It is no surprise that Italy has been having a long and rich immigration history, especially since the year of the unification, 1861. What surprises people the most, though, is the fact that this phenomenon has been going on for a long time and it is hardly going to stop any time soon.
But is the government doing something to prevent such a hemorrhage? Are there any ways to try to stop the growing numbers of Italians who, after more than 150 years, are still leaving their country to find a better life or a job?
Sadly the answer is not going to be very positive.
Since the beginning of the phenomenon, immigration has been unknown among people, and it was rarely considered in either political speech, historical research or daily conversation. Immigration was a sort of taboo, especially among the top government officials, who never took into consideration what was really happening in the rural areas of the country, which made up more than 90% in the post-unitary period. There was a hemorrhage, but no one was interested in stopping it. The priorities were different, and surprisingly they are different today as well.
“To the bourgeoisie’s eyes, those who were leaving Italy were not important. It was a bunch of goods without value. They could therefore leave. Their departure did not disturb the wealthy people“. This is what has been written by writers who decided to study this phenomenon, starting from the migrants’ country of departure, rather than the country of arrival. The United States, for example, have done much more research on immigration history, while a country like Italy, which is one of those that contributed the most in shaping countries such as the USA and Canada, did nothing on such matter.
What many people do not take into account is that Italian emigration is what really makes you understand how this country has grown up among tensions, deprivations and mass emigration, while the ruling class was dreaming of colonial conquests and a position of great power in the international context.
The Italian emigration was different, indeed. It was never ending, it was made of illiterate and shabby people, with no protection, abandoned to themselves. But the questions arise quite spontaneously: why Italian emigration lasted more than a hundred years? Why were the majority of Italians émigrés illiterate, poor and badly dressed? And, last but not least, why did emigration became a social, political, civil and religious defeat for Italy?
If we think of the conditions that Italians were forced to live in, when they crossed the ocean, no other country in the world would accept such humiliation for their citizens. Italy did though, because Italians abroad were seen as a burden to be freed from. In Brazil, they replaced the black slaves, in Northern America, they were living in slums outside the major cities, working inhuman shifts for the so-called “padrones” in the factories. In New Orleans, in 1891, thirteen Italians were killed, when the population rose against them. In Alabama, Italians were considered of black descent, and all over the United States different policies stated people coming from the Mediterranean were part of an “inferior race”. Other riots against Italians happened in Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, France. They were alone. Their “patria” was not giving any attention to them, they were abandoned, despised, exploited, beaten.
But what were the causes of Italian emigration back then? The first one that comes out among people is poverty. People say Italy did not have raw materials, agriculture was quite backward, the industrial sector was taking its first steps. Emigration was an inevitable outcome.
NO. Italy was not the only country affected by this kind of problems, especially in the late Nineteenth century and early Twentieth. What was really hard to explain was the high rate of illiteracy of the Italian people, the persistent misery, the filthiness that characterized Italian immigrants in that period. The answer to this matter is hidden in the concerns of the ruling class of the period, which was dominated by a hard crisis and profound changes. The Parliament never found the time to think about the emigration, and the money were not invested in the right way by the government: in those years 44% was needed to pay off debts, 37% was needed for the army, the remaining 19% was left for all the other expenses. Italy WAS poor, but it was also using their money in the wrong way. This explains why there were no money for social needs, and why many people were starving. This explains why our émigrés were leaving with dirty and ragged clothes.
The biggest mistake that the ruling class did was identifying the wrong enemy. Austria was not the enemy anymore, misery, ignorance and emigration were. The State had to invest their forces to contrast these in order to develop and prevent a larger exodus.
The hidden truth was that Italy was a poor country, with an excessive population, backward agriculture and all the reforms that the government promised were left aside because they decided to invest in the industrial sector instead. That was a wrong choice.
It was not only poverty that forced migrants to leave. It was not only the economical laws that pushed thousands of Italians overseas. Emigration became permanent, the departure of millions of farmers, small craftsmen and labourers was guided by the ruling class. Emigration became part of a project of capitalistic development that counts on the departure of many people. Emigrating becomes a job. It becomes the biggest industry in Italy.
The emigration faucet continued to spill water. It stopped after more than a hundred years. There simply was no more water. But in the latest five years we can track down thousand of Italians who started moving abroad for the same wrong decisions of a country that is left behind, a country where policies are left back to more than 50 years ago, a country that needs RENOVATION.
Emigration has changed, Italians no longer emigrate illiterate and with ragged clothes. They have degrees, vocational diplomas, they have work experience and outstanding knowledge in many sectors. But they still are forced to leave if they want to succeed in what they invested their lives in. The State continues to give other priorities, now, instead of the colonial conquests and the rivalry with Austria, the European Union and its Stability Policies are the main concerns of the ruling class, while the emigration wound is still wide open and the hemorrhage will not stop in the next ten years.
– Villa, D. “L’Emigrazione Italiana. Il più grande esodo di un popolo nella storia moderna.”, Romano d’Ezzelino, Edizioni BST, 2005.
– Local news on current emigration phenomenon.