I keep hearing about prejudice and hatred against minorities, but looking back in the history of the United States every “group” got a piece of that action but they have moved on to enjoy the opportunities in this country.
In my case, both sides came from southern Italy after their country was united and the southern part was made second class to the north. Just prior to the turn of the last century they arrived in America, my father’s to work on the railroad and my mother’s family to work in the garment industry. My paternal grandfather was a child when he came with his parents. His father ran an Italian labor gang and great grandmother was the cook. I guess Grandpa and his brother didn’t see a future on the railroad so they decided to go to college. Great uncle John graduated medical school in 1898 and went on to join the United States Army in 1918, shipping off to France for World War 1. My grandfather graduated as a pharmacist around the same time but took a more conventional path by starting a family and opening his own pharmacy.
Now let’s talk about the America they accomplished these things in. In 1891 New Orleans, 11 Sicilians were lynched after being found innocent in a court of law, setting a record for the largest lynching in American history. Now move to New York City in 1895, where a public notice of daily wages for workers on the Croton reservoir were:
Common Labor: White $1.30 – $1.50.
Colored $1.25 – $1.40.
Italian $1.15 – $1.25.
Now if you move to my lifetime, in 1941 just after we moved to California my father applied for a job at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank shortly after Pearl Harbor. He was refused employment and after pressing the issue he was told because he was “Italian” even though he was born in New York City. Later on in 1942 he was granted employment at Vega Aircraft, a subsidiary of Lockheed.
Our prized possession from our life in New York was a Pilot radio, which could receive short-wave broadcasts. My father bought it for my mother so she could receive opera programs from Italy. Because the radio dial had short-wave stations listed, my father took nail polish remover to scrub them off, which ultimately wound up ruining the dial. This was done to hide it from our government because it was not allowed for “Italians” to have short-wave radios even though ours was only a receiver.
This is the country that my ancestors immigrated to and the conditions they endured even up to my lifetime, but I have no bitterness toward anyone. I can only marvel at the opportunities available to my children and grandchildren. If you want to check the source of the above information, please feel free to go to IAMLA.org or go to the museum and check out my Mom’s radio.