POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL AFFAIRS

The Human Side of Immigration

JOHN GRAHAM BROOKS IN THE CENTURY MAGAZINE March 1 1907
POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL AFFAIRS

The Human Side of Immigration

JOHN GRAHAM BROOKS IN THE CENTURY MAGAZINE March 1 1907

The Human Side of Immigration

BY JOHN GRAHAM BROOKS IN THE CENTURY MAGAZINE

In considering our immigration policy we are inclined to estimate its value solely by the benefit, of the immigrant to the state. The bioauer side of immigration is pictuied by Mr. Brooks. He shows tnat the true test of its efficiency is the extent to which it benefits humanity in general.

LET me first put my thesis into the form of a personal experience—a day’s tramp in southern Italy to see the peasantry at work in the poorer farming districts. In Naples I was encouraged to. do this by an Italian who had come back after seven years of succesful fruit-vending in Boston. In one of the lower suburbs he had restored the poor slianty of his boyhood to something* like luxury. His father, mother, and a crippled sister lived there amid comforts that were like the chink of gold to a local emigrant agent, who had only to point to this household as the most persuasive of object-lessons

“I can sell more tickets,” ho said, “by showing such homes as that than by all my other advertisements put together. From his commission business in Naples Nello comes here once a week, and is always ready to tell them whaJt h.e did in Boston, and what his two sisters earn in the market gardens at Arlington. These restored homes, together with the money and letters pouring in from the States, are filling the ships with emigrants.

Nello was eager for the tramp into the country. He wished to show me the contrasts between the life of the farm laborer there and that of the Italian emigrant in America. We both had in mind the wages,

clothing, food, and housing of Italian men and women at work upon the soil and in fruit industries about

Boston.

Less than an hour by rail from Naples, we found the workers at their tasks. In no tested case was the day’s wage more than a third of what is paid with us ; in others it was not a fourth, and in extrenoe cases, a fifth. The contrast in food and clothing was sharper still. If we include the huts in which they slept, we have the measure of the “standard of living” there and here. It seems to me an understatement to say that the standard is three times as high with us. Indeed, if one were to select an Italian colony in some of the California fruit regions, the contrast can have no statistical expression whatever. The lower estate is, as upon the farm to which I went, essentially that of slaves toiling on the bare outer margin of physical existence. The higher estate (as in Sonoma county) is that of almost boisterous success. The courage, hope, gaiety of the Italian in the charmed Western valley are fairly flaunting. On a large farm east of Rome, yet so near that T could see St. Peter’s dome, the field hands had every mark of half-fed and over-weighted animals. Listless, heavy-footed, they were drudging for their thirty cents with no more

interest than that of the ox which which one of them goaded on. Here, too, were living several families released from debt, mortgages and jents by fathers and children in America. One home had become the envy of the little village, restored by ;the father, who had come back to stay. More than the dollars, he had brought back ideas about sanitation, about the school, about gardening, and specially about methods of marketing fruits that made him a power in the community. If we multiply the influence of this man in Europe by many thousands, we have a glimpse at lease of the neglected side of immigration problems.

Simple as these incidents are, they gave me, eight years ago, the first hint of what I had never heard discussed—the reactions of our immigration on other countries. Pro and con, for half my life, I had heard the dispute over the immigrant, as if his values were alone determined within our national bounds. By a chance meeting in the streets of Naples. I was lead to see 'the human or world-side of this influence.With some care, since then. I have watched for this kind of evidence. It comes now in an ever-broadening stream from a dozen countries where economic and, in some cases, political and social cônditions are incomparably harder and more cruel than among us. Later, in Italy, I learned that my few instances could be multiplied almost indefinitely, and now the Countess di Brazza, out of her long experience, tells me there are few more cheering signs than the embodied influence of returning

emigrants at hundreds of places in Italy. One knows well that they will also take back some loud and ungracious qualities ; but, on the whole, they take what the communities to which they go most surely need—money with which to do things, but, far better, an enlarged and hardier spirit. As Nello said : “They go away with a hundred fears ; they come back fearing nothing. They go with a swarm of petty superstitions and timidities; they return with the courage and enterprise that come from definite success. 7 7

A friend who has journeyed much in eastern Europe, from which increasing numbers of our immigrants have come during the last fifteen years, tells me that no single influence in those countries has so much hope in it as the “rebound of the emigrant,7 7 not alone the cash remittance, but the steady current of cheering messages which the mail also brings. Here, too, an increasing number return to stay; and Mr. Watchcorn, traveling on government service a dozen years ago in Europe before he was given charge at Ellis Island, tells me that one never sees what the problem means for humanity until he looks upon the communities that are helped and uplifted on the other side. “It is, if taken as a whole,77 he says, “the greatest infl uence for civilization among men.7 7

Two years ago, in a southern city, I heard a scholar applauded by Virginians for saying, “The state-line must no longer limit our sense of citizenship. Greater than the state is the nation. We shall not love

Yiiginia less for loving the nation more.” A gentleman of the south, sitting behind me, whispered: “It marks a great change to hear this audience respond to a speech like that.9 ’

We should delight in the direction of the change, but the larger national boundaries do not set the limit of sympathies. We are still reveling in the ethics of nationalism; yet that, too, must some day appear as tribal ethics now seem. That immigration is slowly preparing us for that larger citizenship seems to me assured. By sheer contact it is wearing away the very superstitions that have made peoples hate and despise one another. Maeterlinck has said it well. “Hells are made out of human misunderstandings.” I am for from suggesting that we have outgrown national ethics, much less that we hasten to act primarily from the world point of view. The manageable good of the United States will rightly be our first and chief concern. But why should we accept this flinty assumption that in this or that particular our national well-being so necessarily conflicts with a good larger than our own? This assumption, acted upon, has been the main check in the world’s civilizing.

Nothing is easier than to show tliait most of the historic fears of immigration into this country have been mistaken. It was assumed as early and by as enlightened a man as Governor Winthrop that our own development would be endangered by the coming of “ strangers. ”. More definitely still, since 1787, we have

had one varying succession of forebodings as to the coming evils of immigration. They never really arrive, but they are always lurking there in the future. I asked several genuine restriotionists among the delegates at a recent Immigration Conference why they feared immigration. They agreed that they could point to no observable evil thus far, but it certainly would arrive, if we did not put up the bars. It was admitted that enormous undertakings were everywhere waiting for more labor, and were quite dependent upon it. “But think of a million coming in a single year!” Here is the ghost that for a cenitury and a half has worked on our imagination. Note that they are always assuming this conflict between our good and a larger human good. The advantage to those who come here is not questioned.

When 20.000 came in a single year, many wise people were alarmed, and for precisely the same reasons that the people are now alarmed. “How could we assimilate such masses ? ’ * “How could the American standard be maintained in the face of these multitudes?” “What will become of the wages of the laborer?” So many immigrants came without their wives, they would send their money back to Europe.” Bred under other political and religious systems, how could harmony be long preserved ?9 9

But if a million a year are to come, can we continue to use them to the common goood? One cannot answer this except by such experience as we have passed through. It

should, however, be kept steadily in mind that ocean and railway transportation is so developing* that it will more and more act ¿o give automatic relief for congested periods and districts. A half million can now easily leave this country in a single season. Steam traffic will more and more have the same motive to take them away as it has had to bring them, and inducements will be forthcoming. Many agencies are now at work to strengthen the weakest links in this chain. Of this possible outlet and easing of the pressure no earlier writer seems to have had a glimpse. Within twenty years as many may return to their homes in a single season as ever have come in one year. We touch here the economic bearing of the question.. Mobility, free going and coming according to conceived industrial advantage, has rightly been held among the highest values.

Indeed, the whole situdy of race migrations has gone far enough to bring out the dominant fact that economic causes are at the heart of these movements. Adventure has has played itis part, and war (with plunder for its aim) a still greater part; but plunder was the economics of the barbarian, while the lodestar guiding the world’s most romantic adventure was the glitter of precious metals. It is even a little chilling to learn that the most gallant of these explorers, from Columbus down, did not for a moment forget that they were out for “the dust of the gods.”

Tf. for simplicity, we exclude the war element in migrations, we have

the main fact that some millions of people yearly change their habitations on the planeit wholly for economic reasons. They believe that they can raise the standard of living through migration, and so far as our own immigration problem is concerned, this is too clear to require proof. If, for a moment we look at the results of this migration into the United States—look at it strictly from the human or w^orld point of view\ who would question for an instant that it sltood for results that enlarge opportunity and progress ® The world has been the gainer. Let us cling to this big and cheering fact. We will hold to it until our fearsome opponents show us far be:ter evidence than they have yet given that the world’s good is our ill. Let them convince us that the good of Sweden, Italy, Greece and Hungary, in respect of immigation, is set over against our own good. We see the incalculable benefit to them. Let the alarmists make clear to us the consequent injury to this country. They have thus far done two things. They have created out of the immaginatiion a thousand evils that have not arrived; they have, secondly, fixed attention upon various accidental ills which never fail to shadow every great human activity. What a swarm of mischiefs beset trade and democracy! Yet we do not propose to discontinue trade or give up democracy. The moral and social problem is rather the oldest one in the world—'that of separating abuses from uses. The opponents point to city congestion, to heightened insanity, and to certain forms of

crime. They are all present, and they have been increased by immigration ; yet they arc exceptional, and should be dealt with strictly as such, and quite apart from the totality of the movement.

It is this large human side of immigration, Enough which we arc related to the whole realm of ideal values that connect themselves with the free and friendly movement, which brings races long enough into contact to know cue another and to tolerate differences.

The supreme world question is that of races learning the lrghest and most difficult art of civilization; that cf living together with good will and intelligence—living together so that they may help one another rathen than exploit or despoil one another. The United States is helping to1 solve that pioblem in the only conceivable way; namely, by giving the races a chance to live together long enough to substitute human and social habits for mere clannish and tribal habits .

What is now the mother-miseliief in our race relationships'? Obviously the shadow of an extremely vulgar ignorance and prejudice, one race against another. Think of two nations as advanced as England and France living century after century hard by each other, and, until the most recent years, having merely contempt for each other—the average Englishman honestly thinking that a Frenchman was a kind of monkey with clothes on, and that chiefly because be bad a different manner and speech from the English !

Canadians, noticing the immigrants

arriving late in the autumn found difficulty in securing work, the Home of Industry and other charitable institutions of Montreal, being thus overciowded, have agitated for legislation to restrict immigration between October and March. To broaden the scope of this proposal and give to it a statistical basis, such as international bureaus will soon make possible, is the gist cf Professor von Philippovitch ’s scheme of a scientifically controlled Auswanderung, to use his term for migration.

On the whole speculative side of this question, we arc bound to allow for these two future possibilities: (11 an effective exclusion of the really unfit, so organized at selected points of departure and with such a standard and such penalties as to check the evil at its sources; (2) an international control and direction of these migiratory currents with deliberate reference to local trade demands. That physically and politically wc are suffering from the slovenly neglect with which we havo met this immigration is clear. This is seen in the whole humiliating history of our naturalization frauds, in staggering burdens cf insanity, dependency, pauperism, and certain forms of crime. These are, however, largely traceable to avoidable causes —to causes that should in future be brought under control, and constitue, indeed, the main problem.

With these considerations in mind, wliat is to be our attitude toward the general subject under discussion? That the people on this small globe

are to travel with increasing freedom from one part of it to another, we may safely take for granted. That nearly a thousand large ocean steamshipis for human traffic are every moment in process of construction is pretty good evidence that they will be used. The merely physical and pecuniary difficulties of forcing people to stay in places from which they Avant to escape Avili eArery year become more embarrassing and more costly. The old “Know-Nothing” cry of “America for Americans, Canada for the Canadians,” is not only already seen to he unwise and impracticable, but, Avhat is more, it is becoming ridiculous.

From the point of vierv of race education, this human or world side of the problem should have not only increasing attention, but it should

have the utmost practical weight consistent Avith safe-guarding interests within national grounds. We are in little danger of neglecting1 these self-regarding interests. The more impending danger is the moral one of narroAvly distrusting the principle of liberty as applied to races reaching out toAvard an enlarged social and economic life.

Up to date, this common weal of the peoples has surely not been opposed to, but rather part and parcel of, our OAvn national strength and vigor.

We may say as a nation what Gladstone, in one of his last conversations Avith John Morley, is reported to have said, “In my sixty years of public life, I have found no principle so safe to trust as that of an ever-enlarging social liberty.”

No matter Avhat your duties are, you can always, if you really try, find something in them that is really interesting, and you should make it a point to think of the interesting part only, leaving all thoughts of the more disagreeable out of your consideration

It is absolutely necessary to achieve anything that the Avork is performed Avillingly and cheerfully, not carelessly and slovenly, as the finished Avork will ahvays bear the stamp of the mind in its Avorker.

If you fall in hwe Avith your Avork, if Avork becomes a cource of pleasure to you, then and then only, can you expect to perform the work as Avell as it should be performed.