the rest of Italy. Hence, they named and baptized their social groups “Tyrolean Clubs” after 1918 since in the decades before, they had identified themselves as Tirolesi and dedicated to the figures of the Emperor Francis Joseph and Andreas Hofer. These Clubs or Circles were used to gather the people around the traditional values they had brought from their valleys, in a country that was rushing towards modernity, quickly erasing their roots. The newspaper “L’Emigrante” of March 1921 hinted that there were…” sixty Trentino associations established in the various centers of the Confederation North Americana”.
Renzo Grosselli is a noted journalist of L’Adige the main newspaper of the Trentino. He has researched the history of emigration from the Trentino and has published the book L’Emigrazione dal Trentinod all Medioevo all Prima Guerra Mondiale (Trentino Emigration from thenMiddle Ages to the First World War).
The Great Emigration – Part II
From 1870 to 1885, for every one who immigrated to the United States, there were five who chose to settle in Latin America, the majority of these, in Brazil. Why did they choose Brazil and Argentina when the burgeoning North American superpower, with the promises of jobs and a higher standard of living, beckoned?
During this period, most emigrants were families from the lower, primarily agricultural, valleys, i.e., from the Adige, Pianta Rotiliana, Vallagarina and Valsugana. These were people who had lost their land as a result of the economic crisis. By emigrating, they hoped to regain apiece of farmland so that they might continue living as they and their ancestors had always lived. However, in the United States, it was no longer as easy, as it had been in the past, for a poor European peasant to purchase land. That period was just about over! Purchasing land now required more money than most emigrants had.
From 1870 to 1890, about $900 were needed to purchase and equip a farm. The typical Trentino emigrant, upon arrival in the USA, had, on average, just $10 to $20! Brazil, on the other hand, was in the final years of a slave-based economy and was in dire need of European labor. Therefore, it offered the emigrant free passage and the opportunity to buy cheap land, though sometimes that land was virgin forest!
Over time, two trends became notable. The lower valleys no longer had a manpower surplus and the middle and higher valleys (above 500 meters), began sending out their workers into the world. These were usually only men, coming from a decades-long history of working “all’ Aisempon`” (a dialectical term coming from the German “Eisenbahn arbeiter’, that is, ‘railroad worker’).Men had been going abroad for many years, to work on building railroads, roads, aqueducts and housing. Many had sought work in the mines and quarries of Central Europe. These were the workers who arrived at Ellis Island prior to World War I. They were ‘birds of passage’ whose aim was to earn, in the least time possible, a nest egg to bring back to their mountains, where they would buy a piece of meadow, or some woodlands, or perhaps, reconstruct a home which had fallen into disrepair over the years. Some of these men made two, three or more round trips. With their savings, the real estate situation in the region stabilized and much of the housing was upgraded. With the American dollars (along with some francs, marks and crowns from European countries, and even some pesos and milreis from South America), the Italian Tyrol was able to survive the severe economic crises of 1870 through 1890. Over time, and because of new American laws, some of the emigrants decided to settle in the States, joined by their families.
In what sectors of the job market did these newly arrived Trentini work? And, in what area of the United States? There are two sources which can help us here. The first is the list provided, in 1921, to the newspaper L’Emigrante by Silvio Bernardi, himself an emigrant from Storo. This list was based on the research of two brothers, Enrico and Eugenio Gentilini, both pharmacists, who, in 1914,resided in Colorado and Los Angeles respectively. The second source is the 1914 research conducted by the Office of Labor Mediation, a department of the Rovereto’s Chamber of Commerce. At the start of World War I, these lists tell us, the Trentini were scattered over some forty states and in nine of those states, estimates indicated colonies of over one thousand people. The largest group, of about 9000, was in Pennsylvania, followed by 3,600 in Colorado, 2,050 each in Massachusetts and Wyoming, 2,000 in New York 1,460 in Vermont, 1,250 in Michigan, 1,100 in Ohio and 1,000 in Illinois. Groups of more than 400 could be found in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. These numbers include the immigrants themselves and their children, born in the USA, who, in the course of 40 years had had the time to spread out over the American landscape. There were 467 small ‘colonies’ of Trentini scattered across the USA. The Trentini, like the migrants from Venetia, Lombardy and Piedmont, seemed to avoid the big cities.
Exceptions were the knife-grinders of Rendena and the subway workers from the Non valley who settled primarily in New York City. By contrast, the great wave of workers from Southern Italy, after 1890, characteristically chose to stay in the urban areas. Five million Italians entered the USA in the period from 1876 to 1930 – four million of them from Southern Italy. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 60% of Italian immigrants lived in the 160 largest cities of the United State, primarily on the East coast.
There was another difference between the immigrant Trentini and other Italian immigrants, even those from other Northern provinces. Because of the laws governing education in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by 1900, illiteracy had been stamped out throughout the Dolomite’s, so that almost all of the Trentini arriving in America were literate. The two sources we have cited were compiled 40 years after the start of that great wave of immigration. That is why they indicate a small number of Trentini settled as agricultural workers. These were mostly found in the western and mid-western states- Arizona, California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Indiana. But there were also small colonies in Vermont, North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan and Alabama. Some were owners of farms, others were cattle ranchers and still others were employees in these establishments.
But the main occupations of our immigrants was not farming or ranching (though in 1914 there were some ranchers in Colorado, Connecticut and Texas). Neither were there many woodsmen among them, a trade widely pursued in their native land. There were a few lumber-jacks in Alaska and ‘woodcutters’ in California and West Virginia. And many immigrants were ‘ aisemponeri’, who continued that tradition on the railroads in Connecticut,Illinois, Massachusetts and Virginia. But in Bernardi’s list we find many trades that were truly unusual for these mountain people and an indication of their capacity to adapt to new activities. There were coopers on whaling ships, and fur trappers in Alaska, they constructed ports in Maryland and were fishermen in West Virginia. But the chief activity of the Trentini in the USA was work in the mines and stone quarries. The second most frequent occupation was as a factory worker.
Miners from the Trentino, from 1870 until 1920, and even as late as 1930, could be found in all the American mines. They prospected and dug for: gold in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and South Dakota – silver in Colorado and Idaho- copper in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho,Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Utah; – coal in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming; zinc in Arizona and Wyoming; antimony in Idaho, lead in Idaho and Nevada; iron in Minnesota, North Carolina and Wyoming. And then there were the stone quarries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. And lastly, there were groups of Trentini extracting oil from the bowels of the earth in Illinois and Indiana. Because they did not linger in the large cities and voluntarily gravitated to the mines, the Trentini were welcome in the USA, according to the Office of Labor Mediation. Life in the American mines was hard – very hard. Often, it was inhuman.
Renzo Grosselli is a noted journalist of L’Adige the main newspaper of the Trentino. He has researched the history of emigration from the Trentino and has published the book L’Emigrazione dal Trentino dall Medioevo all Prima Guerra Mondiale (Trentino Emigration from the Middle Ages to the First World War).