"My father was 21 years old and just out of the Italian Army. Six months later he emigrated to America. It took 28 days for the ship to arrive in NY from Napoli. Soon he had a job as a laborer. His job was breaking stones with a sledge hammer. He was paid 75 cents a day and worked from sun up to sun down, six days a week. When he returned to Settefrati, he would use this money to buy land to grow grain and grapes for wine and an eight room house. Two years later he was ready to go back to America for more money.
I asked him why he didn't stay in America, a rich and secure land. He said there was too much bigotry. Italians were paid less than the Teutonic Americans and even less than blacks. He felt his people were too often abused physically and verbally. When he went to the post office to mail money to Italy he carried a two pound hammer, which is what he used to break stones on the job. [Nana's father, Gaetano Massarella's death certificate in 1930 lists his occupation as stone blasterer] Before he left the house he prayed to God for his safety so that he wouldn't have to use the hammer.
On the job he said they were treated worse than animals. No matter how hard they worked and how hard they tried to please the bosses, they always kept them in fear of being fired. His only dream was to make his family strong and independent on their own soil. He wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labor, to live and die in peace on his own soil.
Uncle Mike went to America in 1898, and he lived in New York City for six years. Life was very hard for the first Italian immigrants. They didn't know the language and most of them had been farmers in Italy. The African Americans were better off than the Italians. There was an ad in THE WORLD newspaper: HELP WANTED MALE WHITES $1.35 - $1.50 per day; BLACKS: $1.25 - $1.50 per day; ITALIANS: $1.15 - $1.25 per day. The day began at sunrise and ended at sundown, about ten hours a day from April to October.
My uncle went to live on 69th Street in New York City where many of our paesani lived. It was a cobble-stoned street close to the Hudson River. He got a job in construction as a rock man. He had to acquire his own two pound hammer and he split rocks which were used for building. He was never called by name but by, "Hey you!" and if you didn't respond with a a smile you were fired on the spot. It was a very difficult time for the Italians as well as the Jews. They had to travel in groups and carried their two pound hammers on their belts. They were hounded by the Irish fellows, who also went in groups, to antagonize the foreigners. They would beat them and take whatever little money they could find on them. Mostly they would pick on the lone Jew who wore a beard and black derby hat. The Italians would go to church with their hammers under their Sunday jackets to protect themselves from these vandals.
The Irish owned the police force, fire department and the trolley car service in NY because they knew the language. Eventually, the Jews and Italians were saved by their sons who began to go to school and began to prove with their fists as well as their intellect that they were far from inferior.