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PADRONES AND PREJUDICE

The Courier, May 25, 1901 - On historical grounds, every Italian should feel as much at home on American soil as the Anglo Saxon. Columbus was a Genoese; John Cabot, the discoverer of the continent of North America, was born in Venice; Verazzano, who sailed into New York harbor nearly a hundred years before the coming of Henry Hudson, was a Florentine.

About a hundred thousand Italians per annum are now arriving in the port of New York. "It has long been known that on account of a specially dependent temperament, on account of polyglot dialects, through the schemes of intriguing padrones, corrupt officials and interpreters, and because of a wide-spread prejudice against Italians, life in America for these immigrants is but a sorrowful experience."

The prejudice is more tenacious than the slavery to the padrone. In a comparatively short time, the Italian immigrant learns that he is being imposed upon and asserts his freedom.

Prejudice, while more impalpable than the contract to the padrone, is more difficult to overcome.

"The glory of our age is its helpful spirit, its applied Christianity. In a pathological sense, Christ did come to torment us, as the two men possessed of an evil spirit said. The ablest thinkers of today are "tormented" with a noble discontent, striving to lift some of the fallen and despised."

The New York State Bureau of Labor statistics for 1898 contains photographs of the shanties in which the padrones herd the newly-arrived immigrants. The text which accompanies the photographs is a narrative by the paid agent of the bureau who in disguise worked with the gangs from the different shanties. Although the investigation has made the padrones more careful, the system is still in force. The immigrant arranges with the padrone before he embarks for this country, and goes from the barge office directly to his office.

All kinds of greedy boarding house keepers, bogus conductors and guides and pettifogging lawyers guide the immigrant into traps kept set the year through. In 1894, Gaetano Conte of Boston, doing city missionary work there, discovered the dreadful conditions surrounding Italian immigrants, and aroused public interest in their improvement. But the society finally disbanded for lack of funds. A new society, II Risorgimento, was organized last November. Among the officers is Miss Sarah Wool Moore, an artist, a scholar, and a philanthropist. She was formerly a resident of Nebraska, and sends The Courier the preceding account of the society.

The constitution of the society states that the objects are to explain to newly arrived and other immigrants that their own well-being in America and the good will of Americans will depend largely upon their learning our language and upon their adoption of our customs and principles; and that, to secure this good standing, they should promise:

1. Not to carry concealed weapons.

2. To learn the English language.

3. To sacredly guard the privileges of the franchise.

4. To respect the Sunday laws.

5. To assist compatriots in all rightful ways.

These objects of the society are being accomplished by sewing classes, mothers' classes, English classes and cooking classes, and by all other means by which sociable contact can civilize. Miss Moore adds that "the American branch ought to represent in its membership every Christian denomination, and the efforts and aims of II Risorgimento (the Renaissance) proper ought to enlist the sympathy and support of every public spirited citizen. Friends of this movement who wish to offer to it substantial aid are invited to become members meriting gratitude, or as the Italians express it more concisely, 'membri benemeriti.' The honorarium for which privilege is placed at five dollars."

"So many gods, so many creeds,

So many ways that wind and wind

When all the help this sad world needs

Is just the art of being kind."

A prejudice against a nation is unjust, because the prejudice was formed in consequence of the conduct of the vicious of that nation. A prejudice against a nation, therefore, is a prejudice against a few, but includes all. The good vastly outnumber the bad or vicious. Upon innocent Italians, we visit the crimes committed by a few criminals. If the society does no more than call attention to the injustice and cruelty of the American prejudice against Italians, it will have justified its creation. After the assassination of King Humbert, the Italians of Chicago organized a procession in honor of Italy and to the memory of King Humbert.

The Americans who watched this parade were surprised. They were surprised because the intelligent, manly, strong masons, carpenters, contractors, merchants and professional men did not harmonize with their idea of Italians. The fervent patriotism, the expressions of loyalty to their country and to America embarrassed the Americans who watched the parade, by demonstrating what erroneous opinions a great number of our people may hold. Dante, Petrarch, Michael Angelo and Raphael were Italians. The high water mark of such a civilization must descend very low before reaching the estimation in which we hold their nation. The average Italian is not so gifted as these great ones; but the average Italian is nearer to them than he is to the type we designate by "Dago."

 

SOURCE

The Courier, May 25, 1901