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Notes of a Teacher On Emigration
Circa 1905

Quoted in "Our Slavic Fellow Citizens"
by Professor Emily G. Balch

Today they are telling in the village that fifteen are going to Fiume tomorrow by the early train, - men, women, and young girls on their way to America. They were all blessed by the priest after mass. The prayer for their happiness away from home was very moving. All who knelt before the altar were pale, struggling against the tears in eyes which may never see this church again. On this consecrated spot they took leave of the fatherland, our dear Croatia, who cannot feed her children because she is not free nor the mistress of her own money. She must let them go among strangers in order that those who remain may live, they and their children and their old people. And the old people die in peace because they have hope; the little ones shall fare better than ever they have done.

This morning all went early to confession. With God they go safer on their long journey. Toward evening they can be seen hurrying from house to house, taking leave of those that they love. Who can say that there will ever be another meeting for them? It is very late before they have finished these visits, and the family waits for them with impatience. With impatience, how else, when this evening or rather the few hours still left are so short. This is the last supper at home. There is no going to bed, for at three they must start for the station, as the train goes at four. It is so sad to hear them driving through the village singing a song which expresses all the feelings of their sore hearts.

The saddest moment of all is the departure. The train has come, they must get on board. How many tears and sobs and kisses in our little forest and rock-bound station! Friends go with them to Fiume -- all but the children and the old folks, who stay in the village alone.

In Fiume the girls buy what they need for the journey, and a little gold crucifix. That must be bought in the fatherland. So must rings, too. Often the parents buy the betrothal rings for their sons and daughters, who marry in America, and send them to them. Faith and love come from the homeland.

Finally, at the ship good-byes must be said, the last. One little girl, whose older sister was going by train to Vienna, had gone with her to Fiume. But when the train was about to go the little one flung herself down upon the ground in her distress and shrieked terribly. Every one tried to pacify her, but she pressed her little hands over her eyes to hide the engine from her sight, and answered, "It is easy for you to talk, but this hateful engine is robbing me of my sweet sister." She was quite ill with suffering, and they had much ado to get her away. But it is hardest for the mothers who let their daughters or their sons go.

Very late, after midnight, people come home -- I alone. Now come quiet tears and prayers that God may grant the travelers a safe arrival. With what anxiety and joy do they wait for the news from the agent that their dear ones have reached New York in safety. There relatives are already expecting them, and the journey can be peacefully continued in their company. Our people generally go to Michigan. In one town there are so many that our people call it "New Lipa."

The money for the journey always comes from relatives or friends to whom all is honestly repaid later. The young fellows try to save the money to bring over a young girl. When she comes to America -- generally she does not know her suitor -- she is married. If she is unwilling, not finding him to her liking, she must pay back the money, but it very often happens that another lad pays it for her and takes her for his wife instead.

Many girls are very fortunate in America. For instance, this very day a family is coming home. The wife was poor and ill-favored. Relatives sent her money for the journey to America, and there she married a poor and very humble sort of man. By work and saving they have got together six thousand dollars in thirteen years. They have six children and with them are now returning. In those days she was poor, ridiculed, alone; now she is well to-do, respected, the mother of a family. The women are full of curiosity about her. At noon they were all in the street in hopes of seeing her, but in vain. She and her family are staying in Fiume and will come to-night, perhaps. My housekeeper is her godmother, and so awaits her happy godchild with much pleasure, for she is to offer her, for purchase, a large meadow which once belonged to the parents of her godchild, but which they were obliged to sell. I think that would be a very pleasant feeling, to be able to buy back again a piece of land lost in one's father's time, and to let the happy grandchildren jump and play about where once the poor grandfather worked, and whence misfortune drove him away to die.

My housekeeper, who is already sixty-five, cannot tell without crying how it used to be here in the good old days. Thirty-four years ago there was no railroad. Our splendid highway, the "Lujziane," even then a century old, saw such activity as will never return. All travel was by this road, and our people were happy because they always had the opportunity to work and to live in peace. In one house they kept ten servants, men and maids. Day and night the teams with their heavy loads were on the highway. Labor was very cheap, a man got about thirteen cents and a woman six cents a day. To be sure, they had good food besides, bread, meat, and wine as much as they wanted, and the children of the women servants were fed, too. The wages were low, as I have said, yet the people were contented. Some got very rich, but the poor, too, were well provided for.

Twenty years ago two men went to America from here, the first from our place to go. Now nearly half the village is in America. It is hard to till the fields, for there are no workers to be had. Whoever has strength and youth is at work in America. At home are only the old men and women, and the young wives with their children. Every wife has much to do for herself. Only poor girls work in the fields. "And they must be paid a crown (twenty cents) a day," sighs my housekeeper, and thinks of the better days of old....

What especially pleases them is the respect in which workers are held in America. They are better cared for, too, mentally. They have three or four Croatian papers, they have organizations, and learn much that they bring home later. They have their priests and churches, but as yet only two Croatian schools. All is founded by the contributions of workingmen. They send a great deal home to the churches, too; they are supporting a poor man, and in 1903, when there were the disturbances in Croatia about the Hungarian flag and the Hungarian inscriptions on the railroad stations, our brothers in America sacrificed a great deal for the support of the families of those under arrest. They love Croatia dearly. Each one longs for home and wants to die here. We Slavs are so soft-natured. Homesickness is our disease. On account of it many Croatians cannot hold out, and return home too soon.

The talk is all of America. Our newspapers write so much what a bad thing it is for whole families to go there as they do. But it is no use. People must eat. The stones are hard. There is too little land. The Government does nothing for the good of the people. There are no factories, there is no building, no mining. So how can people live and pay taxes? And if the taxes are not paid the cow is taken from the stall, the pillows from under the head.

Only American capital could lessen the stream of emigration. Croatia is a beautiful country. Our mountains doubtless hold great treasures, but we lack the money with which to seek them. Only American capital could bring them to light. We have the beautiful sea, the lovely Plitvica lakes, and the fine district about Agram, but we cannot make use of these beauties as a rich and free people could. We have a sufficient income, but as a public man has said, "Our pockets are in the Hungarian trousers." The Hungarians have our money, and give us just enough to keep us alive. Only a free and independent nation can progress. We are like dead capital.

But we hope for our national resurrection. So many have already died in this hope. It is our ideal, our dearest one. For this Zriny and Frankopany died. The innocent blood of our best sons must at last bring us good fortune.

A Croatian Couple in Holiday Dress
from the book Old Homes of New Americans

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