Due to the Russians trying to slaughter us Jews, I had no choice but to make the decision to immigrate to America. I had viewed the United States as a very wealthy nation, so I was excited for many new opportunities to thrive! However, this all turned out to be a mirage. I didn’t know it at this time, but I would soon end up in extreme poverty. The only plus of America is that I wasn’t being targeted to be killed.
But before I get ahead of myself though, I’d like to start with my entrance into America. In 1890, I came into the Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Lower Manhattan. In front of me was a seemingly normal-looking man, but he was not allowed in. He was accused of being a so-called ‘invert’ and brought into another room. I did not see what happened to him, but I can only hope that he was allowed in.
Luckily for me, I had no apparent health concerns, so I was allowed into New York City.
When searching for somewhere to live, the only housing that I could afford at this time was a tenement house, so that’s where I went. My building was six stories tall, and there were four apartments on each floor. Since there wasn’t much plumbing, each floor shared one toilet. Sadly, this meant that I had to share a toilet with nineteen other people! With these living conditions, I got sick often because it was so dirty, and sickness spread like wildfires there. Speaking of fires, since we were all packed so close together, there wasn’t much fresh air or natural light. Due to this, there were multiple fires in other tenement houses. It even got to the point where some families preferred to sleep outside, rather than in their apartments!
Moving my story along, my first job in New York was in the mines, because when I arrived on the docks in Lower Manhattan, there were a multitude of company agents offering up jobs! My job in the mines consisted of twelve hour days, and I sometimes worked seven days a week. My wage at this time was ten cents an hour, which wasn’t much at all, but it was something. This mining job was extremely dangerous though. A good friend of mine developed a respiratory disease and soon after passed away. Another man that I worked with suffered a leg injury, and lost his job because he could no longer work. I’m grateful that I was able to stay healthy for as long as I did.
Eventually, I decided to leave my dangerous job in the mines, and go work for the local Boss. This Boss claimed that he learned his ways from a deceased gentleman named William Tweed. I heard that the story of William ‘Boss’ Tweed was that he was able to give political jobs to people through Tammany Hall. But getting back to my Boss, he gave me a job that was working in the postal service, which I was very grateful for. Though, I did have to contribute a percentage of my salary to the democratic party, as well as promise my vote too. But on the bright side, the Boss built new temple schools and synagogues for us Jewish immigrants, which helped him secure even more votes from us.
Over time, I came to learn that Bosses ruled, ruined, and sometimes improved municipal government. They did this through giving bribes, jobs, and being overall dishonest. Bosses like mine, as well as Tweed, were able to bring structure, stability, and services to areas composed of us new immigrants, but they just did so in corrupt ways. For example, Tammany Hall, where Tweed worked out of before his passing, doled out contracts to his business allies and jobs to his political supporters, of which I promised myself to be. Furthermore, Bosses gave us assistance when we really needed it, because the government wasn’t helping us escape our poverty conditions. When I tried to get welfare, I couldn’t due to my religious beliefs. I was told that welfare was extremely private, religious-based, and prejudicial as to who received money. On the other hand, I was able to get some assistance, because it was known that Bosses would help out just about anyone who promised their vote (and maybe a couple of extra, illegal votes). It was comparable to a type of trade, in which we give a Boss our votes, and then they’d provide much needed financial assistance to us.
Soon though, I learned that the Bosses had enemies. These enemies were known as Muckrakers. Being that Bosses were so corrupt, Muckrakers soon realized this and challenged the system to be different, make changes, and overall improve conditions. Clearly, when I found out that 12% of the population owned 88% of the nation’s wealth, it was an issue. Muckrakers were investigative journalists who informed the public about the political corruption and social problems taking place right before our very eyes. This type of writing basically redefined journalism, because it educated the upper and middle classes about how the poorer folk, especially immigrants like myself, lived. An example of one of these Muckrakers was Jacob Riis, who was a famous photographer that was the author of ‘How the Other Half Lives’. His photojournalism brought to light the poverty and disease ridden areas that plagued so many of us in New York City.
I was glad to see that Riis published this, because the upper class could no longer be ignorant to what was happening to us, as well as the daily struggles we were going through. Another Muckraker was Samuel S. McClure, who assembled a bunch of journalists to be able to publish magazines investigating crooked political machines and corporate monopolies, while revealing the miserable conditions in which poor Americans like me lived and worked. One of the most important journalists included in this magazine collection was Lincoln Steffens, because he focused multiple articles on detailing city corruption. He told of corrupt Boss politics in places like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Chicago, and more. This also included the man who I worked for, being that he stationed himself in New York. Steffens eventually combined all of these articles into a book titled ‘The Shame of the Cities’, causing people to begin demanding both political and social reforms.
A few years went by, and suddenly the Muckrakers had made way for a period known as the Progressive Era, beginning with political reforms. Most notable of these reforms was the rise of direct democracy. One part of direct democracy was the direct primary, where all members of a political party could vote on its nominees. Also, to prevent further corruption, incompetent elected officials could be removed by a public petition and a vote. Additionally, the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified, allowing for the direct election of senators.
Another key portion of the progressive movement was social justice for the working poor, those who were unemployed, and the homeless. Personally, one of the most amazing things that came from this social justice movement were settlement houses. The first that I had heard of these was about Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago, and I thought it was just wishful thinking at first, but soon enough there were settlement houses popping up in New York, too! Settlement houses provided medical care as well as English language classes, which I was extremely grateful to have.
By the time President Roosevelt was reelected in 1904, he had an even stronger drive to regulate corporations, as well as their corrupt owners. He passed many laws that restrained businesses. Although in 1908, when William Taft was elected president, he didn’t take such a strong stance against corporations at all. Then, following up Taft was President Wilson, who passed laws that supported open competition between businesses. Where Roosevelt admired the power and efficiency of law-abiding corporations, no matter how large, Wilson was convinced that huge, ‘heartless’ industries needed to be broken up. Since the laws of Roosevelt and Wilson often contradicted one another, they often created confusion among the people.
Overall, over the course of these presidencies, a variety of laws and bills were being passed left and right to help society improve. All of these presidents labeled themselves as progressives; however, some had different and varying progressive ideals from others. An important thing to note was that some corruption in cities had been stopped, and some political bosses were kicked out. This seems like great improvements were being made for America; however, it was not so great for everyone. Immigrants like myself had suddenly lost our financial support, because our Bosses were being exposed. Without my Boss, unfortunately it meant that I had lost my job. The politicians in control at this time weren’t offering any of the same assistance that we had been previously getting from our Bosses. And as I mentioned earlier, welfare was not a viable option for someone like me.
So, without any sort of government assistance, soon enough I had no choice but to be back working in the mines again, just trying to get by. The working conditions, hours, and wage are more regulated, which means that they are slightly better, but it’s not by much. Throughout the Progressive Era, the presidents may have had big businesses become more restricted, but that didn’t necessarily help out the individual worker. Personally, I did not see many benefits directly affect me as an individual.
Cite this essay
Immigration to America. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/immigration-to-america-essay