I’ve researched and written on orphans and adoption customs in Italy before, but in the last few months I’ve come up with another reason to be interested in Italian orphanages… I’ve discovered that my great-great grandfather was an orphan. Apparently, the “First Anselmo” as we are calling him (there were more after him) was offspring of a nobleman from Molfetta and a servant girl. We have the surname of the father but only the first name of the mother. After being educated in the orphanage at Giovinazzo, Puglia he lived with two other families, neither of which had the surname Finzi. So we have a new family mystery to solve… why Finzi? And why Catholic? (Most Finzis in Italy are Jewish).
I suppose that someday I might get my hands on the adoption records from 1836. I’ve read that there can be a lot of information gained due to the narrative style of report written about each foundling during that period. But in the last part of the 19th century, the adoption procedures slimmed down to the barest of information. However, if the foundling was placed in a Ruota del Trovatello (Foundling Wheel), there might never be any information about who the parents of the child were. You see, the Ruota was a type of drum shaped cabinet on a pivot, used in orphanages to receive unwanted babies--anonymously.
During those hard times, there were a significant percentage of abandoned babies from both unmarried women and married couples. Poor peasants with several other children could not afford to feed yet another child. They would anonymously abandon the child at the Ruota, typically built into the wall of the local convent or Ospizio (orphanage).
The problem of unwanted newborns has been documented in Italy since Roman times when babies abandoned next to a column in a forum were either taken home by strangers to serve as slaves or left to die. Pope Innocent III was so shocked by the large number of dead babies floating in the Tiber River that he institutionalized the “foundling wheel” in the 12th century as a solution for dealing with the large number of foundlings—infants abandoned by their parents and left to die or be discovered and cared for by others. The size of the Ruota was purposely kept infant-sized to prevent older children from being abandoned. Older children were thought of as workers and laborers, and rather than be abandoned, worked on the farm or became apprentices to a local tradesman.
The practice of using foundling wheels to dispose of unwanted children gained in popularity and became a common practice in medieval Europe. By the early part of the 19th century, names were often recorded when people gave up their children to the orphanage or church openly, a practice often done when there might come a time when they wanted the child back—as they became more solvent or when an older child could work on a family farm. But surnames could never be known when they put the child in the Ruote. For this reason, many often pinned a charm or special memento to the child that could be identified if they ever wanted to reverse their decision. The babies were given surnames such as Esposito (exposed), Proietti (thrown away), and Innocenti (innocent). People with such names can usually trace their family tree back to a foundling. It was only after 1926 that an Italian law banned the use of such discriminatory names, when names were given to describe the time of year (Primavera) or the month (Maggio) the child was abandoned.
(Read more about orphan names HERE)
Safe Ways to Abandon Babies in Modern Society
In many countries, there are still modern versions of the Ruota… usually a climate controlled drawer in which a baby could be placed. Multilingual posters in modern Rome read—“Don’t abandon your baby! Leave it with us.” The practice of placing unwanted infants in a modern foundling wheel, heated baby hatch, stork cradle, stainless steel baby box, maternity ward, or designated safe haven is a practice that is still used today in many European countries and the United States and the practice is gaining in popularity throughout the world to combat child infanticide.
Some legal problems with modern baby hatches are connected to a child’s right to know their own identity, as guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Baby hatches also deprive the father of his right to find out what has happened to his child, though DNA testing of foundlings would seem to offer a partial solution. I suppose as strange as the Ruota sounds, it has saved the lived of countless children in Italy and around the world…
As for me, I now know we come from a lineage of Finzi’s that come to a sudden, mysterious beginning in 1836. Since my great-great grandfather seems to have been placed into the orphanage with some paperwork filled out, perhaps someday I’ll be able to continue to trace our family tree further and further back in time.
List of September 11 Victims of Italian Heritage
By Gianni Pezzano
The decision to migrate is never easy but, no matter how hard the decision, at the moment of departure we never understand the true price paid by those who leave a country for a new life. It will then be the cruelty of time that will uncover the true pain caused by long distances and the ones who feel it are not only the migrants, but also the children and descendants.
From telegrams to messages
When I woke up Saturday morning there was a message on my mobile phone that I had feared since the first day in Italy. My uncle Rocco had passed away, the last of my father’s eight brothers and sisters and with him an entire generation of the paternal side of my family ended. It will not be the last such message and they never become because less painful, in fact…
After the first moment of sadness, which has grown since then, I remembered my mother’s scream that evening fifty years ago when the telegram arrived to tell us of the death of Nonno (grandfather). The change of technology has done nothing to reduce the pain.
That was my first true experience of the migrant’s pain. Two years before my maternal grandparents had come to Australia to meet the new in-laws and above all the grandchildren that they knew only from a few brief words in the rare telephone calls and the photos sent during the long exchange of letters between my mother and Nonna (grandmother). Sadly I never met my paternal grandparents. Nonno had died before my parents’ wedding and I was too young to remember when Nonna followed a few years later.
Read the entire article HERE (in both Italian and English)...
The shameful treatment of Italian Immigrants during WWII
show America’s propensity for xenophobic hysteria
Their movements were restricted,
their homes raided;
in some cases, they were interned
The men in suits were at the Maiorana family’s Monterey, California, home again. Mike, the family’s young son, watched as the agents rummaged through their belongings in search of guns, cameras, and shortwave radios. And again, they found nothing. This was during World War II, and the FBI had declared Mike’s mother an “enemy alien.” The sole source of evidence for this allegation was that she was Italian.
Elsewhere in California, an Italian poet’s work was scrutinized for treachery, and a father was hauled off by the FBI, leaving his wife and ten children without a breadwinner for four months. In New York, an Italian opera singer was thrown in prison without charge and just as unceremoniously released. Hundreds of Italian mariners who had been stranded in U.S. waters by the start of the war were loaded into Army trucks and hauled to an internment camp in Missoula, Montana, where some would remain for years.
It was a distinctly American story, revealing the immigration system’s xenophobic through line. Poverty-stricken immigrants who were hated one day were approved of the next, only to be replaced by another allegedly dangerous immigrant group, all under the guise of national security. As beloved as Italian cuisine, sports cars, and fashion are on our shores today, things were different during the first half of the 20th century, especially during WWII....
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE...
Another informative article:
Santa Cruz County History - World War II
The Many Reasons for Coming to America
Poverty was the main motivation for an Italian leaving his family and home and putting up with the hardships of traveling to America. In 1898, widespread "bread riots" plagued all of Italy, with people protesting the lack of jobs and the sudden increase in the price of wheat and bread. Other motivators were the constant political strife and the dream to return to Italy with enough money to buy land and improve their lives. Fully 80% of Italians were farmers and couldn't afford modern farming equipment to better their lives. Rural Italians lived in harsh conditions, residing in one-room houses with no plumbing or privacy. In addition, many peasants were isolated due to a lack of roads in Italy.
Most Italians didn't own land, so they were indebted to landlords, who charged high rents and took a portion of their crops. Higher wages in America--as often falsely advertised by many flyers produced by steamship companies--proved to be an attractive draw. AN Italian contadino who farmed year-round might earn 16-30 cents per day in Italy. A carpenter in Italy would receive 30 cents to $1.40 per day, making a 6-day week’s pay $1.80 to $8.40. In America, a carpenter who worked a 56-hour week would earn $18.
Farmers faced even further reasons to immigrate. Besides falling wheat prices, fruit and wine prices were also falling. The phylloxera virus destroyed nearly every grape vine used to produce wine. America was envisioned as a place of opportunity, with abundant land, high wages, lower taxes--and at the time--no military draft. Yes, one more reason why many Italian men wanted to leave Italy... to escape conscription into the military. But still, many wanted only to go to America, earn money and return to buy their own land.
Political hardship was also a factor in motivating immigration. Beginning in 1860, la Guerra dei Contadini del Sud (the Southern Peasants War) began. This was an uprising to resist the changes that the North was forcing on the Southern provinces with the Unification. Led by mostly brigands (many of who had previously had the support of contadini), this was a type of "social banditism" who were rebelling in order to retain their small sphere of power and wealth in their rural areas. The poor contadini were caught suddenly in the cross fire. Later in the 1870s, the government took measures to repress political views such as anarchy and socialism. Many Italians came to the United States to escape political policies and warring factions.
Italian immigrants to the United States from 1890 onward became a part of what is known as “New Immigration,” which is the third and largest wave of immigration from Europe and consisted of Slavs, Jews, and Italians. This “New Immigration” was a major change from the “Old Immigration” which consisted of Germans, Irish, British, and Scandinavians and occurred earlier in the 19th century.
Between 1900 and 1915, 3 million Italians immigrated to America, which was the largest nationality of “new immigrants.” These immigrants, a mix of both artisans and peasants, came from all regions of Italy, but the largest numbers were from the mezzogiorno--Southern Italy. Between 1876 and 1930, out of the 5 million immigrants who came to the United States, fully 80% were from the South, representing such regions as Calabria, Campania, Abruzzi, Molise, Apulia and Sicily. The majority (2/3 of the immigrant population) were farm laborers or laborers, or contadini, as noted on the ship manifests when arriving at Ellis Island. The laborers were mostly agricultural and did not have much experience in industry such as mining and textiles. The laborers who did work in industry had come from textile factories in Piedmont and Tuscany and mines in Umbria and Sicily.
Though the majority of Italian immigrants were laborers, a small population of craftsmen also immigrated to the United States. They comprised less than 20% of all Italian immigrants and enjoyed a higher status than that of the contadini. The majority of craftsmen were from the South and could read and write; they included carpenters, brick layers, masons, tailors, and barbers.
The first wave of Italian immigration began in the 1860s after the Unification of Italy. By 1914, the number of Italians immigrating to the United States reached it's peak at over 280,000 making the journey to America. Since there was a larger population and higher skilled laborers (such as miners) in the industrial northern Italian provinces, a higher number emigrated from the North. But even though the South had a sparser population with less labor skills, more per capita came from these southern regions. In fact, by 1915, the number of emigrants from the South nearly matched those coming from the North.
Due to the large numbers of Italian immigrants, Italians became a vital component of the organized labor supply in America. They comprised a large segment of the following three labor forces: mining, textiles, and clothing manufacturing. In fact, Italians were the largest immigrant population to work in the mines. In 1910, 20,000 Italians were employed in mills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
An interesting feature of Italian immigrants to the United States between 1901 and 1920 was the high percentage that returned to Italy after they had earned money in the United States. About 50% of Italians repatriated, which can be interpreted as many having trouble assimilating into the American way of life. Some of this can be blamed on the blatant racist views toward Italians and refusal to hire them for better paying jobs. In the large cities, tenements were essentially slums. If an immigrant couldn't get a decent living wage, they might reconsider trying to raise their family in America. Because Italian immigrants tended to be gregarious--often clustering together in "Little Italys", often they didn't feel there was a need to learn English, another factor in not being able to secure better paying jobs.
Many might have fallen into the trap of getting housing or jobs through a padrone, a boss and middleman between the immigrants and American employers. The padrone was an immigrant from Italy who had been living in America for a while. He at first might seem helpful in providing lodging, functioning as safe "bankers" or money changers (often short changing), and found work for the immigrants (albeit, for a percentage of their earnings). Often, they would get the work that they could do in the apartments they rented to them... making silk flowers, rolling cigars, sewing, etc. After a few years of paying a percentage of their salaries to these padrone, many immigrants got discouraged enough to return to the homeland. At best, these situations became indentured servitude, at worst slavery. Child labor was also a product of these padrone, filling sweat shop factories with children as young as 10 years old.
Prejudice Rears its Ugly Head
Both immigrant contadini and those with skills faced economic as well as ethnic prejudices upon entering the labor force in America. The poor economy caused hostility toward Italians and many were labeled as strikebreakers and wage cutters from 1870 onward. American workers already feared the new mechanization in factories was the cause of taking away their jobs. Job bosses used Italians to fill their jobs as scabs during labor strikes. Prejudices were especially aimed at (as perceived) darker skinned Southern Italians who became scabs during strikes in construction, railroad, mining, long shoring, and industry. The Italian workers were called derogatory names such as:
Italians were the only workers to work along side black people and employers preferred Slovaks and Poles to Italians. At the time, it was said that "railroad superintendents ranked Southern Italians last because of their small stature and lack of strength”. In the mining industry especially there was an ethnic hierarchy: English-speaking workers held the skilled and supervisory positions while the Italians were hired as laborers, loaders, and pick miners.
It was not until the 1920s that Italians became more integrated into the American working class, regardless of whether or not they spoke English. More immigrants started to work at semi-skilled jobs in factories as well as skilled positions but one-third of the population remained unskilled. In trade unions, meetings were held in English and Italians were not elected to official positions.
My Grandfather, Sergio Finzi had made two preliminary Voyages across the Atlantic trying to establish connections and work so he could bring his wife and children over. He was a tailor, a skill he brought with him from Molfetta. They were poor. My father told of not having enough coal or wood to fire up their kitchen stove--the only heat in winter. He said he and his brother walked the railroad tracks to pick up scraps of coal fallen from passing trains. They left school in the fourth grade to help the his familia scrape a living from their new home.
Many Italian immigrants suffered--and endured. We are all proof if this fact. Italian immigrants--as many immigrants from other lands--help build this country. They helped defend it. They assimilated. They became citizens. Paid taxes. Sent their kids to school.
And here we are... over 100 years later and many in our country are still ambivalent or even dead against immigrants. Have we really lost sight of the fact that unless we have 100% Native American blood running through our veins, that we all are descended from immigrants?
Starting in 1888, photographer Jacob Riis, a Danish immigrant, in an attempt to call attention to the suffering of immigrants, photographed the Manhattan tenement slums where Italian (and other) immigrants were living in squalor. He was followed by Lewis Hines, who photographed not only the immigrants and slums but the children who were the most helpless victims of this inflicted poverty.
Enjoy the slide show... and try to remember the hardships our fore-bearers went through to get us where we are today...
Members of Black Hand (la Mano Nera) arrested at Fairmont, W. VA.-The Mafia, more commonly known as the Black Hand in West Virginia, reared its ugly head in Marion County in 1908. The members of the Black Hand, all natives of Italy, had banded together with Frank Pisconeri as their president. They carried out a campaign of extortion throughout the county with their victims either Italians or Italians by descent.
-(Marion Co Historical Society)
Black Hand (Italian: Mano Nera) was a type of extortion racket. It was a method of extortion, not a criminal organization as such, though gangsters of Camorra and the Mafia practiced it. According to a newspaper report in the New York Tribune of June 1912, the Black Hand "...really exists only as a phrase. As an organization such a thing never existed out of the minds of the police. It is a catch phrase made familiar through the newspapers, and the quick witted criminal of Latin extraction lost no time in using it as a nom de crime, which he wrote at the bottom of his blackmailing letters, sometimes - in fact, generally - adding fanciful decorations of his own, such as daggers dripping blood, revolvers spitting fire and bullets, crudely drawn skulls and crossbones and the inevitable sketch of a human hand."
The roots of the Black Hand can be traced to the Kingdom of Naples as early as the 1750s. However, the term as normally used in English specifically refers to the organization established by Italian immigrants in the United States during the 1880s who, though fluent in their Southern Italian regional dialects, had no access to Standard Italian or even a grammar school education. A minority of the immigrants formed criminal syndicates, living alongside each other. By 1900, Black Hand operations were firmly established in the Italian-American communities of major cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Scranton, San Francisco, Olean, NY and Detroit. In 1907, a Black Hand headquarters was discovered in Hillsville, Pennsylvania, a village located a few miles west of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The Black Hand in Hillsville established a school designed to train members in the use of the stiletto. Although more successful immigrants were usually targeted, possibly as many as 90% of Italian immigrants and workmen in New York and other communities were threatened with extortion.
Typical Black Hand tactics involved sending a letter to a victim threatening bodily harm, kidnapping, arson, or murder. The letter demanded a specified amount of money to be delivered to a specific place. It was decorated with threatening symbols like a smoking gun, hangman's noose, skull, or knife dripping with blood or piercing a human heart, and was in many instances, signed with a hand, "held up in the universal gesture of warning", imprinted or drawn in thick black ink. According to author/historian Mike Dash, "it was this last feature that inspired a journalist writing for The New York Herald to refer to the communications as "Black Hand" letters—a name that stuck, and indeed, soon became synonymous with crime in Little Italy." The term "Black Hand" (in Italian: Mano Nera, and in Sicilian: Manu Niura) was readily adopted by the American press and generalized to the idea of an organized criminal conspiracy, which came to be known as "The Black Hand Society".
The tenor Enrico Caruso received a Black Hand letter, on which a black hand and dagger were drawn, demanding $2,000. Caruso decided to pay, "and, when this fact became public knowledge, was rewarded for his capitulation with 'a stack of threatening letters a foot high,' including another from the same gang for $15,000." Realizing the extortionists would continue to demand money, he reported the incident to the police who, arranging for Caruso to drop off the money at a prearranged spot, arrested two Italian-American businessmen who retrieved the money.