On July 4th 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Carefully written on this scribe and on the foundation of this nation are the unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, n.d.) While some of the values and ideas of this document come from America’s motherland, England, the promised rights to the free world are shared by no other nation. For this reason, The American Dream is dreamt not only by natural born citizens of this nation, but by many people all around the world. Over twelve million immigrants during the late 1800s and early 1900s passed through Ellis Island, the first federal immigrant inspection station of the free world.
Of the newcomers, a portion of them consisted of Italian Americans and Irish Americans. Throughout history, these groups have contributed to what is termed multiculturalism. Being the minority, these two groups have also experienced power-conflicts through their quests of assimilation. The two ethnic groups faced many challenges that helped create what is believed to be the melting pot to many ethnicities and racial groups.
For The Journey
While the American Dream is a common value, the aspirations of the idea come from different motives. In Italy, a strong, and unfair class structure created such severe conditions that led to 1/3 of the nation’s population to immigrate to the new world. While the majority of this fraction came permanently for a new life, some came temporarily to make enough money to return to Italy and buy land. Simply owning land in Italy automatically escalated Italians within the class structure. Many Italian Americans settled in Chicago Illinois, one of the largest growing cities in America at the time. Chicago offered much opportunity for work, as it was the ideal producer of steel and aider to America’s industrial growth. Back in Ireland, the Irish had much more to deal with than just a harsh class structure.
Under English rule, Irish religious practices were repressed along with many other basic freedoms the Irish came to experience in America. A poor economic situation due to chaos of rebellious battles led to much of Ireland’s population living an unsanitary lifestyle in mud huts well into the late 1800s. These living conditions led to diseases of more than half the population. When the Irish Americans first settled in Boston, they lived crammed into small, single-home houses with at least a couple more families. Many shared cellar, attic, and crawl spaces for living quarters (Youtube, 2011).
Assimilation in reference to the Italians and the Irish is much more complex and has become an identity reference in itself. Being the weak minority has demanded the Italians and Irish to accept and disregard many of their own practices to satisfy the dominate. Unlike the Irish, many Italians did not stick together, but lived spread-out and separated from others. In fact, some tensions developed between some Italians groups based on what streets and neighborhood they lived on and in. Inside conflicts like this led to outside conflicts as Americans began to depict Italian Americans as a dark and devious group within press. Italian Americans worked hard to reverse this depiction and to adhere to the dominate rule of society.
When Mussolini began to restore Italy to what many people believed that to the equivalent of the Roman Empire eras, Italian Americans felt sense of pride. Mussolini knowing that he needed the approval of Italians worked hard to earn their respect. The world viewed Mussolini as a strong leader, and this view reflected off of the proud Italian Americans. However, when Mussolini declared war on the U.S. by joining forces with other fascist leaders, Italian Americans began to receive much ridicule from the dominate social class again. Meanwhile, Irish Americans needed little effort to complete the process of assimilation. Having many of the same physical characteristics as the dominate groups of America, made it easier to focus on progression up the social ladder.
The first generation, while working factory jobs like the Italian Americans, led a more togetherness of a lifestyle with one another in their group, which created a better support system. The support system created a stronger group and led to management positions. The second generation focused heavily on education as much as the dominate class did. Higher education led to political offices within just the third generation of Irish Americans, which led to the Irish becoming part of the dominate group in America. A great example of this would be the Kennedy Family.
Predicted to be the minority by the middle of the 21st century, the dominate white has been accused of trying to oppress the minority through tactics summarized by power-conflict theories. (Feagin & Feagin, 2011). When the Italians and Irish first immigrated to America, the first jobs they assumed were factory and railroad jobs. Running these factories were members of the dominate class. It is commonly believed that money is the result of success in America, just as the sum of money and success are equal to power.
The contrast between the dominate and the minority was very much defined as there was not much of a middle class. It was without effort for the dominate factory runners and railroad heads to pay the minority the minimum for the dangerous work they provided, after all, the only thing factory workers had to provide was their labor while factory runners had the product of the factories. For a long time this was a recurring issue in terms of power-conflicts. This issue created so much unrest until the two groups gained support from within their own groups to develop labor unions.
Multiculturalism is a term that to this day produces many unsettled feelings of both unrest and excitement. America, regarded as the Melting Pot of many cultures is not even a fully multicultural nation, as this country has taken almost three hundred years to see the first African American president. While the Italians and the Irish have worked hard to assimilate to the ways of this nation, they have also brought their culture onto this nation as well. Christopher Columbus day is proudly recognized by Italians as he was always considered the son of Italy. His finding of the new world has been an amazing accomplishment for the Italians. When the Italians finally had a voice in congress, they pushed to make the day a federal holiday (Youtube, 2011).
Meanwhile, the strong religion practice as Catholics has also prompted holidays in favor of the Irish, such as St. Patrick’s Day. Without the push by these groups to recognize these days, America may have not done so otherwise. It is important that days that attribute much to other cultures be recognized by America to promote multiculturalism. For example another federal holiday that reminds America of equal rights among equal groups is Martin Luther King Day.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s Italian and Irish Americans came to American to take advantage of the opportunities. The Italians settled primarily in Chicago, while the Irish settled in Boston. The two groups worked hard to assimilate through the trials and tribulations of power-conflicts and the everlasting multiculturalism. While the groups assimilated well by becoming an American version of their ethnicity, they also left an imprint on the overall culture of America. When both groups achieved political offices, days that were influential to their groups became federal holidays.
Declatation of Independence. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charter/declatation_transcript.html Feagin, J. R., & Feagin, C. B. (2011). Racial and Ethnic Relations (9th ed.). New York, NY: Prentice Hall. Library of Congress. (2014, May). Immigration…Irish. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationssandactivities/presentations/immigration/irish6.html Youtube. (2011, December). And they Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqeikaWQCyo Youtube. (2011, July). The Irish in America Part 1. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0sZ_jWcyl
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