Our Slavic Fellow Citizens - 1910

Slovak Emigration
Chapter VI

Effects of Emigration on the Home Country

I frequently asked in Hungary, "Is this emigration to America an advantage or a disadvantage here?" The answer naturally varied with the answerer.

The employer suffers as has been said from the growing disadvantage of scarcity of labor, especially of farm laborers and servants, and from the consequent rise of wages.

The value of land is affected, sometimes rising through the demand of returned "Americans," sometimes falling where emigration has been epidemic and has partly depopulated a district.

The Magyar dreads the independent spirit and aroused national feeling of those that come back. The thoughtful Slovak passionately regrets the draining away of the lustiest and most energetic of the population; on the side of the fatherland he sees a great physical and moral loss, and on the side of emigrants a pitiful if inevitable exile. He speaks also with bitter regret of the too numerous cases of demoralization of the stay-at-homes.

It is very common for a man to marry and install his young wife, and in a very short time, often in a few weeks, go to America. He is loyal and sends her money. For her, with her unwonted liberty and unwonted money, temptation sets in. Too often he returns to find in the home children that are not his, or to lead an unhappy life with a woman who seems to him stupid and dull after his foreign experiences.

One hears, too, the frequent complaint that the home country bears the cost of the rearing of the emigrants through the years when all is outgo, only to see them, as soon as they are in their prime, go to strengthen an industrial competitor; that emigration means the necessity of supporting an undue proportion of the womenfolk, of the aged, the weakly, and the left behind, of those that America refuses to accept and of the unusables generally; and finally, that those who have been to America return, too frequently, either injured by accidents in mines and foundries and on railroads, or worn out with excessive work at a pace to which they are not accustomed and which their diet does not fit them to endure.

However, in considering the balance of advantage to Gains the home country three things must be counted to the Full return good: the providing in some cases for an excess of population over what the country can properly support; the influx of money from America; and the return of emigrants with more awakened personality. As to the amount of money received, complete figures are not to be had. An official investigation resulted in an estimate of $17,000,000 sent to Hungary by emigrants through banks alone in 1903. This money was sent mainly from the United States and doubtless largely by Slovaks. It does not include what returning emigrants brought with them in cash, nor what was sent by postal orders. The postal districts of Kassa in the eastern part of the Slovak district, and Pozsony in the west reported that over $4,000,000 was sent into the Slovak district from America in 1899, a time when the numbers in America were much less than they are now.

One banker told me that a Slovak ordinarily sends home $120 a year. Another informant writes me of a place in Zemplen county with 1,156 men, which had received $140,000. He adds: "This gives the best idea of the enormous importance of emigration where the average annual income is hardly over $100 or $120".

And it is not to be wondered at that the public hold emigration to be beneficial. I have met three men who inaugurated emigration to America in their villages; all were regarded as benefactors of their country, and they were not a little proud of their daring." As to this flow of money, there is a great deal of thoughtless talk from the side of American interests, as though it represented a loss to America without an equivalent.

Granted that it would be better to have the money spent in this country, we may trust the acumen and self-interest of American employers sufficiently to be certain that every dollar of it represents at least a dollar's worth of labor contributed to American production and permanently embodied in our national wealth.

As to the use made of this money in the old country, doubtless some of it is spent foolishly and some of it worse than wasted in drink, both by returned emigrants and by those to whom remittances come from America; but the bulk of it appears to go to pay off debts, while much is invested in farm tools, much is used to buy land, some goes to pay for a higher standard of living, and some is spent for public purposes, religious and political, such as for rebuilding or decorating a church, for metal crosses in a graveyard, or for patriotic funds. My impression is that among a population where so little money is in circulation, this "American money" is on the whole a very great blessing.

On the whole, the effect on the returned emigrant seems to be less than an American would, at first thought, expect, but it must be remembered that not only is the emigrant man by every instinct and by all his training conservative, but that many American ways are incapable of being transplanted to conditions so different.

Consider for a moment a great American factory or a New York tenement house; what hints can they give as to production or as to house building to a Slovak who has gone back to his native village?

With regard to farming, not only are American methods often inapplicable, but they are seen by few Slovak emigrants, one might almost say by no emigrants who return. The man who takes to farming in America is generally proposing to stay there.

In considering the amount of effect that America exerts on those who return, we must furthermore note that the emigrant in any case is apt to see less of American ways than we are prone to take for granted. A Slovak comes over with a group of his fellows, goes to a Slovak boarding house, a Slovak church, a Slovak store, a Slovak saloon, and a Slovak bank; knows his "boss," himself very likely a foreigner, only by his orders and oaths, and deals with Americans only as the street car conductor shouts to him, "What do you want, John?" or the boys stone his children and call them " Hunkies." In spite of this, America does exert an influence.

An American priest in a Slovak village will show you with interest the influence of superior "American" houses in his parish, built in the local fashion but more substantial and better kept, and with American novelties, such as glass tumblers, a nickel clock and other little luxuries.

Political In America the Slovak is likely to be quickly drawn mutual benefit organization of his own nationality, and here he probably gets an education in nationalistic feeling. How far this is really panslav (that is, Russophile), as the Magyars complain, I do not know. At any rate, the Magyars always find panslavism a good cry with which to attack any Slavic activity.

My impression is that the Slovak often does return from America with awakened national self-consciousness, but that he is generally quite unconcerned about distant political Utopias of any sort, and confines his interest to practical local issues, such as education in their mother tongue for his children, and elections to parliament where the Slovaks, with over a tenth of the population, had in 1905 one representative out of 450.

At any rate, I can readily conceive why his Magyar superiors feel that "America has spoiled the Slovak emigrant." He has more money and he is more ambitious. He has often learned to read, if he did not know how before. He takes a newspaper and has political interests and opinions. Seton-Watson speaks several times of the influence of the Slovaks in America, and of those returned from America.

The returned Slovak emigrants who have saved money in the United States are steadily acquiring small holdings in Hungary, and helping to propagate ideas of freedom and nationality among their neighbors. The growth of Slovak banks since 1900 has been specially remarkable, and though still trifling compared with the large Jewish and Magyar institutions of North Hungary, they are none the less able to hold their own and extend their business.

During the past generation many thousands of Slovak peasants have emigrated to the United States, carrying with them feelings of bitterness and resentment towards the authorities of their native land.

They speedily learn to profit by the free institutions of their adopted country, and today the 400,000 Slovaks of America possess a national culture and organization which present a striking contrast to the cramped development of their kinsmen in Hungary.

There are more Slovak newspapers in America than in Hungary; but the Magyars seek to redress the balance by refusing to deliver these American journals through the Hungarian post office. Everywhere among the emigrants leagues, societies and clubs flourish undisturbed notably the American Slovak League (Narodnie Slovenskj f Spolok), the Catholic Jednota (Unity) and the women's league. These societies do all in their power to awaken Slovak sentiment, and contribute materially to the support of the Slovak press in Hungary. The self-confidence and manly independence of the returned emigrants contrast with the pessimism and passivity of the older generation, and they are doing much to leaven the Slovak population with new ideas of liberty and justice.

The alarm with which the government views this movement was revealed by its summary action against Francis Pollakovic', a young American citizen, in the autumn of 1907.

To quote Seton-Watson further: Just as the Irish party was financed from America, so the Roumanians of Hungary receive aid from their kinsmen in America, the Serbs from Belgrad, the Slovaks from Bohemia and the United States. The Magyars, instead of treating this as natural and inevitable, indulge in wild charges of treason and bribery. The chief reason, however, that the grapes are sour. A fairly full account of the case of Pollakovic who, though an American citizen, was made to serve a term of imprison ment for "incitement against the Magyar nationality" in 1907, is given by Seton-Watson, page 321 and Appendix xxiv.

Magyars have no kinsmen of their own, outside Hungary, from whom they could under any circumstances receive support, whether financial or military.

It is interesting to learn that English is occasionally employed by returned Slovak emigrants when they do not wish to be understood by the local officials.

When I have asked what returned emigrants report about America I have been told that they say (in the German phrase in which it was given to me), "Hier ist ein Mann ein Hund; da ist er ein Herr." (Here a man is a dog; in America he is a gentleman.)


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