Old Homes of New Americans
My Object in this book is to set before the reader the characteristics of two connected countries that compose the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, from which a great stream of emigrants is pouring into America every year.
I have long been impressed with the crass ignorance that many people exhibit concerning the neighbors who jostle them on every side. Not only do they not distinguish between Slavs and Magyars, or between Bohemians and Poles (this might be excusable, since they are ruled by the same emperor, though the difference is fundamental), but people that come from entirely different points of the European compass are surprisingly mixed, and all are often embraced under the one contemptuous title, "Dago."
The noble history, the patriotic struggles, the famous literature, the great statesmen, poets, and artists of the countries from which these new Americans come are unknown or forgotten, and the organ-grinder of the Bowery is considered the typical descendant of the ancient Roman.
The magnificent modern cities from which some of these emigrants hail, like Budapest and St. Petersburg, the interesting and picturesque mediaeval towns, with their wealth of history, like Cracow, Lwow, or Czernowitz, the comfortable cottages and cultivated fields, the rugged mountains and peaceful valleys they have left to seek larger opportunities in America, are seldom considered; and we are too apt to think of them only in the squalid East Side tenement, or in the prairie shack, where they are getting their first start in America.
This ignorance would not so much matter did it not breed not only indifference, but often downright contempt, brutaiity, and class hatred. A story told in a popular magazine illustrates this hideous unconcern. Speaking of a great railway tunnel, recently completed, the writer reports a conversation he had with an assistant contractor.
"To think," I exclaimed, "that not a man was killed!"
"Who told you that?" asked the young assistant. "Why, it's here in this report sent to the news" by your press-agent. He makes a point of it."
The young assistant smiled. "Well, yes, I guess that's right," he replied. "There wasn't any one except just wops."
"Wops. Don't you know what 'wops' are? Niggers, and Hungarians -- the fellows that the work. They don't Know anything, and they don't count."
We need not imagine that there is everywhere such calloused brutality as this, but it is certain that there is abundant indifference and carelessness concerning our fellow citizens which must be replaced by sympathy and active interest if America is to become the great, homogeneous nation, the land of the free and the home of the brave from every quarter of the globe, for which we all hope and pray.
This sympathy and interest can be awakened only by a greater knowledge of our new neighbors, of their old homes, of the lands they call "Fatherland," of the history, characteristics, and present condition of these countries. As a contribution, however slight, to this knowledge, this book, the outcome of thousands of miles of travel in the lands of which it treats, and of much reading of ancient history and present-day literature, is given to the public.
Never did a country have such problems of immigration to face as ours. Never was the fate of any land so interwoven with the fate of other lands, and with the men and women these lands send to our shores.
There is a common impression in many quarters that most of the crimes and misdemeanors for which America is held up to the execration of the world by foreign critics are committed by newly arrived immigrants from the slums of Europe. A political writer has recently averred that "the flood-gates of Europe are opened and a million of her criminals and paupers are every year dumped upon our shores." Nothing could be further from the truth, and the facts quoted a little later in this Introduction from the latest report of the Commissioner of Immigration will show how baseless these charges are.
If this charge of lawlessness and crime can be laid against one class of our citizens, it is not the first generation of foreigners, by any means. To be sure, "foreign names are common on the blotters of our station-houses says District-Attorney Whitman, who has so bravely ferreted out the the connection of the criminals with the police of New York City, "but a large proportion of the sins which will be found charged to them are due not to malice or depravity, but to ignorance of our laws.
The push-cart peddler, who finding his trade brisk, lingers too long by a certain curb, is not necessarily criminal at heart, although he may be haled before a magistrate for this offense. The washtub or the flower-pot or the mattress which obstructs a fire-escape is not usually an evidence of desperately criminal intent upon the part of the person who so placed it. The man who violates traffic ordinances because he does not know what they are is not a candidate for Sing Sing. Thus, in figuring up our morals, statistics of arrests must be utilized with utmostcare. Even statistics of police-court convictions are reasonably sure to be misleading as a standard from which to judge our "righteousness or sinfulness."
I have striven to write in a sympathetic but not eulogistic mood of two of these countries. I have not shut my eyes to their defects, but I have at least endeavored not to exaggerate them. Chiefly, however, my effort has been neither to praise nor to blame, but to describe the people and their native lands as they look to a traveler today and to a student of their history, that I may fulfill my purpose of making my readers better acqainted with the old homes of the new Americans who crowd them on the street or live around the next corner.
The country with which this book deals is the most complex in Europe: the Empire of Austria-Hungary. From this dual monarchy come Magyars, Germans, Jews, and Slavs.
The Slavs alone are divided into Bohemians and Moravians, Croatians, Slovaks, Slovenians, Serbs, Poles, and Ruthenians. From this land of many faces and many languages comes an ever-increasing host of emigrants, -- enough sometimes in a single year to populate a city larger than Denver, Colorado, or Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Report of the Commissioner of Immigration gives us many interesting facts, if we can but pick them out from his complicated Statistics, concerning the numbers of these different races who seek our shore. The very latest Census Report shows us that in the year ending June 1912, more than 85,000 immigrant aliens were admitted to the United States from Austria and over 93,000 from Hungary, a total of 178,882. Im 1911 the arrivals from Austria were about the same in number, while Hungary sent 15,000 fewer people. In 1910 a grand total of over 260,000 people reached America from the Dual Monarchy, a larger number than from any other country that sends its people to the United States, though in the succeeding years Italy outnumbered Austria-Hungary in the number of its emigrants.
These solid facts, for which the Commissioner-General of Immigration vouches, are enough to make the countries from which this great living tide flows of supreme interest.
We find also that in the year ending June, 1912, thiS Swelling tide of new Americans was composed of nearly 27,000 Croatians and Slovenians, almost exactly the same number of Magyars, the true Hungarians (singularly enough a difference of only four, among all the thousands, and this difference in favor of the Magyars), a few more Slovaks, to the number of 27,342, more than 91,000 Poles (probably more than half of them from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), almost 27,000 Ruthenians, some 21,000 Germans, nearly 10,000 Bohemians and Moravians, while about 4,000 Dalmatians, Bosnians, and Herzegovinians made up the quota from Austria-Hungary.
The year from which these statistics were gathered was also the year of great emigration as well as of immigration. More than half a million foreigners returned from America to their old homes. Among these were nearly 26,000 Magyars, leaving a net Magyar gain for America in that year of only 953. The influence of these retuming emigrants can be overestimated. They carry back to their old homes new ideas, new aspirations, new methods of work, new ideals, while doubtless some of their old ideals have been shattered, for the reflex influence of America upon the old homes of the races who are seeking her shores is not by any means all good.
When we consider the other races of Austria-Hungary beside the Magyars, we fibd that 8,000 more Croatians and Slavonians came to America than went back to their old homes; 10,000 more Slovaks, and nearly 50,000 more Poles.
Between all these countries and America, the shuttle is constantly flying back and forth, and each nation acts and reacts upon the other, for good or ill.
That these peoples are by no means the least desirable of our immigrants is proved of the Commissioner's Report we read that of the nearly 27,000 Magyars who embarked for the United States in the year ending June, 1912, only 225 Were debarred from entering, a much smaller proportion than of the Southern· Italians, the Greeks, the Mexicans, the English, or the Irish.
Of the more than 27,000 Slovaks who attempted to enter America, only 249 were debarred; and of the nearly 27,000 Ruthenians, only 391 were not allowed to land. When we consider the Bohemians and the Moravians, the showing is still better; for of the 9,087 who sought our shores in the twelve months ending with June, 1912, only 38 were sent back to their old homes for any of the many causes which prevent an immigrant from landing at Ellis Island.
When it is remembered that the laws are far more strictly enforced than formerly, and that idiots and feeble-minded, the insane, epileptic, tubercular, and those with contagious diseases, vagrants, paupers, contract laborers, assisted aliens, polygamists, anarchists, and many other classes are excluded at Ellis Island, the general physical and moral health of these people, so far as it can be learned by the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization is seen to be of a comparatively high order; a few come with a better bill of health than those who hail from Austria-Hungary.
Yet in spite of the vast numbers and the high average of the peoples who come from the Dual Monarchy, there is, as I have intimated, no country less understood or about which it is harder to get accurate and relieable information. This is partly due to the fact of its complexity; that it is a country made up of many countries. If I can in any degree unravel this tangle for my fellow countrymen who read this book, if I can in any measure make them better acquainted with the Magyars and the Slavs, more appreciative of their national genius and their generous qualities, more lenient to their faults, more glad to welcome them to our shores, my object in writing this book will be accomplished.
Finally, let me commend to the perusal of every American, who is inclined to think speak slightingly of the them from many lands who seek a new and larger opportunity in our Republic, the verses that follow.
Poems by Robert Haven Schauffler and Bishop McIntyre follows in the book. They may be added here in the future.
Back to Old Homes of New Americans Table of Contents
Back to Genealogical Research in Slovakia
Back to Genealogical Research in the Czech Republic
Back to Genealogical Research in Slovakia
Back to Genealogical Research in the Czech Republic