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Where Are We Now?

By William J. Girimonti III

In an earlier article: Where Did We Come From?, we zeroed in on the place of origin for our family. The southern Italian region of Calabria. Calabria has always be touted as the poorest region of Italy. There are two main reasons for this. First, the region is full of mountainous terrain which essentially isolated it from the rest of Italy before the twentieth century. This would limit commerce and trade with the rest of Europe except with those coming by sea. Second, the soil is not as good as in the north due to the elevation and temperatures associated with them. Because of the temperatures, the growing season is much shorter than in the lower elevations. This means less production, which means less to sell, hence less money and poorer economic conditions. Calabria's economic situation was dismal on the best of days, and this issue still remains in modern times.

Prior to the 1900’s 90% of the population of Calabria were contadini or farmers/peasants. Many of the contadini did not own any land, but farmed what they could on the land of the local nobility. There were allowed a certain portion of the harvest to feed their own families, but the rest went to the land owning nobles. This poverty and feelings of subservience to the wealthy ruling class seeded the desire to get away and make something for themselves in the land known as America. There, they would be able to improve their lot in life with a little hard work. The work they were used to, but the opportunities they were not. Getting to America was very expensive, approximately 180,000 Lire, which at the time was equivalent to 80 U.S. Dollars. During this time, it should be noted that the average yearly income in the United States was 417 dollars per year. It would have been considerably lower in Italy – especially in Calabria. This may well have been a full year’s pay or more.

A trip of this nature was usually planned far in advance and took a few years to save for. The typical scenario is the following: At first, only one person would leave Italy for America, normally the eldest son. Once he arrived he would find a job locally and get settled in. He would make some money and send some back to Italy for the others to live on and save for their subsequent journeys to America. Once enough money was saved, the other brothers and sometimes, sisters, would make the journey (usually the parents did not leave Italy). The majority of the Italian immigrants remained relatively close to the port of entry (normally New York), but over the years they began their slow move west ward. In our family, we followed the typical string of events for immigrants of the time period (barring a few exceptions).

Nowadays, our family is scattered all over United States, Canada, Argentina, and some still remain in Italy. By far, the United States has the largest density of family members than anywhere else in the world–with a total of 140 known households to date. Canada has an astonishing 52 households, Italy has 152 and Argentina 24. These numbers are only the households that are known, there may still be others. Wherever family members eventually settled, they brought with them a little bit of their homeland, which was evident in their cooking, their customs, and their sense of family unity.

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