Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Profiles Italian Immigrants to Boston

Author Stephen Puleo is beginning a round of community talks in the Boston area regarding his recently published book The Boston Italians. It tells a story that is all too familiar to those of us that have studied the various periods of migration to the United States over the past couple of centuries.

Early decades of Italian immigrants traveled by steamship to work in America, sent money home, and returned to Italy when work was slow. Puleo quotes a well-known account of an Italian laborer who made $1.25 a day - and lived on 26 cents a day. Immigrants sought the intimacy of village life by replicating it in such places as, for example, Boston's North End - "the enclave within the enclave," Puleo said.

Italians faced early prejudice on two fronts: from those who doubted their commitment to America, and from detractors who said the "dark" southern Italian "race" was volatile, crime-prone, and untrustworthy. In World War II, Italian Americans who had not become citizens had to register as "enemy aliens."


I'm interested in reading the book as my great grandfather on my dad's maternal side came from Italy in 1922 and was later rounded up with others from his home country in response to FDR's issuance of the War Relocation Authority and related Executive Orders during World War II.
February 14, 1942: The U. S. Army’s Western Defense Command sends a memorandum to the Secretary of War recommending the evacuation of “Japanese and other subversive persons” from the Pacific Coast area. February 19, 1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066, which empowers the Secretary of War or any military commander authorized by him to designate “military areas” and exclude “any and all persons” from them. Shortly before signing the Executive Order, the President received a memorandum from his advisers which said, “In time of national peril, any reasonable doubt must be resolved in favor of action to preserve the national safety, not for the purpose of punishing those whose liberty may be temporarily affected by such action, but for the purpose of protecting the freedom of the nation, which may be long impaired, if not permanently lost, by nonaction.”


March 18, 1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9102, which establishes the War Relocation Authority (WRA) within the Department for Emergency Management. The WRA is empowered “to provide for the removal from designated areas of persons whose removal is necessary in the interests of national security….” The WRA is further empowered to provide for evacuees’ relocation and their needs, to supervise their activities, and to provide for their useful employment. Milton S. Eisenhower is named director of the WRA.

March 21, 1942:President Roosevelt signs Public Law 77-503, which makes it a federal crime for a person ordered to leave a military area to refuse to do so.

March 22, 1942: The first removal of people of Japanese descent from the designated Pacific Coast area occurs. The people are from the Los Angeles area; they are sent to the Manzanar relocation center in northeastern California. The center comprises a 6000 acre site, enclosed by barbed wire fencing, and within that site a 560 acre residential site with guard towers, search lights, and machine gun installations. During the next eighteen months, about 120,000 people of Japanese descent are removed from the Pacific Coast area to ten relocation centers in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas.

While these acts were mostly aimed at Japanese migrants and their families, others who hailed from sympathetic countries were ensnared in a xenophobic fervor that echoes what we are seeing today. It just goes to show that despicable government actions in the name of Homeland Security are nothing new to the United States.
Viewed as potential threats to national security, men and women, children, the elderly and the infirmed, primarily from the West Coast, were given just a few days to put their affairs in order, gather only the personal belongings they could carry, and report to assembly centers at local racetracks, horse pavilions and fairgrounds. There they remained for four to six months while ten internment camps were constructed to house them in remote parts of California, Arkansas, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. The internees were imprisoned behind barbed wire, in inhumane conditions, guarded by armed soldiers.

That reminds me of something.

Decades from now, perhaps longer, will we see apologies or retributions offered to the families and workers unfairly and unjustly targeted?

Only if we keep fighting for human rights.

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