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Lecture exposes plight of Italians

Ken Scambray, professor of English, spoke to students and faculty on Monday in the President’s Dining Room. Scambray discussed Italian immigration and his family’s journey to the Western United States at the turn of the 20th century. / photo by Garrett Gutierrez

Christopher Barnes-Baxter
Staff Writer

Professor of English Kenneth Scambray shed a new light on Italian immigrants, as he conducted a faculty lecture titled “Italian Immigration in the West: 1890-1940” Monday in the President’s Dining Room.

Before an audience of about 20, Scambray talked about the trials and tribulations that many Italian immigrants faced after they got off the boat at Ellis Island, N.Y.

“From 1890-1924, 4.5 million Italians immigrated to America. Since the beginning of World War II, an average of 200,000 Italians a year traveled to the United States,” Scambray said.

After the federal government noticed the massive numbers of Italians immigrating into the states, they established a cap on how many Italians would be allowed into America, letting only 24,000 Italians a year onto U.S. soil.

“I thought it was very interesting the way many Italians adapted to life (here) by becoming sharecroppers, small business owners and coal miners,” Kelly Escribens, sophomore international business and language major, said.

“I now understand that practically every race has endured some type of struggle while trying to settle in the United States,” she added.

Scambray gave a few statistics about Italian immigrants during his lecture, ranging from the state populations of Italians to the average death rate of Italian coal miners.

One example Scambray gave was that of his great grandfather who died of an explosion “accident.”

Many inexperienced Italians who could not read or write in either English or Italian were put in charge of dynamite and explosions.

“The most interesting part the of the lecture in my opinion was learning how insensitive people can be toward one another,” junior sociology major Maria Zuleta said.

“It’s crazy how the less educated and illiterate Italian miners had to perform the most dangerous jobs.”

Scambray also pointed out that African Americans were not the only race that suffered death threats and lynchings from members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“One of my findings reported that there were five Italian individuals living in Louisiana that were lynched for treating African Americans with too much respect, I remember hearing stories from my father about my grandfather being threatened by the Klan,” Scambray said.

“They told my grandfather that if he did not stop allowing Negros to enter in his front door, and eat at the tables in the front section of his establishment that they would burn his house down with his wife and children in it.”

What Scambray wanted to achieve in this study is to highlight the different accomplishments of Italians in fields like agriculture and small businesses.

Many people do not know that practically all of the San Joaquin valley was harvested by American Italians, though western history books leaves this and other Italian contributions out, Scambray said.

Most history books emphasize the negative contributions by Italians like the start of the urban Mafia and the different crime sprees.

But Scambray’s research found that Italians also made many positive contributions in the world of agriculture.

“I found Scambray’s lecture to be quite interesting,” said Wesley Dean, a senior business administration major.

“The overall point was to show that all immigrants, not just Italians have been misrepresented in western history taught in classes.”

Christopher Barnes-Baxter can be reached at christopher.barnes-baxter@laverne.edu.

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