Immigrants emigrated for a variety of reasons, some political, others to escape war, or (in the case of the Irish) famine, but they all emigrated for one common reason; their lives were terrible. People would not leave their family and entire lives behind unless things had gotten so bad that they absolutely had to in order to survive. We must look at what immigration to America involves. To the new arrivals, the change is excruciating. Learning a new language and dealing with strange customs make the first years of life in the new land painful¦
The economic system of the United States is a mighty engine of persuasion. It motivates people to do what otherwise they never would¦ . John Lacs references to this in his essay From Enemies to Neighbors, which explains the troubles with immigrantion. (Lacs) Immigrants faced horrifying conditions, some were near death from lack of food, others were being hunted, or some had just ran out of money; but, they all decided they needed to leave. In the early 1900s, the Irish were in the middle of a famine, Eastern Europeans were facing economic issues, and Jews from all over Europe were being persecuted.
Greedy American business owners thought up a way to capitalize on their misfortune, fliers and pamphlets were shipped to troubled countries all over the world by the thousands, these advertised a glorious, prosperous life in America, immigrants were offered large amounts of cheap land. The streets of America were said to be paved with gold. Sounds like a great opportunity to leave behind a hard life, right? (Eyewitness) (Lipford, Timmer, Stephenson, Kwan) Wrong. Life in America was just as bad.
The journey over was horrific, immigrants spent months in dank, rat invested ships; but, immigrants hought, life will be better when we arrive, right? . Wrong again, an Italian immigrant said, I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I [learned] three things. First, the streets [were not] paved with gold; second, they [were not] paved at all; third, I was expected to pave them. Upon arriving in America, immigrants were forced to live in shacks, basements, or the horrendous tenements. Good work was difficult to find, when any work was found it was generally backbreaking work for mere pennies a day. A Chinese rail worker said, Two extra hours a day, sixty extra hours a month for four dollars.
A human body [can not] work that way. Immigrants lived in slums and ate slop for food. In short, life was not good. At least in their homeland they were not ostracized and ridiculed for the way they dressed, spoke, and acted, as they were in America. Many immigrants were considered worse, if not as bad as the slaves that had been brought to America in its early years. Many immigrants who were Caucasian were called white niggers. When immigrants came to America, they were stripped of their rights. They could not vote, become citizens, or even live in certain neighborhoods or states. This hate towards immigrants was legally sanctioned.
This was a shock to many, they had been used to being allowed these simple liberties and now had none of them. (Lipford, Timmer, Stephenson, Kwan) The immigrants of the early 1900s moved for a reason, in their homeland life was not kind to them. Once they arrived in America, they learned something; life was generally just as bad here as it had been back in their native country. Granted, life did improved slightly; because, life was difficult for different reasons. In their homelands, the threat of death was immediate, some did not know whether they would be alive one day, or dead the next.
Dictators, enemies or mother nature were trying to kill them. In America, even though there was no famine or dictators, they still had other races, or racist clans and prejudice Americans making life a difficult one. Immigrants already had enough trouble immersing themselves in a completely different culture with completely different customs, without racists tormenting them everywhere they went. Food was abundant, usually poor quality slop, if you could pay for it. Immigrants were notorious to work incredibly hard for mere scraps. This injustice still occurs, even today in uch a modernized age, the work of poor immigrants is exploited so factory owners and businessmen can make a quick buck.
Immigrants were nearly killed at home, just to take an awful journey to a prejudice country where businessmen and con artists swindled them out of the little money they had. Willa Cathers book My Antonia, describes this perfectly. In her book, a poor immigrant family arrives in america, only to pay ridiculous prices for simple things, swindling these poor trusting people out of their tiny savings (My Antonia). Immigrants usually lived in places generally worse than before, and had about the same amount of food.
Life was equally repulsive no matter where these poor souls went. (Eyewitness) In the long run, life was really no better than it had previously been. Even though life had been rough for different reasons, the level of difficultly was very close to the same. The life of an immigrant was not a good one, it may have improved slightly, but in a long term point of view, things were no better. Regardless of whether immigrants were in America, or living in their original countries, their lives did not improve. No matter where they were, life was hard.