Monday, May 11, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Staying... and Leaving

Over the last few years, stricter immigration laws, the recession, and improved living conditions in countries like India, China, and Mexico have led to an exodus of both skilled workers and undocumented immigrants. Curatorial Director Dave describes migration patterns at the turn of the last century and what conditions were like for those that chose to remain in New York.

In what percentages did immigrants return to their homelands? Are there differences if looked at by time period and ethnicities?

Many immigrants came to America with the ultimate intention of returning to their home countries after earning enough money to buy land or houses. Between 1900 and 1920, 36 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States returned home. In turn-of-the-century New York, the degree to which Russian Jews became permanent settlers was remarkable. Escaping virulent anti-Semitism and political oppression, many emigrated with no intention of returning.

Nevertheless, many more went back than is ordinarily assumed. Between 1880 and 1900, 15 to 20 percent returned to their homes. After 1900, however, return migration dropped off as political upheaval and religious oppression intensified. In contrast to Russian Jews, the return rate among Italians reached 50 percent in some years—of every 10 Italians who left for the U.S. between 1880 and World War I, 5 returned home.

Sometimes called “birds of passage,” many of the first Italian immigrants were young men who came to America with the intention of earning enough money to return to Italy, buy land, and raise a family.

According to Nancy Foner, author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration, “Italians called the United States ‘the workshop’; many arrived in March, April, and May and returned in October, November, and December, when layoffs were most numerous… For many Italian men, navigating freely between their villages and America became a way of life.” Nevertheless, many returnees or ritornati chose to re-migrate to the United States.

What is the source for the claim that the Lower East Side was the most densely populated place on earth at the turn of the last century?

Crowds on Hester Street

The source for the claim that the Lower East Side was the most densely populated place on earth at the turn of the last century comes from a housing survey conducted by the newly created Tenement House Department of New York City in 1903, charged with insuring the implementation of the Tenement House Act of 1901. The detailed survey found the Lower East Side’s 10th ward the most densely populated in the city and, indeed, the world.

In 1903, the ward had a total population of 69, 944 or approximately 665 people per acre. The most densely populated block in the ward, bounded by Orchard, Allen, Delancey, and Broome Streets, encompassed 2.04 acres and had a population density of 2,233 people per acre.

The extraordinary population density in the Tenth Ward and neighboring Lower East Side wards was caused by several factors. The major cause was the increasing population as incredible numbers of immigrants - largely Eastern European Jews and Italians - arrived in New York.

Immigrants initially settled on the Lower East Side because this was an area with affordable housing where immigrants were welcome by building owners. Members of particular ethnic or religious groups tended to cluster where their compatriots had already settled, leading to larger communities. Here people spoke their language and shared their customs. The religious and social institutions, and the commercial establishments that eased the transition to life in America, were already in existence.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.