When looking back into our Italian ancestral history, we can uncover lessons to help us in our own difficulties. Italian immigrants in the late 1800s/early 1900s faced numerous hardships on their journey to the United States. While there are many distinctions between past Italian immigration patterns and immigration today, there are also many parallels between the two groups. Italians traveled to America for a multitude of reasons, such as to escape violent and dangerous conditions, to look for steady work, and to seek refuge in a country where hopes and dreams were welcomed. Similarly, many immigrants who migrate to America today often seek refuge in an attempt to escape unsafe conditions and want to find stable work to earn money to send back home.
Regarding the journey itself, when many Italian immigrants passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry, they usually traveled by boat and settled in NYC or nearby cities. They would often contact relatives or a family friend who was already in the United States to find work in sweatshops, slaughterhouses, restaurants, and factories. The boom of the Industrial Age helped to create many jobs on assembly lines, in factories, and on railways that Italian immigrants would take immediately, despite the low wages and poor working conditions.
Immigrants are coming to the United States by all modes of transportation. Oftentimes these immigrants are detained before being allowed entry and even have to register documentation for asylum before they leave their home country. Immigrants now are settling all over, not just concentrated in cities. There are opportunities for work in urban, suburban, and rural areas, where current Americans don’t necessarily want to work since the jobs are often manual labor, like cleaning, restaurant delivery, or migrant farm work.
Both sets of immigrants, past and present, were and are frequently taken advantage of and have not been awarded their fundamental human rights. Landlords and business owners often take advantage of immigrants, allowing their homes and places of business and work to become overcrowded, unsafe, and hotspots for illnesses. In addition to illness, many immigrants developed diseases from the conditions in the workplace back in the early 1900s. Recent immigrants were not given the same safety measures and considerations for protection against COVID-19. These past unsafe conditions led Italian immigrants to organize themselves against corruption and malintent and are often thought to have helped shape workers’ rights and laws today. Recent immigrants can learn and have learned from past Italian immigrants as they organize together, especially migrant workers, against unjust and unhealthy working conditions that violate their basic human rights.
It is important to remember that all Italian-Americans, like myself and all the members of the Lodge, were immigrants at one point. We should continue to fight for our fellow immigrants and allow them to hope and dream for a better future, just as we were allowed to hope and dream when our families first arrived on American shores.