Immigration into the U.S.


The statue of liberty has stood in New York harbour since 1886. It used to be seen as the symbol of America’s welcome to the millions who crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life. A poem, ‘The New Colossus’, inscribed on the base of the statue tries to sum up that welcome.


Migration to the U.S.A in the 19th and 20th centuries has been the largest movement of people in human history. Italians have been one of the most important groups in this migration. Between 1820 and 1920 more than 4 million Italians crossed the Atlantic to America. Most of them came from the south of Italy and Sicily, where the land was arid and unproductive and the exploited peasants lived in conditions of near starvation. Their main reason for migrating was that America offered opportunities, through work, for them to gain prosperity which they would never achieve in their native land. This dream was not always fulfilled. Italians – like other migrant people – lived in the cheapest and worst housing in the cities, and did low-paid work. For instance, they laboured on building the railways, in the clothing trade, mending roads and on the docks. They were doing jobs which America needed doing if it was to increase its wealth and power. They were often cheated and exploited. Many Americans were suspicious of Italians and thought they were all violent and dangerous.


However in 1921 and 1924, the American government passed laws which severely restricted immigration, and which made it particularly difficult for people from the south and east of Europe to enter the country. British, Irish or Scandinavian people, for instance, were preferred to Italian, Jewish or Polish people. As a result of this Italian immigration was almost halted; only 3,485 Italians were legally allowed to enter America each year. However, for those Italian-American already at home in the United States, things began to improve. Second or third generation immigrants began to move into a wider variety of jobs, and pay and conditions in working-class occupations improved.


In 1929 the Wall St. Crash, subsequent Depression and World War 2 brought hardships to the American people, but the difference in standard of living between America the south of Italy meant many Italians still wanted to immigrate. It was inevitable, therefore, that many of them attempted to do this illegally. Marco and Rodolpho in A View from the Bridge are two examples of the people who decided to take the risk. They expected to be supported, at least for a time, by their relations in New York. Eddie’s betrayal of Marco and Rodolpho is especially shocking because it goes against strong traditions of family loyalty in Italian communities in Italy and America.