An Army of Labourers Leaves Italy

Today we start the publication, in ten chapters both in Italian and English, of the academic presentation that our periodic collaborator Goffredo Palmerini held in L’Aquila on November 3rd, on the occasion of the CRAM Assembly (Regional Council of Abruzzesi in the World). The report is entitled “Historical notes on Italian emigration” and traces the history of the Italian Diaspora.

L’AQUILA – To fully appreciate the depth of a phenomenon of such great national importance as emigration, it is necessary to take one’s mind back to its genesis (roots) and dynamics, so as to at least understand how it has changed over time. It is a complex context that any effort to reduce it to its manageable simplicity may do it injustice. With that in mind, let us therefore return, just for a moment, to the times in which emigration exploded as a widespread phenomenon in our country, in the absence of specific public policy or accepted societal purposes.

In the nineteenth century (more specifically, from 1880s onward), the “political system” was not yet equipped to create a comprehensive, unified provision for the regulation of the right to emigrate and contemporaneously consistent with [any generally accepted or enforceable] code of civil or human rights. The intervention of public institutions was sporadic and uncertain. Any regulations and their application only served to further confuse the development of a demographic phenomenon crying out for comprehensive assessment and broad solutions.

None of it was forthcoming. And the “army of unskilled” labourers that left Italy for every continent found itself having to face unimaginable and dramatic human circumstances and events; compelled to fight every day against suspicions and prejudices, having to compete every step of the way in adverse, tough, conditions in the context of unknown social systems and equally precarious working conditions.

From this perspective, the history of Italian emigration, with all its material and moral pains, was truly enlightening and effective, more so than any other sociological analysis, narrated through texts that have been widely distributed. Among them, I cite Gian Atonio Stella’s, best-seller, “The horde. When the Albanians Were Us“; and, more recently, Enrico Deaglio’s, “True and Terrible History between Sicily and America“; or “When we Left. Stories and Images of Italian Emigration”, by Bruno Maida. These provide insights on the Italian migratory phenomenon for the contemporary public, which today is more inclined to celebrate the great civic, economic and social achievements of our emigration, less to reflect at the cost of the sacrifices which produced them.

In fact, today, when speaking of Italian migratory phenomenon – one of the largest diasporas of humanity, which in little more than a century, has seen around 29 million Italians emigrate – we tend to recall and concentrate, exclusively, on statements underscoring every role in the societies of the countries of immigration where our communities have made prodigious contributions to growth and development.

They have thus survived and achieved in the “marketplace”, sometimes against all challenges that competition weighted against their favour. Their industriousness, ingenuity and creative resourcefulness produced such notable results that they have earned respect and esteem with exemplary life testimonies.

Moreover, they have even rendered a further great service to Italy, contributing to their native land’s growth and progress even with their [modest] remittances “back home”. In this manner, in every corner of the world they came to inhabit, they manifested the qualities and talents of the Italian people abroad. They should never be undervalued, given the propensity by the residents of those Countries whose understanding of Italy and Italians is too often measured more in terms of our [perceived] defects rather than on our virtues.

(first chapter – continues…)

Translation in English by the Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher

The pic above is “Si riscaldavano con il braciere” from the book “La Merica. Emigrazione dei Monteleonesi verso gli Stati Uniti dal 1882 al 1924” by Antonio De Vitto

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