4.22.2017

Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet LXX

Here's an excerpt from a book I recently read, "The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia," by Mike Dash:



Though useful, insofar as they did dirty jobs that earlier immigrants now thought of as beneath them, Italians from the southern provinces were regarded with hostility by many New Yorkers. Their dark complexions, lack of English, and devotion to an alien food were all regarded as distasteful. They were much more volatile than northern Europeans, it was commonly supposed, and prone to deadly knife fights and vendettas. Worse, only a minority embraced American institutions with the fervor expected of immigrants. Few Italians mixed with men of other nationalities, and well under half actually applied for U.S. citizenship. For many Sicilians and Neapolitans, the United States was a place to work hard, spend little, and save ferociously; many planned to return home with their savings. These were habits many Americans regarded as ungrateful and insulting.


Opinion hardened further at about the time the Terranova family first came to Manhattan. There was concern at the number of anarchists and socialists pouring into the country to preach revolution. There was concern at the number of criminals. Nineteen Italians in every twenty of those passing through Ellis Island were found to be carrying weapons, either knives or revolvers, and there was nothing in American law to stop them from taking this arsenal into the city. The Sicilian police were said to be issuing passports to known murderers in order to get them out of the country—a calumny, it transpired, but there were still real reasons to take such problems seriously. So many Italians were passing through Ellis Island every day that it was not possible to check their statements properly. But when the 1,400 passengers on board the SS Belgravia were subjected to a spot investigation, one in six was found to have given false information. “Statistics prove,” the Herald trumpeted in one alarmist feature article, “that the scum of Southern Europe is dumped on the nation’s door in rapacious, conscienceless, lawbreaking hordes.”

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