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America - The City Builders

( Originally Published 1921 )

"WHAT will happen to immigration when the public domain has vanished?" was a question frequently asked by thoughtful American citizens. The question has been answered : the immigrant has become a job seeker in the city instead of a home seeker in the open country. The last three decades have witnessed "the portentous growth of the cities" and they are cities of a new type, cities of gigantic factories, towering skyscrapers, electric trolleys, telephones, automobiles, and motor trucks, and of fetid tenements swarming with immigrants. The immigrants, too, are of a new type. When Henry James revisited Boston after a long absence, he was shocked at the "gross little foreigners" who infested its streets, and he said it seemed as if the fine old city had been wiped with "a sponge saturated with the foreign mixture and passed over almost everything I remembered and might have still recovered."

Until 188e the bulk of immigration, as we have seen, came from the north of Europe, and these immigrants were kinsmen to the American and for the most part sought the country. The new immigration, however, which chiefly sought the cities, hailed from southern and eastern Europe. It has shown itself alien in language, custom, in ethnic affinities and political concepts, in personal standards and assimilative ambitions. These immigrants arrived usually in masculine hordes, leaving women and children behind, clinging to their own kind with an apprehensive mistrust of all things American, and filled with the desire to extract from this fabulous mine as much gold as possible and then to return to their native villages. Yet a very large number of those who have gone home to Europe have re-turned to America with bride or family. As a result the larger cities of the United States are congeries of foreign quarters, whose alarming fecundity fills the streets with progeny and whose polyglot chat-ter on pay night turns even many a demure New England town into a veritable babel.

There are in the United States today roughly eight or ten millions of these new immigrants. A line drawn southward from Minneapolis to St. Louis and thence eastward to Washington would embrace over four-fifths of them, for most of the great American cities lie in this northeastern corner of the land. Whence come these millions? From the vast and mysterious lands of the Slays, from Italy, from Greece, and from the Levant.

The term Slav covers a welter of nationalities whose common ethnic heritage has long been concealed under religious, geographical, and political diversities and feuds. They may be divided into North Slays, including Bohemians, Poles, Ruthenians, Slovaks, and "Russians," and South Slays, including Bulgarians, Serbians and Montenegrins, Croatians, Slovenians, and Dalmatians. As one writer on these races says, "It is often impossible in America to distinguish these national groups... . Yet the differences are there. . . . In American communities they have their different churches, societies, newspapers, and a separate social life. . . . The Pole wastes no love on the Russian, nor the Ruthenian on the Pole, and a person who acts in ignorance of these facts, a missionary for instance, or a political boss, or a trade union organizer, may find himself in the position of a host who should innocently invite a Fenian from Cork County to hobnob with an Ulster Orangeman on the ground that both were Irish."

The Bohemians (including the Moravians) are the most venturesome and the most enlightened of the great Slav family. Many of them came to America in the seventeenth century as religious pilgrims; more came as political refugees after 1848; and since 1870, they have come in larger numbers, seeking better economic conditions. All told, they numbered over 220,000, from which it may be estimated that there are probably today half a million persons of Bohemian parentage in the United States. Chicago alone shelters over 100,000 of these people, and Cleveland 45,000. These immigrants as a rule own the neat, box-like houses in which they live, where flower-pots and tiny gardens bespeak a love of growing things, and lace curtains, carpets, and center tables testify to the influence of an American environment. The Bohemians are much given to clubs, lodges, and societies, which usually have rooms over Bohemian saloons. The second generation is prone to free thinking and has a weakness for radical socialism.

The Bohemians are assiduous readers, and illiteracy is almost unknown among them. They sup-port many periodicals and several thriving publishing houses. They cling to their language with a religious fervor. Their literature and the history which it preserves is their pride. Yet this love of their own traditions is no barrier, apparently, to forming strong attachments to American institutions. The Bohemians are active in politics, and in the cities where they congregate they see that they have their share of the public offices. There are more highly skilled workmen among them than are to be found in any other Slavic group; and the second generation of Bohemians in America has produced many brilliant professional men and successful business men. As one writer puts it: "The miracle which America works upon the Bohemians is more remarkable than any other of our national achievements. The downcast look so characteristic of them in Prague is nearly gone, the surliness and unfriendliness disappear, and the young Bohemian of the second or third generation is as frank and open as his neighbor with his Anglo-Saxon heritage."

The bitter political and racial suppression that made the Bohemian surly and defiant seem, on the other hand, to have left the Polish peasant stolid, patient, and very illiterate. Polish settlements were made in Texas and Wisconsin in the fifties and before 1880 a large number of Poles were scattered through New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Since then great numbers have come over in the new migrations until today, it is estimated, at least three million persons of Polish parent-age live in the United States.' The men in the earlier migrations frequently settled on the land; the recent comers hasten to the mines and the metal working centers, where their strong though untrained hands are in constant demand.

The majority of the Poles have come to America to stay. They remain, however, very clannish and according to the Federal Industrial Commission, without the "desire to fuse socially." The recent Polish immigrant is very circumscribed in his mental horizon, clings tenaciously to his language, which he hears exclusively in his home and his church, his lodge, and his saloon, and is unresponsive to his American environment. Not until the second and third generation is reached does the spirit of American democracy make headway against his lethal stolidity. Now that Poland has been made free as a result of the Great War, it may be that the Pole's inherited indifference will give way to national aspirations and that, in the resurrection of his historic hope of freedom, he will find an animating stimulant.

The Pole, however, is more independent and progressive than the Slovak, his brother from the northeastern corner of Hungary. For many generations this segment of the Slav race has been pitifully crushed. Turks, Magyars, and Huns have taken delight in oppressing him. An early, sporadic migration of Slovaks to America received a sudden impulse in 1882. About 200,000 have come since then, and perhaps twice that number of per-sons of Slovak blood now dwell in the mining and industrial centers of the United States. Many of them, however, return to their native villages. They keep aloof from things American and only too often prefer to live in squalor and ignorance. Their social life is centered in the church, the saloon, and the lodge. It is asserted that their numerous organizations have a membership of over 100,000, and that there were almost as many Slovak newspapers in America as in Hungary.

Little Russia, the seat of turmoil, is the home of the Ruthenians, or Ukranians. They are also found in southeastern Galicia, northern Hungary, and in the province of Bukowina. They have migrated from all these provinces and about 350,000, it is estimated, now reside in the United States. They, too, are birds of passage, working in the mines and steel mills for the coveted wages that shall free them from debt at home and insure their independence. Such respite as they take from their labors is spent in the saloon, in the club rooms over the saloon, or in church, where they hear no English speech and learn nothing of American ways.

It is impossible to estimate the total number of Russian Slays in the United States, as the census figures until recently included as "Russian" all nationalities that came from Russia. They form the smallest of the Slavic groups that have migrated to America. From 1898 to 1909 only 66,282 arrived, about half of whom settled in Pennsylvania and New York. It is surprising to note, however, that every State in the Union except Utah and every island possession except the Philip-pines has received a few of these immigrants. The Director of Emigration at St. Petersburg in 1907 characterized these people as "hardy and industrious," and "though illiterate they are intelligent and unbigoted."

So much in brief for the North Slays. Of the South Slays, the Bulgarians possess racial characteristics which point to an intermixture in the re-mote past with some Asiatic strain, perhaps a Magyar blend. Very few Bulgarian immigrants, who come largely from Macedonia, arrived before the revolution of 1904, when many villages in Monastir were destroyed. For some years they made Granite City, near St. Louis, the center of their activities but, like the Serbians, they are now well scattered throughout the country. In Seattle, Butte, Chicago, and Indianapolis they form considerable colonies. Many of them return yearly to their native hills, and it is too early to determine how fully they desire to adapt themselves to American ways.

Montenegro, Serbia, and Bulgaria, countries that have been thrust forcibly into the world's vision by the Great War, have sent several hundred thousand of their hardy peasantry to the United States. The Montenegrins and Serbians, who comprise three-fourths of this migration, are virtually one in speech and descent. They are to be found in New England towns and in nearly every State from New York to Alaska, where they work in the mills and mines and in construction gangs. The response which these people make to educational opportunities shows their high cultural possibilities.

The Croatians and Dalmatians, who constitute the larger part of the southern Slav immigration, are a sturdy, vigorous people, and splendid specimens of physical manhood. The Dalmatians are a seafaring folk from the Adriatic coast, whose sailors may be found in every port of the world. The Dalmatians have possessed themselves Of the oyster fisheries near New Orleans and are to be found in Mississippi making staves and in California making wine. In many cities they manage restaurants. The exceptional shrewdness of the Dalmatians is in bold contrast to their illiteracy. They get on amazingly in spite of their lack of education. Once they have determined to remain in this country, they take to American ways more readily than do the other southern Slays.

Croatia, too, has its men of the sea, but in America most of the immigrants of this race are to be found in the mines and coke furnaces of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In New York City there are some 15,000 Croatian mechanics and longshoremen. The silver and copper mines of Montana also employ a large number of these people. It is estimated that fully one-half of the Croatians return to their native hills and that they contribute yearly many millions to the home-folks.

From the little province of Carniola come the Slovenians, usually known as "Griners" (from the German Krainer, the people of the Krain), a fragment of the Slavic race that has become much more assimilated with the Germans who govern them than any other of their kind. Their national costume has all but vanished and with it the virile traditions of their forefathers. They began coming to America in the sixties, and in the seventies they founded an important colony at Joliet, Illinois. Since 189e their numbers have increased rapidly, until today about 100,000 live in the United States. Over one-half of these immigrants are to be found in the steel and mining towns of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, where the large majority of them are unskilled workmen. Among the second generation, however, are to be found a number of successful merchants.

All these numerous peoples have inherited in common the impassive, patient temperament and the unhappy political fate of the Slay. Their countries are mere eddies left by the mighty cur-rents of European conquest and reconquest, backward lands untouched by machine industry and avoided by capital, whose only living links with the moving world are the birds of passage, the immigrants who flit between the mines and cities of America and these isolated European villages. Held together by national costume, song, dance, festival, traditions, and language, these people live in the pale glory of a heroic past. Most of those who come to America are peasants who have been crushed by land feudalism, kept in ignorance by political intolerance, and bound in superstition by a reactionary ecclesiasticism. The brutality with which they treat their women, their disregard for sanitary measures, and their love for strong drink are evidences of the survival of medievalism in the midst of modern life, as are their notions of class prerogative and their concept of the State. Buffeted by the world, their language suppressed, their nationalism reviled, poor, ignorant, unskilled, these children of the open country come to the ugliest spots of America, the slums of the cities, and the choking atmosphere of the mines. Here, crowded in their colonies, jealously shepherded by their church, neglected by the community, they remain for an entire generation immune to American influences. According to estimates given by Emily G. Balch,' between four and six million persons of Slavic descent are now dwelling among us, and their fecundity is amazing. Equally amazing is the indifference of the Government and of Americans generally to the menace involved in the increasing numbers of these inveterate aliens to institutions that are fundamentally American.

The Lithuanians and Magyars are often classed with the Slays. They hotly resent this inclusion, however, for they are distinct racial strains of ancient lineage. An adverse fate has left the Lithuanian little of his old civilization except his language. Political and economic suppression has made sad havoc of what was once a proud and prosperous people. Most of them are now crowded into the Baltic province that bears their name, and they are reduced to the mental and economic level of the Russian moujik. In 1868 a famine drove the first of these immigrants to America, where they were soon absorbed by the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania. They were joined in the seventies by numbers of army deserters. The hard times of the nineties caused a rush of young men to the western El Dorado. Since then the influx has steadily continued until now over 200,000 are in America. They persistently avoid agriculture and seek the coal mine and the factory. The one craft in which they excel is tailoring, and they proudly boast of being the best dressed among all the Eastern-European immigrants. The one mercantile ambition which they have nourished is to keep a saloon. Drinking is their national vice; and they measure the social success of every wedding, christening, picnic, and jollification by its salvage of empty beer kegs.

Over 338,000 Magyars immigrated to the United States during the decade ending 1910. These brilliant and masterful folk are a Mongoloid blend that swept from the steppes of Asia across east-ern Europe a thousand years ago. As the wave receded, the Magyars remained dominant in beautiful and fertile Hungary, where their aggressive nationalism still brings them into constant rivalry on the one hand with the Germans of Austria and on the other with the Slays of Hungary. The immigrants to America are largely recruited from the peasantry. They almost invariably seek the cities, where the Magyar neighborhoods can be easily distinguished by their scrupulously neat house-keeping, the flower beds, the little patches of well-swept grass, the clean children, and the robust and tidy women. Among them is less illiteracy than in any other group from eastern and southern Europe, excepting the Finns, who are their ethnic brothers. As a rule they own their own homes. They learn the English language quickly but unfortunately acquire with it many American vices. Drinking and carousing are responsible for their many crimes of personal violence. They are otherwise a sociable, happy people, and the cafés kept by Hungarians are islands of social jollity in the desert of urban strife.

In bold contrast to these ardent devotees of nationalism, the Jew, the man of no country and of all countries, is an American immigrant still to be considered. By force of circumstance he became a city dweller; he came from the European city; he remained in the American city; and all attempts to colonize Jews on the land have failed. The doors of this country have always been open to him. At the time of the Revolution several thousand Jews dwelt in American towns. By 1850 the number had increased to 50,000 and by the time of the Civil War to 150,000. The persecutions of Czar Alexander III in the eighties swelled the number to over 400,000, and the political reactions of the nineties added over one million. Today at least one-fifth of the ten million Jews in the world live in American cities.

The first to seek a new Zion in this land were the Spanish-Portuguese Jews, who came as early as 1655. They remain a select aristocracy among their race, clinging to certain ritualistic characteristics and retaining much of the pride which their long contact with the Spaniard has engendered. They are found almost exclusively in the eastern cities, as successful bankers, merchants, and professional men. There next came on the wave of the great German immigration the German Jews. They are to be found in every city, large and small, engaged in mercantile pursuits, especially in the drygoods and the clothing business. Nearly all of the prominent Jews in America have come from this stock — the great bankers, financiers, lawyers, merchants, rabbis, scholars, and public men. It was, indeed, from their broad-minded scholars that there originated the widespread liberal Judaism which has become a potent ethical force in our great cities.

The Austrian and Hungarian Jews followed. The Jews had always received liberal treatment in Hungary, and their mingling with the social Magyars had produced the type of the coffee-house Jew, who loved to reproduce in American cities the conviviality of Vienna and Budapest but who did not take as readily to American ways as the German Jew. Most of the Jews from Hungary remained in New York, although Chicago and St. Louis received a few of them. In commercial life they are traders, pawnbrokers, and peddlers, and control the artificial-flower and passementerie trade.

By far the largest group are the latest comers, the Russian Jews. "Ultra orthodox," says Edward A. Steiner, "yet ultra radical; chained to the past, and yet utterly severed from it; with religion permeating every act of life, or going to the other extreme and having `none of it'; traders by instinct, and yet among the hardest manual laborers of our great cities. A complex mass in which great things are yearning to express themselves, a brooding mass which does not know itself and does not lightly disclose itself to the outside." Nearly a, million of these people are crowded into the New York ghettos. Large numbers of them engage in the garment industries and the manufacture of tobacco. They graduate also into junk-dealers, pawnbrokers, and peddlers, and are soon on their way "up town." Among them socialism thrives, and the second generation displays an unseemly haste to break with the faith of its fathers.

The Jews are the intellectuals of the new immigration. They invest their political ideas with vague generalizations of human amelioration. They cannot forget that Karl Marx was a Jew : and one wonders how many Trotzkys and Lenines are being bred in the stagnant air of their reeking ghettos. It remains to be seen whether they will be willing to devote their undoubted mental capacities to other than revolutionary vagaries or to gainful pursuits, for they have a tendency to commercialize everything they touch. They have shown no reluctance to enter politics; they learn English with amazing rapidity, throng the public schools and colleges, and push with characteristic zeal and persistence into every open door of this liberal land.

From Italy there have come to America well over three million immigrants. For two decades before 1870 they filtered in at the average rate of about one thousand a year; then the current in-creased to several thousand a year; and after 1880 it rose to a flood. Over two-thirds of these Italians live in the larger cities; one-fourth of them are crowded into New York tenements. Following in order, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Portland, and Omaha have their Italian quarters, all characterized by overcrowded boarding houses and tenements, vast hordes of children, here and there an Italian bakery and grocery, on every corner a saloon, and usually a private bank with a steamship agency and the office of the local padrone. Scores of the lesser cities also have their Italian contingent, usually in the poorest and most neglected part of the town, where gaudily painted door jambs and window frames and wonderfully prosperous gardens proclaim the immigrant from sunny Italy. Not infrequently an old warehouse, store, or church is transformed into an ungainly and evil-odored barracks, housing scores of men who do their own washing and cooking. Those who do not dwell in the cities are at work in construction camps — for the Italian has succeeded the Irishman as the knight of the pick and shovel. The great bulk of these swarthy, singing, hopeful young fellows are peasants, unskilled of hand but willing of heart. Nearly every other one is unable to read or write. They have not come for political or religious reasons but purely as seekers for wages, driven from the peasant villages by overpopulation and the hazards of a precarious agriculture.

They have come in two distinct streams : one from northern Italy, embracing about one-fifth of the whole; the other from southern Italy. The two streams are quite distinct in quality. North-ern Italy is the home of the old masters in art and literature and of a new industrialism that is bringing renewed prosperity to Milan and Turin. Here the virile native stock has been strengthened with the blood of its northern neighbors. They are a capable, creative, conservative, reliable race. On the other hand, the hot temper of the South has been fed by an infusion of Greek and Saracen blood. In Sicily this strain shows at its worst. There the vendetta flourishes; and the Camorra and its sinister analogue, the Black Hand, but too realistically remind us that thousands of these swarthy criminals have found refuge in the dark alleys of our cities. Even in America the Sicilian carries a dirk, and the "death sign" in a court room has silenced many a witness. The north Italians readily identify themselves with American life. Among them are found bakers, barbers, and marble cutters, as well as wholesale fruit and olive oil merchants, artists, and musicians. But the south Italian is a restless, roving creature, who dislikes the confinement and restraint of the mill and factory. He is found out of doors, making roads and excavations, railways, skyscrapers, and houses. If he has a liking for trade he trundles a pushcart filled with fruit or chocolates; or he may turn a jolly hurdy-gurdy or grind scissors. In spite of his native sociability, the south Italian is very slow to take to American ways. As a rule, he comes here intending to go back when he has made enough money. He has the air of a sojourner. He is picturesque, volatile, and incapable of effective team work.

About 300,000 Greeks have come to America between 1908 and 1917, nearly all of them young men, escaping from a country where they had meat three times a year to a land where they may have it three times a day. "The whole Greek world," says Henry P. Fairchild, writing in 1911, "may be said to be in a fever of emigration. . . . The strong young men with one accord are severing home ties, leaving behind wives and sweethearts, and thronging to the shores of America in search of opportunity and fortune." Every year they send back handsome sums to the expectant family. Business is an instinct with the Greek, and he has almost monopolized the ice cream, confectionery, and retail fruit business, the small florist shops and bootblack stands in scores of towns, and in every large city he is running successful restaurants. As a factory operative he is found in the cotton mills of New England, but he prefers merchandizing to any other calling.

Years ago when New Bedford was still a whaling port a group of Portuguese sailors from the Azores settled there. This formed the nucleus of the Portuguese immigration which, in the last decade, included over 80,000 persons. Two-thirds of these live in New England factory towns, the remaining third, strange to say, have found their way to the other side of the continent, where they work in the gardens and fruit orchards of California. New Bedford is still the center of their activity. They are a hard-working people whose standard of living, according to official investigations "is much lower than that of any other race," of whom scarcely one in twenty become citizens, and who evince no interest in learning or in manual skill.

Finally, American cities are extending the radius of their magnetism and are drawing ambitious tradesmen and workers from the Levant. Over 100,000 have come from Arabia, Syria, Armenia, and Turkey. The Armenians and Syrians, forming the bulk of this influx, came as refugees from the brutalities of the Mohammedan régime. The Levantine is first and always a bargainer. His little bazaars and oriental rug shops are bits of Cairo and Constantinople, where you are privileged to haggle over every purchase in true oriental style. Even the peddlers of lace and drawn-work find it hard to accustom themselves to the occidental idea of a market price. With all their cunning as traders, they respect learning, prize manual skill, possess a fine artistic sense, and are law-abiding. The Armenians especially are eager to become American citizens. Since the settlement of the Northwestern lands, many thousands of Scandinavians and Finns have flocked to the cities, where they are usually employed as skilled craftsmen.

Thus the United States, in a quarter of a century, has assumed a cosmopolitanism in which the early German and Irish immigrants appear as veteran Americans. This is not a stationary cosmopolitanism, like that of Constantinople, the only great city in Europe that compares with New York, Chicago, or Boston in ethnic complexity. It is a shifting mass. No two generations occupy the same quarters. Even the old rich move "up town" leaving their fine houses, derelicts of a former splendor, to be divided into tenements where six or eight Italian or Polish families find ample room for themselves and a crowd of boarders.

Thousands of these migratory beings throng the steerage of transatlantic ships every winter to return to their European homes. The steamship companies, whose enterprise is largely responsible for this flow of populations, reap their harvest; and many a decaying village buried in the southern hills of Europe, or swept by the winds of the great Slav plains, owes its regeneration ultimately to American dollars.

They pay the price of their success, these flitting beings, links between. distant lands and our own. The great maw of mine and factory devours thou-sands. Their lyric tribal songs are soon drowned by the raucous voices of the city; their ancient folk-dances, meant for a village green, not for a reeking dance-hall, lose here their native grace; and the quaint and picturesque costumes of the European peasant give place to American store clothes, the ugly badge of equality.

The outward bound throng holds its head high, talks back at the steward, and swaggers. It has become "American." The restless fever of the great democracy is in its veins. Most of those who return home will find their way back with others of their kind to the teeming hives and the coveted fleshpots they are leaving. And again they will tax the ingenuity of labor unions, political and social organizations, schools, libraries, and churches, in the endeavor to transform medieval peasants into democratic peers.

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