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Of the Italians who are engaged in agriculture in the United States, he investigations of the Commission indicate that the number who ntered agriculture immediately upon arriving on our shores and the number who have engaged temporarily in some industrial occupation are about equal. More North Italians than Sicilians have engaged at once in farming. There are a few rural colonies (of which Cumberland is typical) made up largely of industrial workers, and in the suburbs of great cities-Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, and New Orleans-groups made up of day laborers and small tradesmen or hucksters are beginning to raise vegetables on small areas, often on vacant lots, chiefly for Italian customers. Almost all of these groups are Sicilian or South Italian in origin. North Italian groups are less likely to be established near large cities and are more likely to originate in purposeful colonization.
Substantially all Italian immigrants are poor and come to the United States to better their economic condition. The newcomer, therefore, must at once engage in some occupation that will give him immediate returns. He has no money to travel, and no capital; of necessity, he becomes a wage-earner. Furthermore, the chances are that he knows nothing about the opportunities in agriculture. A friend or padrone or labor agent directs him to unskilled employment at wages that seem to him munificent, and he gladly accepts the employment. Not only is it economically impossible for the newcomer to buy land and engage in farming, but in addition to immediate wages, day labor in industry offers the comfort and companionship of his fellows, usually a home among Italians and the feeling of security and confidence that comes to an ignorant foreigner only when he can make his wants known in his own language. After gaining his economic independence and accumulating a little money it is likely that many Italians would become farmers if they knew where to buy small parcels of cheap land. The deterrent influences are the isolation of rural life, ignorance of the location of suitable farm lands for sale, the lack of experience in American farm methods, and the tardy and uncertain returns from independent agriculture.
Unless settled in communities, the Italians have not proved successful pioneer farmers; neither are the most of them engaged in extensive agriculture, where many acres and considerable equipment are necessary. In almost every instance they seem to succeed best when they live close together, cultivate small farms, and raise crops that require hand labor rather than expensive, complicated machinery. The social instincts are so strong that they must be reckoned with when the Italian is ready to buy a farm. It may be asserted confidently that the primary reason for the Italian's choice of trucking and vegetable gardening in preference to diversified farming is a social one: he can have both land and neighbors. Some have said that the Italian is a gardener here because he was a gardener in Italy. Doubtless his early farm practice exerts some influence on his later choice, but investigation has plainly shown that a compact group of Italians can carry on successfully almost any system of farming and that the isolation of a few families is likely to spell failure even in the midst of favorable natural conditions.
The prospective farmer finds that little suitable land near friends and markets remains yet to be possessed at a possible price. Outlying or virgin land he does not know about, and if he did he has
not the self-reliance, initiative, resourcefulness, nor the self-sufficing individualism that marked the early pioneer farmer. The South Italians especially run in groups and follow a leader. Once settled on the cheap lands in the congenial climate of the South they advance rather rapidly, even where every square rod of land must be cleared. Few soils are naturally less fertile than those in South Jersey, on which hundreds of Italians are living well. It may be added that the majority of those who have succeeded in agriculture in the United States were farmers or were interested in farming abroad.
Climate and physiography play a much smaller part in the ultimate success of Italian colonies than many suppose. South Italian colonies are found all the way from the pine lands of northern Wisconsin to the cane fields of Louisiana. They are making fair livings on the muck lands of New York, the sandy barrens of New Jersey, the rock-strewn hills of New England, and the heavy cotton lands of the Brazos "bottoms." Sentiment often has much to do with the choice of a location, but few will say that the success of the settlement at Genoa, Wis., is not due to the excellence of the soil and the favorable markets rather than to the Alpine aspect of the topography; or that the fine North Italian settlers on the barren slopes of Valdese, N. C., would not have made more progress every way had they settled on level land near schools and markets where there was more fertility and less Swiss scenery.
EFFECT ON AGRICULTURE.
The Italian has introduced into agriculture little that is new, but in the North, in every instance, the Italian community has enriched and improved the land and increased the agricultural wealth of the surrounding neighborhood. They seem to love the land and few farms have retrograded under Italian management. Ownership is the almost universal form of tenure in northern settlements of North Italians, and but few South Italians rent the farms they operate. The most of the northern settlements were established on uncleared areas purchased by the foreigners immediately on arrival. There never has been much tenancy in the North, and to this fact much of the economic progress of foreign farmers is due. Having once purchased a piece of land on time the Italian works early and late to pay for it and make it productive. In numerous instances he has made land cultivable at incredible expenditure of labor-land that native farmers considered worthless.
When the native farmers in the older colonies have suffered from low prices and a general agricultural depression, Italians have been ready to purchase abandoned or semiabandoned farms, often subdividing them and restoring their productiveness. This movement has not assumed significant proportions, so far as Italians are concerned, but in New Jersey the further extension of the settlements seems likely to proceed by this means.
It requires two generations, usually, to make thoroughly efficient farmers of Italians. Farm methods are learned by observation of neighbors, and become fixed habits; consequently there is little progress in the art of agriculture. The ordinary Italian farmer of the first generation is not progressive; he looks on innovations in crops,
fertilizers, machinery, or methods with suspicion. In marketing produce and in buying supplies he has been rather apt to cooperate, and has shown some business ability. Perhaps cooperation has been largely due to timely leadership, for the Italian farmer is a manual laborer rather than a student or a business man.
On the whole the Italian farmer compares well with other foreign farmers in his neighborhood in industry, thrift, careful attention to details, crop yields, and surplus returns from his farm. His strength lies in his patience, unflagging industry, and capacity for hard, monotonous labor. The aspect of an Italian farming community is nearly always pleasing; fields are well tilled and all the cleared land cultivated. It can not be said that any large number are reaping great rewards, but nearly all are making a living and gradually increasing their properties. It is impossible to ascertain accurately the net annual returns measured by sales of crops, products consumed on the farm, and increased value of plant from a sufficient number of families to be of statistical value, without making a long-time study of family budgets, receipts, expenditures, and annual inventories. But most Italian farmers raise a large part of their food supply, although the majority are commercial farmers; they produce for the market. As with many farmers, progress in material welfare is denoted by better houses, more acres, greater improvements; the Italian's bank is his farm in most instances.
THE EFFECT OF RURAL LIFE ON THE ITALIAN.
Ownership of the land he operates is one significant factor in the social and civic progress of the rural Italian in New England, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The prestige incidental to landed proprietorship, as well as the financial responsibility of an owner, sets the farmer far above the day laborer. Not only is he independent, taking orders from no one, but he is a member of the body politic. He is stimulated to industry, for the money returns are in a measure proportioned to his exertions. The variety of knowledge of crops, fertilizers, markets, and public affairs and the familiarity with a number of occupations necessary to agricultural success educate and develop the newcomer very rapidly. The contrast in independence, resourcefulness, and general superiority between the berry pickers from the cities and the Hammonton Italian farmers is very marked.
Interest in taxation, good roads, public improvements, and expenses for public schools is a stepping stone to wider civic interest. The foreigner's first interest in suffrage is self-interest, but it is better than no interest at all. On the other side, there is the deadening effect of isolation by foreign groups, of segregation in the open country, both on the community and the individual members. Where the Italians are intermingled with an equal number of American farmers they assimilate rather rapidly; where there is rural segregation of large groups Americanization is a slower process than in the city.
It is difficult to measure the effect of the country on standards of living. In the country, food depends somewhat on the products of the soil and climate, partly on the food of the neighbors, partly on the proximity to a market where Italian foodstuffs are sold. eastern colonies much Italian food is imported. At Genoa, Wis., the farmers use almost none. Wine, macaroni, Italian cheese and sau
sage, olives, peppers, and hard Italian bread are still used in New Jersey, but there is abundance of other foodstuffs also. It is certain that the settled farmers live better than the itinerant seasonal Italian laborers. Progress in language and in literacy is slower in segregated rural settlements than in cities, but more rapid among Italians than among Poles in some of the large rural settlements visited. Farm labor keeps children out of school, and lack of opportunity for intercourse with English-speaking people explains the persistence of the Italian tongue, even to the second generation in isolated districts. Compared with the progress made by north European immigrants on western farms, the Italians progress in Americanization has been slower; compared with many rural Poles, his advance has been quite as rapid. Fusion in the case of both races-Poles and South Italians takes place in the third generation.
The quarrelsome, suspicious, mendacious Italian so frequently heard about in labor gangs, where numerous adult males live together, is unfrequently found in rural communities, very rarely among land
Progress in citizenship is less rapid among the South Italians than among those from the northern provinces of Italy ordinarily, but leadership and live local issues touching the property owners have much to do with the number of naturalized citizens. Voting is not the all-important test of Americanization, but in the town meeting of Hammonton, N. J., a vote argues more civic intelligence than in Christian street, Philadelphia. There is a noticeable cleavage along racial rather than party lines, but the country Italian in the North becomes a citizen sooner and votes more independently than the Italian in industry.
The rural Italian is still concerned with his material subsistence. He has a cheap frame house because he is not able to pay for a better one. Little about the house denotes leisure or higher living. Books, papers, and music, rocking chairs or hammocks or swings, find no place until the Italian is materially prosperous. His buildings and grounds do not compare favorably with his American neighbors except in a few localities where the second generation are operating the farms; but the houses are comfortably large for even large families, there is no overcrowding in the ordinary sense, and the houses, excepting those of recent arrivals, are fairly clean and comfortable. In some old localities living conditions are as good as in any homes in the neighborhood. The features of the home surroundings of Italians in the several communities are discussed in the monographs on these settlements.
All in all, the rural community has had a salutary effect on the Italians, especially those from the southern provinces of Italy. It has frequently taken an ignorant, abject, unskilled, dependent, foreign laborer and made of him a shrewd, self-respecting, independent farmer and citizen. His returns in material welfare are not great, but he lives comfortably and accumulates a small property. Where Italians have been established for some time in comparatively large groups in the open country they suffer little in comparison with other foreign farmers in the locality, and the farmers of the second generation are frequently not less progressive than the Americans.
The second-generation Italians seem to be developing into good citizens in most instances. A fairly large percentage of them are likely to remain on the land. In most colonies the number of adult native-born is small of course, and it is difficult to predict the occupational outcome. Children remain on the farms until of age or work in neighboring industrial establishments and give their wages to their parents. In the Vineland settlement there are a number of good farmers of the second generation, and there the tendency seems to be to remain on the soil. In a few instances the young people have a reputation for trickery and dishonesty (see Cumberland report), but rural life seems on the whole to foster virtue and thrift rather than dishonesty and moral obliquity.