America has historically seen intermittent waves of immigrants (fig. 1: Ellis Island) arriving to its shores since the original European expeditions. The Italians have greatly contributed to this process not only with manpower but also with skills and resources which, interestingly, have significantly mutated in recent times from the traditional arrivals of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Any visitor to the many Italian regions will certainly notice the widespread presence of street vendors (fig. 2) peddling all sorts of merchandise, often based on the weather, time of the year or upcoming festivities. Because of its unique position within the Mediterranean Sea, Italy has indeed seen abundant migrations, now occurring in dramatic fashion from its southern borders, often as an entry point to other European countries.
At the same time, however, a new migration typically of young and well educated Italians, has begun in recent years, mostly caused by poor employment and growth opportunities currently present in Italy. With an unemployment rate reaching 30% or more for the under age 25 group, particularly within the Mezzogiorno areas and the South, these young, educated and more adventurous Italians are reaching all corners of the world with ideas, creativity, desires, and willpower to work and succeed.
Last year, as the Italian Consulate Office in Cleveland celebrated the Festa della Repubblica in June, I was excited and surprised at the same time to have met so many bright and wonderful young professionals, all here in our city, to fulfill their dreams and contribute in their own way to the betterment of the American society.
They were researchers, doctors, college and university professors, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, writers; all perfectly bilingual, so up-to-date on world events and problems and seemingly all very well adapted to their new life in America. As I thought of my own voyage to these shores so many years ago, I felt so proud of these new arrivals already leaving their mark on American soil.
How things have changed since the earlier Italian desperate villagers arrived. While we celebrate the achievements and the successes of the new wave of immigrants, we need to now, more than ever, reflect on the courage, determination and despair of our ancestors who left their land and families behind to accept their challenge and destiny in an unknown and, at times, unwelcoming America.
The images here are a portrait of the Italy those emigrants left 100 or more years ago (figs. 3,4), as compared to today’s Italy (figs. 5,6); a country, sadly, still unable to retain and encourage the incredible talents born and matured within its borders. Overall, a blessing indeed for America and many other countries, but, in the long run, a devastating loss for Italy. Italy, today, is a wealthy and fortunate nation in many ways (fig. 7), but, perhaps, at the same time unable (fig. 8) to really grow up.