Immigrants Helped Build America

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America, stock filled with immigrants – every industrial city in the country had worked for them while the rich continued their way of life. 

It was not much different from their foreign countries when one person rented land to families, and a man would walk the streets to pay according to how productive the crops were, etc. Here in America, work from foreign lands helped our country to thrive. This included craftsmen, bakers, masons, artists, scientists, and more.

immigrantsImmigrants lived in small spaces within communities among people from their own country, feeling safe, and learning the customs. They had little to eat, few clothes, but would open their arms to another familiar face, finding a small space in a flat or tenement to give them a place to sleep, and food to eat.

When you speak to those from another country they had their specialties, like the Italians brought their talent and used it, from growing grapes; barrels stored in the basement; you would find them resting in the evening on a front porch with friends or ‘paesans’ and a man, no doubt, sat rocking in a chair and served a new batch of wine.

If you walked by these neighborhoods you would still hear the people speak in their native tongue, laughing, yet working long hours contributing to America with their hands – talent – ambitions. Some immigrants took care of the parks, watering plants and tended to the flowers while others were hired for their craft, carving stone, or obtained a permit to drive delivery trucks, etc.

Many stores were opened offering new tasting food from the old country. All of this changed and years went by before cities began to feel the influx of immigrants, causing cities to become overcrowded. Mind you, everyone was once an immigrant.

America placed a stop on the immigration into the country, giving everyone a deadline, if they were not on American soil, the gates at Ellis Island and other entry points would place tougher regulations. At one point, employers such as the General Electric Plant met with those immigrants the hired from afar, at the docks, pinned a tag to their jacket and escorted them to their future home. I am sure many of the larger industrial plants did the same.

It was never easy, women would stare at the immigrants pushing their children, and signs were posted on lamp posts on the street, which read, “No Italians, Polacks or blacks allowed to live,” in particular sections of the cities. This in itself surprised me, since the immigrants were providing the labor for those who were permitted to live above the line – after many years of research I learned about the city where I grew up; as reported in their historical documents: around the Union College area, near the GE Plot; immigrants were told they could not own or rent; for a moment, remember the Scientists who occupied the said area, were the best in their field and immigrants. It would be below Van Vranken Avenue, toward Erie Blvd., Immigrants could own a home or rent, but anything from Van Vranken or above; off limits. In 1913, the property was being offered to the Irish, and Dutch.

We speak of equal rights today; things have changed over and over during the growth of America. First, we welcomed anyone with opened arms, from restrictions to rules, and more rules. When higher class citizens lived in places like the GE Plot, they figured workers at their plant did not belong near them, only at work. It was not because they were immigrants but what they were worth – who would be their neighbor.

The Cities dignitaries took the heat; even some of the brightest scientists at the GE ran for the seat of mayor, to regulate the laws within their city. Once larger establishments were completed; learning institutions, mansions, parks, etc. the restrictions began to turn one person on another. If some immigrants wanted to move, blend with the community, it wasn’t allowed. The deeds of these initial homes are still in existence, and it is printed in black and white, what was posted on the lamp posts. This changed minds of some immigrants, those who returned to their soil, but they would return, in the majority of families. Then, the US Government slapped restrictions during the early twenties, who, when, and where people could go if they entered the States.

Let us remember the American Indian was the first to own property, and many of the sales continued in the trade to England while the King oversaw the exchange of goods for land. If you took the time to investigate, you would learn about the land, unused, belonging to particular Indian Tribes. Approximately twenty to thirty years ago Indians wanted to use their land for casinos, and the States involved either agreed, bought them out or refused due to the amount of property they needed. There was once one excuse after another. If you wanted to construct your casino, as an Indian, on your property, the regulations would vary from State to State. I have followed this issue, and today the States are beating the Indians to the punch, or they are selling out to the State or local governments. We are now part of the casino revolution. It happened during the eighties when States bought the property from the Indians, in most cases.

So who would consider themselves the first real Americans – but the Indians – before Columbus discovered America, as the story goes, Indians were scattered all across the United States. Much of the territory sits idle in areas where cities never took off – and the deed to the property is still in the tribe’s name. This could mean four acres among thousands, or four thousand, belonging to the Indians among a few belonging to the State.

Things began to change for the better. In 1927, signs in the city of Schenectady were taken down; people began living and mingling with others. They maintained a fine residence, and their children learned the English language. Everyone was accepted into schools, churches, and fraternal organizations.

Today we celebrate with festivities of many cultures, joining in as a community. Cities are proud of their sections named, Little Italy, Chinatown, etc. and have grown into larger businesses, attracting people to their way of life.

I have always believed we were all equal – we were all made by the same God – and all had a “purpose, under heaven.”

Nothing will ever be perfect, but one thing in America is to be free, give our children the best education with the best educators, never turn anyone away because of their race or religion, and to accept who we are, and what we may one day be. Not only do we have to get along in Washington, but getting along in our own community – city – town – can make a world of difference.

Yes, thousands of immigrants crammed into the cities. Men worked hard, laboring, driving wagons, peddling fruit, rags, ice, and their women tended to the children, sitting on the stoop near the front porch of the row houses. Immigrants were overworked and underpaid, but the population of the Immigrant in America continued to grow. They taught their trades and contributed to progress.

2 Comments
  1. Ishmael Brathwaite says

    An interesting article and paints a fair picture of immigrant’s role’s within United States. However there is no mention of the “forced immigrants” – Slaves; The ownership of humans to build the wealth of the rich who you mentioned. Why do I mention this rather un-savoury fact? Well it was your illustration of the infamous signs “No Italians, Pollocks or blacks allowed”, (in England we had the “No Dogs, Irish or Blacks allowed). As far as I am aware slavery that involved Italians and Polish people was not really a huge issue within the history of the US, (please correct me if I am wrong). These two groups came to the US to sample the freedom of a new world country and not be constrained by the issues / rules back in Europe.

    However the Black’s mentioned on those signs where not necessarily new migrants, they were (in the majority) sons & daughters of slaves and continued to be excluded through various forms segregation (by US law) up to 45 years ago when the 1968 Civil Rights act was introduced. So even your date of 1927 when things began to get better for immigrants is true if you choose to ignore a large group of people mentioned in the sign.

    As I said I enjoyed the article however I just felt I had to highlight the omission.

    I will not mention 1965 immigration act which increased the “Quota” of Asians allowed to enter the United States.

  2. Nancy Duci Denofio says

    Thank you for taking time to explain your culture, and timeline – and explaining the difference.

    First, I have to say where I was brought up, the blacks, polls, Italians, were then considered the same. They never worked as slaves per say, as the blacks worked in the south – but their culture in upstate N.Y. during the date mentioned was unwanted in many parts of the communities, and in nearby states, it was the same.

    I was surprised to learn the signs you mentioned, always believing it was due to the high society who occupied the homes near an expensive well to do college, and in the city which lit the world. I knew the immigrants I mentioned were treated differently, even the Italians could not enter certain churches, or attend functions with the dutch, who claimed to be the owners of the city, in basic words. Yet when we look at our history, it was the American Indian who sold off the property to the English, and copies of these sales can still be found in many locations, and yes, many of the wooded lands do still belong to the Indians.

    As you speak of slaves. Slaves were much different in the south, in America. But the slaves in the north were working the hard jobs and getting paid less, and I mean much less. At first they were ousted, or brought here for their expertise, how different a situation for the same person who was brought up by the same culture – but one was honored while another frowned on.

    You would never find those from the dutch ancestry work in the coal factory, etc. The cities were divided. I believe the city was divided until the sixties, to some degree, although those of us who lived in the sixties would never think of themselves as better then someone from another background, or color. We had friends from all races. This was when the real change came to the north – since they did not have the same treatments as the slaves from the south… and I do understand the difference, you are right. It is strange how cities, countries, north and south, all were different, and slowly changed. It is sad to hear stories of those rich in their culture being turned away. Everyone is equal, if they were given a fare chance.] Sincerely, Nancy

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