Read CHAPTER X - RACIAL INFILTRATION of Our Foreigners, free online book, by Samuel P. Orth, on

With the free land gone and the cities crowded to overflowing, the door of immigration, though guarded, nevertheless remains open and the pressure of the old-world peoples continues. Where can they go? They are filling in the vacant spots of the older States, the abandoned farms, stagnant half-empty villages, undrained swamps, uninviting rocky hillsides. This infiltration of foreigners possessing themselves of rejected and abandoned land, which has only recently begun, shows that the peasant’s instinct for the soil will reassert itself when the means are available and the way opens. It is surprising, indeed, how many are the ways that are opening for this movement. Transportation companies are responsible for a number of colonies planted bodily in cut-over timber regions of the South. The journals and the real estate agents of the different races are always alert to spy out opportunities. Dealing in second-hand farms has become a considerable industry. The advertising columns of Chicago papers announce hundreds of farms for sale in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. In all the older States there are for sale thousands of acres of tillable land which have been left by the restless shiftings of the American population. In New England the abandoned farm has long been an institution. Throughout the East there are depleted and dying villages, their solidly built cottages hidden in the matting of trees and shrubs which neglect has woven about them. One can see paralysis creeping over them as the vines creep over their deserted thresholds and they surrender one by one the little industries that gave them life. These are the opportunities of the immigrant peasant. Wherever the new migration swarms, there the receding tide leaves a few energetic individuals who have made for themselves a permanent home. In the wake of construction gangs and along the lines of railways and canals one discovers these immigrant families taking root in the soil. In the smaller cities, an immigrant day laborer will often invest his savings in a tumble-down house and an acre of land, and almost at once he becomes the nucleus for a gathering of his kind. The market gardens that surround the large cities offer work to the children of the factory operatives, and there they swarm over beet and onion fields like huge insects with an unerring instinct for weeds. Now and then a family finds a forgotten acre, builds a shack, and starts a small independent market garden. Within a few years a whole settlement of shacks grows up around it, and soon the trucking of the neighborhood is in foreign hands. Seasonal agricultural work often carries the immigrant into distant canning centers, hop fields, cranberry marshes, orchards, and vineyards. Every time a migration of this sort occurs, some settlers remain on land previously thought unfit for cultivation perhaps a swamp which they drain or a sand-hill which they fertilize and nurture into surprising fertility by constant toil. This racial seepage is confined almost wholly to the Italian and the Slav.

There is a vast acreage of unoccupied good land in the South, which the negro, usually satisfied with a bare living, has neither the enterprise nor the thrift to cultivate. The prejudice of the former slave owner against the foreign immigration for many years retarded the development of this land. About 1880, however, groups of Italians, attracted by the sunny climate and the opportunities for making a livelihood, began to seep into Louisiana. By 1900 they numbered over seventeen thousand. When direct sailings between the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico were established, their numbers increased rapidly and New Orleans became one of the leading Italian centers in the United States. From the city they soon spread into the adjoining region. Today they grow cotton, sugar-cane, and rice in nearly all the Southern States. In the deep black loam of the Yazoo Delta they prosper as cotton growers. They have transformed the neglected slopes of the Ozarks into apple and peach orchards. New Orleans, Dallas, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, and other Southern cities are supplied with vegetables from the Italian truck farms. At Independence, Louisiana, a colony raises strawberries. In the black belt of Arkansas they established Sunnyside in 1895, a colony which has survived many vicissitudes and has been the parent of other similar enterprises. In Texas there are a number of such colonies, of which the largest, at Bryan, numbers nearly two thousand persons. In California the Italian owns farms, orchards, vineyards, market gardens, and even ranches. Here he finds the cloudless sky and mild air of his native land. The sunny slopes invite vine culture.

In the North and the East the alert Italian has found many opportunities to buy land. In the environs of nearly every city northward from Norfolk, Virginia, are to be found his truck patches. At Vineland and Hammonton, New Jersey, large colonies have flourished for many years. In New York and Pennsylvania, many a hill farm that was too rocky for its Yankee owner, and many a back-breaking clay moraine in Ohio and Indiana has been purchased for a small cash payment and, under the stimulus of the family’s coaxing, now yields paying crops, while the father himself also earns a daily wage in the neighboring town. Where one such Italian family is to be found, there are sure to be found at least two or three others in the neighborhood, for the Italians hate isolation more than hunger. Often they are clustered in colonies, as at Genoa and Cumberland in Wisconsin, where most of them are railroad workmen paying for the land out of their wages.

The Slavs, too, wedge into the most surprising spaces. Their colonies and settlements are to be found in considerable numbers in every part of the Union except the far South. They are on the cut-over timber lands of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, usually engaged in dairying or raising vegetables for canning. On the great prairies in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas, the Bohemians and the Poles have learned to raise wheat and corn, and in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, they have shown themselves skillful in cotton raising. Wherever fruit is grown on the Pacific slope, there are Bohemians, Slavonians, and Dalmatians. In New England, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Maryland, the Poles have become pioneers in the neglected corners of the land. For instance in Orange County, New York, a thriving settlement from old Poland now flourishes where a quarter of a century ago there was only a mosquito breeding swamp. The drained area produces the most surprising crops of onions, lettuce, and celery. Many of these immigrants own their little farms. Others work on shares in anticipation of ownership, and still others labor merely for the season, transients who spend the winter either in American factories or flit back to their native land.

In Pennsylvania it is the mining towns which furnished recruits for this landward movement. In some of the counties an exchange of population has been taking place for a decade or more. The land dwelling Americans are moving into the towns and cities. The farms are offered for sale. Enterprising Slavic real estate dealers are not slow in persuading their fellow countrymen to invest their savings in land.

The Slavonic infiltration has been most marked in New England, especially in the Connecticut Valley. From manufacturing centers like Chicopee, Worcester, Ware, Westfield, and Fitchburg, areas of Polish settlements radiate in every direction, alien spokes from American hubs. Here are little farming villages ready made in attractive settings whose vacant houses invite the alien peasant. A Polish family moves into a sedate colonial house; often a second family shares the place, sometimes a third or a fourth, each with a brood of children and often a boarder or two. The American families left in the neighborhood are scandalized by this promiscuity, by the bare feet and bare heads, by the unspeakable fare, the superstition and credulity, and illiteracy and disregard for sanitary measures, and by the ant-like industry from starlight to starlight. Old Hadley has become a prototype of what may become general if this racial infiltration is not soon checked. In 1906 the Poles numbered one-fifth of the population in that town, owned one-twentieth of the land, and produced two-thirds of the babies. Dignified old streets that formerly echoed with the tread of patriots now resound to the din of Polish weddings and christenings, and the town that sheltered William Goffe, one of the judges before whom Charles I was tried, now houses Polish transients at twenty-five cents a bed weekly.

The transient usually returns to Europe, but the landowner remains. His kind is increasing yearly. It is even probable that in a generation he will be the chief landowner of the Connecticut Valley. It will take more than an association of old families, determined on keeping the ancient homes in their own hands, to check this transformation.

The process of racial replacement is most rapid in the smaller manufacturing towns. In the New England mills the Yankee gave way to the Irish, the Irish gave way to the French Canadian, and the French Canadian has been largely superseded by the Slav and the Italian. Every one of the older industrial towns has been encrusted in layer upon layer of foreign accretions, until it is difficult to discover the American core. Everywhere are the physiognomy, the chatter, and the aroma of the modern steerage. Lawrence, Massachusetts, is typical of this change. In 1848 it had 5923 inhabitants, of whom 63.3 per cent were Americans, 36 per cent were Irish, and about forty white persons belonged to other nationalities. In 1910 the same city had 85,000 inhabitants, of whom only about 14 per cent were Americans, and the rest foreigners, two-thirds of the old and one-third of the new immigration.

A like transformation has taken place in the manufacturing towns of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware and in the iron and steel towns of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the Middle West. For forty years after the establishment of the first iron furnace in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1842, the mills were manned exclusively by Americans, English, Welsh, Irish, and Germans. In 1880 Slavic names began to appear on the pay rolls. Soon thereafter Italians and Syrians were brought into the town, and today sixty per cent of the population is of foreign birth, largely from southeastern Europe. The native Americans and Welsh live in two wards, and clustered around them are settlements of Italians, Slovaks, and Croatians.

The new manufacturing towns which are dependent upon some single industry are almost wholly composed of recent immigrants. Gary, Indiana, built by the United States Steel Corporation, and Whiting, Indiana, established by the Standard Oil Company for its refining industry, are examples of new American towns of exotic populations. At a glass factory built in 1890 in the village of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, over ten thousand Belgians, French, Slavs, and Italians now labor. An example of lightning-like displacement of population is afforded by the steel and iron center at Granite City and Madison, Illinois. The two towns are practically one industrial community, although they have separate municipal organizations. A steel mill was erected in 1892 upon the open prairies, and in it American, Welsh, Irish, English, German, and Polish workmen were employed. In 1900 Slovaks were brought in, and two years later there came large numbers of Magyars, followed by Croatians. In 1905 Bulgarians began to arrive, and within two years over eight thousand had assembled. Armenians, Servians, Greeks, Magyars, every ethnic faction found in the racial welter of southeastern Europe, is represented among the twenty thousand inhabitants that dwell in this new industrial town. In “Hungary Hollow” these race fragments isolate themselves, effectively insulated against the currents of American influence.

The mining communities reveal this relative displacement of races in its most disheartening form. As early as 1820 coal was taken from the anthracite veins of northeastern Pennsylvania, but until 1880 the industry was dominated by Americans and north Europeans. In 1870 out of 108,000 foreign born in this region, 105,000 or over ninety-seven per cent came from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. In 1880 a change began and continued until in 1910 less than one-third of the 267,000 foreign born were of northern European extraction. In 1870 there were only 306 Slavs and Italians in the entire region; in 1890 there were 43,000; in 1909 there were 89,000; and in 1910 the number increased to 178,000.

Today these immigrants from the south of Europe have virtually displaced the miner from the north. They have rooted out the decencies and comforts of the earlier operatives and have supplanted them with the promiscuity, the filth, and the low economic standards of the medieval peasant. There are no more desolate and distressing places in America than the miserable mining “patches” clinging like lichens to the steep hill sides or secluded in the valleys of Pennsylvania In the bituminous fields conditions are no better. In the town of Windber in western Pennsylvania, for example, some two thousand experienced English and American miners were engaged in opening the veins in 1897. No sooner were the mines in operation than the south European began to drift in. Today he outnumbers and underbids the American and the north European. He lives in isolated sections, reeking with everything that keeps him a “foreigner” in the heart of America. The coal regions of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and the ore regions of northern Michigan and Minnesota are rapidly passing under the same influence.

Every mining and manufacturing community is thus an ethnic pool, whence little streams of foreigners trickle over the land. These isolated miners and tillers of the soil are more immune to American ideals than are their city dwelling brethren. They are not jostled and shaken by other races; no mental contagion of democracy reaches them.

But within the towns and cities another process of replacement is going on. Its index is written large in the signs over shops and stores and clearly in the lists of professional men in the city directories and in the pay roll of the public school teachers. The unpronounceable Slavic combinations of consonants and polysyllabic Jewish patronymics are plentiful, while here and there an Italian name makes its appearance. The second generation is arriving. The sons and daughters are leaving the factory and the construction gang for the counter, the office, and the schoolroom.

American ideals and institutions have borne and can bear a great deal of foreign infiltration. But can they withstand saturation?