July 13, 2013.


Naples to New York

My Grandfather, Luigi Montalbino, arrived in New York City on April 16, 1890. He was the only family member. However he was with other residents of Savignano. He was 13 years old and the oldest of 8 living children. His father worked for the railroad company. What was the economic and political situation in Savignano that would require him to seek an income in the USA?

In the History of Savignano I have copied the book "Are You From Savignano?" by Father Henry Lombardi. Recently I received another book titled "Are You From Savignano?" This one written by Father Enrico Lombardi. One entry links the authors as being the same person. Enrico is referred to as "my Uncle Henry". It contains many of the answers to my question. He states:

First observation: the mass emigration movement started after the Italian peninsula became united with the Kingdom of Italy, under the Savoy monarchy, but this fact was not an immediate result of this historic event. Still it is true that, because of the building of the new state, there arose several situations of disproportion against the newly incorporated territories, and in particular against the populations of the Veneto in the North, and the central and southern lands of the peninsula. There were the expenses for the wars to be paid, and usually the loser pays them. In the first stage of the wars for independence Premier Cavour laid hands on the ecclesiastic holdings in Piedmont and in Lombardy, and the same was done with annexations by means of the laws of 1852, 1855, 1873, 1876, 1877.

The Church property was to serve government needs, so monasteries, abbeys, convents became government offices, schools, prisons, military buildings. Houses and land property were sold by auction to rich people and profiteers. As for the general assessment, small holders were given taxes with a high inequality between North and South, share-cropers, laborers of the North and South after the unification of the country only had the Garibaldi red shirt and the tricolor flag to enjoy.

And since the Italian Parliament was composed of big shots and landowners, there was no hope that the fiscal drag that burdened the small owners, and the condition of the laborers could change for the better.

A letter that several peasants of Northern Italy sent to Secretary of the Interior summarizes the conditions of poverty of the lower class.

<<... we grow wheat, but we don't know what white bread means; we grow vine but we don't drink wine... We breed cattle, but we don't taste meat...

The only heritage for us on this Italian land is a little maize, and that also is cut down by your unjust tax on flour...

It is now sixty years since these people stuff us with motherland, unity, liberty and similar tall stories...

At first we believed it and gave our share of blood in battles for the independence of our country, from which we expected some kind of material and moral blessing, but what have we gained of that? We got only plucked and exploited more than before.

Salt, the sole seasoning of our meals, raised to an impossible price. All the consumer items terribly overtaxed.

The draft as before and worse than before. Income taxes, flour tax, soil tax, and so on.

What happened with State property and church property? Those could, if divided into small lots, and given to us proletarians, have given Treasury a double income, and changed completely the condition of many families of good farmers, raising them from extreme poverty to a class of small owners.

Oppressed and vexed in many ways, we go away in order to make enough room for you. What more do you want?

But the Secretary asserts that mass emigration may damage seriously the economy of the country. And furthermore he sais that he aims to prevent the cheating of profiteers...(The Italian Americans; Alinari 1988. page 54)>>

The emigrant farmer replys: Who is the nation? A few privileged persons, or we poor people who are more numerous than them?

And if there are people who take advantage of emigration, the State must strike those by making good laws, and not by shutting the only way the poor man, has to get out his poverty.

“We go away!” say these wretched people.

The State, I mean government, trys stopping the emigrant in order to avoid damage to the economy of the nation, which would be detrimental to the interests of the manufacturers and rich landowners.

The clergy try to dissuade the emigrant for quite different reasons: compassion for the desperate who jump out of the fryng-pan into the fire; and for fear that when emigrating to a Protestant country, he may abandon his Catholic faith, or religious practice because of the lack of priests speaking his own language.

But let's give a look at a paesant, at an artisan who has decided to leave. He jeopardizes everything: he sells his little property and he gives the money to a travel agent in order to pay the fare for himself, his wife, his children.

Other emigrants leave their families and give their little savings, or obtain a loan, in order to pay the fare.

Agents and subagents swarm in any built-up area: in a large city as well as in a small center isolated in the mountains. There's no lack of swindlers who pocket any down payment, and after abandon their victim on a dock or at the New York Battery.

There's a lot of transportation: steamships carrying different flags: Italian, French, German, Angloamerican, Spanish. They bear different names: a series of French departments as Provence, Champagne; Italian cities as Taormina, Ravenna, Citta di Palermo; personages as Galileo, Duilio, Cesare; Savoy series as Regina Margherita, Conte Rosso, Conte Verde, Conte Biancamano, Duca degli Abruzzi, Duca di Genova, Duca di Galliera.

The emigrants leave after they’ve put away tools, their hoe. Some houses are definitively closed, since the whole family moves away. Crockery, tools, utensils become gifts to relatives, friends, ‘compari ’. Furniture is sold for a little sum or just given away.

At the last hug the heart pushes against the throat. The emigrants and their relatives crowd the station and cram the train.