"I Go To America," Reaching For The American Dream
By Miriam B. Medina

PART II
The Departure

The Hard Paved Road to the "American Dream"

Without further delay, the masses would pack their meager belongings, household goods and families into beast driven carts. They arrived at ports of departure throughout Europe, including Le Havre, Bremen, Hamburg, Genoa, Leghorn, Naples, Messina, Catania, Palermo, and Venice. Ancona and Brindisi were also well-known seaports. Liverpool, Le Havre and Hamburg were the principal ports of embarkation. European governments attempted without much success to make the hardships of the passage less severe by requiring a minimum of space, rations and decent treatment on the ships. The American government did not pass any legislation in this area until circa 1855; neither the federal or state governments attempted to protect the immigrant in the first half of the 19th century. (5)

Approximately 30 million people left Europe for the United States, during the period of 1861-1914.This great exodus from northern and western Europe encompassed the Russians and Rumanian Jews who were escaping religious persecution. European countries with coastal areas tended to be well connected with America through regular steamship lines, so they usually were granted a greater quota for emigration. (6) Hamburg, which is the commercial emporium of Northern Europe , began to take drastic safety measures from 1893 into the 20th century against epidemics. The seaport had suffered more cholera epidemics than any other city in the Northern part of Europe. The city was also "the terminus of seven lines of railway, which furnish direct communication with all the German cities." One of the most important strikes against epidemics occurred through the new focus on the sanitary service maintained in the harbor; now incoming ships were forced to comply with sanitary regulations (7).

Selected Ethnic Group Emigration Movements: A Brief Sketch

A) Austria- Hungary

"In the twenty-year period of 1878-1898 about 900,000 people emigrated from Austria-Hungary to North and South America, of which 818,310 went to North America, 41,210 to Brazil, and 25,000 to Argentina. According to the report of the United States Commissioner-General of Immigration, the number of immigrants coming to the United States from Austria-Hungary increased from
62,491 in 1898-99 to 114,847 in 1899-1900, the most numerous nationalities in order of importance in the latter year being Slovaks (29,000), Poles (22,000), Croatians and Slovenians (17,000), Jews (17,000), Hungarians (14,000), Germans (7,000), and Czechs or Bohemians (3000). " (8)

B) Germany

Many ambitious Germans would seek their fortune in the United States and elsewhere. During the early part of the nineteenth century Russia, Argentina and other countries went to great lengths to attract the German emigrants by granting them large tracts of land, and monetary aid during the first years of settlement.

The western and southern German states had experienced economic crisis similar to southern Ireland, and the Germans too were affected by the potato blight, as well as the evils of landlordism. The Craftsmen who couldn't find employment in the factory would also escape to America, hoping that in this prosperous economy they could find their niche. During the nineteenth century over 6,000,000 people emigrated from Germany.

C) Ireland

During the first part of the nineteenth century there was a general movement to divide farms into small holdings. The lands were increasingly held by absentee landlords, who endeavored to obtain the highest possible rents. The large number of middlemen who held land under the lords and acted as their agents made the condition of the peasantry still worse. (9)

Many of Ireland's great portions of land were confiscated by the English.

The Irish had no desire to improve their farms, since all their efforts would automatically revert to the landlord. The industrial activity of Ireland was largely confined to agriculture. As a result of the potato crop failure during 1845-1847, Ireland suffered from a famine where approximately one and a half million of people died. Between 1847 and 1860 more than 1,000,000 Irish immigrants passed through the port of New York. Those that arrived were fortunate in having accumulated the passage money. They either had a relative to help them or their passage was financed by a "smooth operator."

D) Italy

Between 1881 and 1917 about four million Italians arrived. By 1910, the Italian-born population of the United States was 1,343,070. The Italian peasant was the poorest in Europe. In 1905, 323,000 Italians were ill of malaria and thousands of them died. There were also periodic earthquakes that wiped out entire towns especially in Calabria. During the years 1906, 1907, 1913 and 1914, the Italian emigrants to the United States would exceed approximately 250,000 a year. (10)

E) Jewish Europe

" The anti-Semitic agitation which began to affect Europe about 1880 started in Russia, a legal and extra-legal persecution of the Jews, which has been continued, and modified only when its severity has brought forth protests from the other civilized peoples that could not be ignored. Prohibited from acquiring real property, and thus prevented from becoming farmers, the Jews were forced to crowd into the towns, where they became artisans or engaged in mercantile pursuits. Great masses of them, unable to do anything in any of the fields left open to them, sank into poverty. With legal restrictions have come physical persecutions, at different times taking the form of riot and massacre. The most notable instance of this kind occurred in May, 1903, at Kishinev, the capital of the Government of Bessarabia, when more than fifty Jews were killed and the hospitals were filled with the wounded. The fierce persecution to which the Jews have been subjected in Russia and Rumania has caused an emigration on a vast scale to the United States." (11)

"The Russian pogroms of 1881 stirred American Jews not only to the point of protest against Russian barbarism, but to the raising of considerable sums for the relief of the victims. The public attitude was wholly sympathetic to America as a land of refuge for the afflicted; a public welcome was offered some of the newcomers; their woes and hopes inspired many. During the years of 1881 and 1910, approximately 1,562,000 Jews came to America." (12)

F) China

"Up to 1868 the United States was trying to compel China to admit Americans into that country for the pursuit of trade and commerce. The first treaty (1844) with China gave Americans the right of residence in five ports and gave them the rights of extra-territorial consular jurisdiction. The Americans, though not participating in the Chinese war of 1858, secured all of the privileges obtained by other nations, which were stipulated in the Reed Treaty of 1858. Nothing was said in these treaties about Chinese in America, who came here under the same conditions as the citizens of other nations. The Burlingame Treaty of 1868 deprecated involuntary immigration---aimed at coolie labor---but declared the right of migration to be an inherent one, and a special resolution of Congress (July 27, 1868) declared the right of expatriation to be a natural and inherent right of all people, the obstruction or restriction of which is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the republic."

"The number of Chinese who came to the United States from 1848 to 1852, when they began to come as a result of the gold discoveries, is estimated at 10,000. From 1852 to 1854 the excess of arrivals over departures amounted to 31,861. During the next 15 years the annual departures were about as great as the annual arrivals; 1868 showed a net gain of 6876, and from that year down to 1876 the net gain was about 11,000 per annum. "(13)

" Early Asian immigrants often fled homeland tragedies only to encounter harsh repression and legalized discrimination upon their arrival in the United States."
 

The Journey to America

The vessels finally began arriving at the European ports of departures to pick up their human cargo. The emigrants were already irritable, their children hungry and crying. They had waited for days after their arrival at the wharf. The steamship agents had booked as many steerage passengers as they could squeeze on deck, or in the bottom of the ship, in order to make the trip financially worthwhile. These shipping companies made large profits by carrying "human cargo" to the United States. The emigrants on deck without protection and mercy were subjected to stormy cold weather conditions and the dampness of the sea. The days turned into weeks. Water was limited. The hungry emigrants in their desperation would push and shove their way to the vessel's kitchen, knocking down whoever got in their way, grabbing whatever they could to feed themselves and their children. The lucky might find raw potatoes, oats and and rice, but they lacked a way to cook such food. Furthermore, the crew members beat the foraging immigrants without mercy if they caught them.

Everywhere there was confusion and disorder. Mothers saw their children starving before their eyes. The filth and the stench of unbathed bodies were overpowering. Diarrhea was prominent among the passengers. Their few personal belongings were often stolen.

Starvation, dampness and filth became the breeding ground for Cholera and death. The bodies were weighed  down and tossed into the sea like animals. If they wanted to survive, the emigrants had to stay focused on one thing: "The American Dream."
 

(Continue Part III The Arrival )
 


 

 

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