The Italian Perspective

Posted by Abby G. Michigan

The Italian way of immigration. Through family experiences and other perspectives of Italians. What they went through and how they faced them and let it shape them to be who they are.

By the year 1920 more than 2 million Italians moved to America. They all had many reasons, whether to be famine, opportunity, lack of inheritance or to get out of bad situations such as the mafia. They all had a common goal, was an opportunity. My family has many reasons for coming to America. The many things they have experiences that they have been through has been passed on throughout the family to shape my livelihood, through family history and community has helped contribute to the way I view being an American. Keeping traditions alive and supporting local Italian stores it keeps up with my Italian roots and traditions. It helps to understand my way of being an American.

Family History

When interviewing my grandmother about the reason’s for her family coming to America was for the opportunity. They wanted to go over for bettering themselves and then hopefully receive opportunities that many of her family members weren’t able to receive. “My grandfather made our family assimilate to the culture; you voted because you’re an American now. You support your community because this is your community.” Many people moved to America, and they began to assimilate to the culture so they could feel that they were American. They wanted other Americans to support them and not make assumptions about them, so they substantially conformed to being an American. My family was intrigued by the idea of being an American and making something of themselves, as they had very little in Italy. It was almost like a test they had to prove to themselves and the other Americans here that they are worthy of the life that is being offered here. "It made them work harder as they couldn't speak English, they learned from their neighbors and community they lived in." My Grandmother explained. Not being able to speak a language and moving to an entirely new area can make doing every day to day tasks harder. With our family not knowing English, it made them work harder where they lived. They didn't want people to assume things about them, so they began to conform and assimilate to the community through learning through other Americans, and learning English through the sounds of voices on the radio. It makes me understand with how hard people work for a goal that they want and how much work they put into it. This makes me apply this with my life right now when having to conform to certain things you aren't used to because that is what is expected. It shows the value of how much they appreciated the opportunity they have and how they learn to appreciate little things because they were overall excited for the new life that they can achieve as opposed to living in Italy where they’d be starving and have no money. It shows they were ready to work. They were willing to do what it takes to feel accepted and have the American dream that they so badly wanted to achieve. Although they had to face challenges here, it will outweigh the problems that they would have faced over in Italy and how much better it'd be here. It also shows that if you want something, then you'll work hard for your goal until you have accomplished it, which is ultimately what my family did by learning English and starting a better life here for their family at the time and future generations.

Different Perspectives 

Many feel that when immigrants come to America, they aren’t ready for the life that is here. They think that they are lazy, which results in them having to work even harder in life. “We knew to be immigrants that we had to work that much harder. People assumed that we were sloppy or affiliated with just the mafia.” My grandmother stated about work ethic. People assume that although Italians are always considered to be associated with the gangs and violence that's not the case. They are very hard working and will get jobs did that is expected from them as well as they bring new skills to Americans. In the article ‘Immigrants don’t just succeed, they make other Americans successful as well” written by Archivist Mary Brown, throughout the article it talks about how Italian Immigrants helped influence people in many aspects. Such as the success of specific communities were from the creative skills of Italian immigrants. Having immigrants can make culture diverse and expose people to new traditions, and work ethics to Americans as well as Italians work hard and start their businesses. In the article “Immigration Italy” written by the Library of Congress, the Contadina food company was started by Italians. The family who started the company faced many challenges of being discriminated simply because they were Italian; they weren’t paid equally when they first started out working. They worked in poor conditions. The Contadina family were from Southern Italy, and during the 20th century, Italian’s were the lowest paid Immigrants in America. They didn’t feel America was full of opportunities because they were treated poorly. That made them want to work harder ultimately. They wanted to prove others wrong. My family did that. They kept persevering through the discrimination of being labeled as a mobster or as lazy, which resulted in them owning many businesses. When persisting, they were opening up opportunities for our family and future immigrants. This is a way they helped the community, by creating a path for the future of many more immigrants. This shows how the community was affected by immigrants in by the way they influenced their culture on others through food, architecture and many more attributes. My grandfather owned multiple grocery stores; one of my grandmother's uncles owned a dentist office. My great grandmother owned many concession stands at Coney Island in New York; they all were successful and kept driving through the many barriers from discrimination or to not knowing English. They were apart of their community by owning these many businesses; they infused their culture into the community through work ethic, and products they sold. With my grandfather owning the many grocery stores it was a way of him giving back, he has presented an opportunity by owning and running stores, so he followed through with it. He hired anyone with wanting to work. He hired people who needed work, no matter who they were. He gave others opportunities like how he was given chances. He was giving back to his community what he has received. This is when they would begin to assimilate into the American culture to avoid discrimination. While doing this, they were able to adopt a new lifestyle, by speaking English, learning a whole new culture in America, and by having to work harder than the average American. They never got anything handed to them. They worked long hours, deteriorating jobs and as well as low paying jobs. This is how they contributed to their community. Working the hard neglected jobs, it was a form of an opportunity that could open another door for them. The mindset of opportunity and the next best thing resonates with me. I always want to do the next best thing in life as opposed to being comfortable. Although it is challenging at times, you learn life skills of having to face challenges head and continuing to power through it. That is the process of hard work. That shows how immigrants are willing to do what it takes to help better their lives and their future families.

Assimilating and Forming Traditions 

When Italians moved to America, they all assimilated in one way or another. A significant form of assimilation was through their community. According to the source "Italian- The Great Migration" by 1920 more than 2 million Italians had immigrated to America. That is 2 million people that assimilated to American Culture; this is done in many aspects and ways. Personally, with my family, they all lived in American communities to help with assimilating and to fit in. “Our family just lived in American communities, and they always went where work was. This helped with adapting and they were able to blend into the communities they lived in." My father's cousin explained to me about my grandfather's family. When assimilating to culture, many people do it through the communities they are invested in. That sometimes means a lot of their ways of life fades away. Although this was the case with my family not all traditions went away, we still make tomato sauce regularly, make a traditional pastry called Strufoli at Christmas time, as well we still shop at family-owned Italian stores. We still invest our time into Italian communities, just not as much as we would before assimilation. While assimilating, they wanted to give back to their community. Italians are very loyal people in the sense that they will always help one another. “When looking at the census, you can see my grandmother always took people in; there were always more people registered to be living with her.” My grandmother began to tell me about helping out people. They helped other people because they knew what it was like to be in a country that is new and do not know the language. They didn't know anything there but what they had brought with them, who they came with, and their intentions. My family always wanted to help one another until someone was able to get back onto their feet. It was respected and them giving back to their community. They felt as if where they lived and what America did for them, others should experience that. They wanted people to experience America in its full and the opportunity of America. They were so giving and caring for the other immigrants although they were as well still figuring out their lives too.

Community 

Many Italians are giving and helpful with one another; there are many foundations to help others. One particular is the “Sons of Italy.” This foundation was founded by Italian Vincenzo Sellaro in 1905. In an article about the foundation called “History of the Sons of Italy” the primary purpose of the fund was to help out Italian immigrants when they moved to America. “In the early years, OSIA established free schools to teach immigrants English and centers to help them become U.S. citizens.” the main purpose was to help with their community. They always wanted to give back to others who initially helped them. This helps me understand that being an American is more than being faithful to a country; it's about giving back and helping out the other people in need or who go through similar things you do. To as well help make the transition easier.

Although many people will have prejudice views towards Italians, they help with the communities that we all live in today. They also help contribute to many aspects of life. The history of my family and the community has helped shape my view of the life of American. An American should be hardworking, giving, as well as eye-opening. That is what I feel being an American is and that helps me understand my way of being an American. It's through a series of working and learning. The development of everything in life also helps to contribute to it as well and especially the aspect of just being thrown into a new atmosphere. It can change a person and make them evolve with their family and their way of life. It helps me understand what it truly means to be an American, which is hard work, acceptance, and givingness.

Published on May 28, 2019
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