Immigration in the early 1900’s

With all the talk about immigration right now, I want to throw my 2 cents into the pile. While many might not agree that I am an immigrant (seeing as I was born to parents both born in the United States) and that I, too, was born in the United States (yes, to those on the East Coast, New Mexico is a state in the USA), all four of my mom’s grandparents immigrated to the United States between the years 1890 and 1910.

They immigrated from Russia, Poland, Germany, and what is now Lithuania. Trying to escape starvation, war, and being conscripted into armies, what little information I have on them paints a really interesting story.

220px-Ellis_Island_in_1905.jpg

For example, my great-grandmother Antoinette came across the ocean with her sister, Victoria. Antoinette was only 14, and her sister 16 when they crossed, and had one suitcase between them. They arrived at Ellis Island in December of 1896, after a month long journey across the Atlantic, leaving from Hamburg, Germany.

My great-grandfather Stanislas fled conscription into the Czar Nickolas’ army. My understanding is that he fled from Poland, went down to Italy, and came across the ocean to Brooklyn. He was known as a hard worker, and a strong laborer. He was given commendations from being in the army during WWI, where he worked as a dock worker in the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

The frustrating thing about their coming to America, as far as I can see, is that none of them kept their original names. There are records (like census, birth, and marriage) that show their original names, but there are others that have modified names, that are no where near the same. My great-grandfather Andrew, who was married to Antoinette, was surnamed Mazowieka, but was changed to Meyer at some point. Both records are found in various census, birth, marriage, and death records. Stanislas, the one who fled conscription, was renamed Stanley, and his surname was either Chodyka, Hodyka, or Koedick. His last name was changed to Hodyke, where it has stuck through the generations.

 

What is interesting to me is that, even though they all stuck very close to other ethnic Poles (Russian/Polish/German), they tried to learn English, and became Americans. The traditions they had in Russia were largely lost by the time I came along- in fact, my mom doesn’t speak a lick of Polish, except for maybe a couple of dishes she still makes from time to time. They not only moved to America, they became Americans. Maybe WWII had something to do with

 

it, but their kids (my grandparents/great aunts/uncles) were all 100% American, serving in the Army or in other capacities during the various wars that have come and gone.

The other big component, as far as I can see, is that they immigrated legally, according to the system that was then in place. They worked hard, didn’t live off the government (it wasn’t possible then), and eventually became citizens. Their kids all worked hard, and grew up to be, if not model citizens, at least decent middle-class workers who stuck close to family.

I’m not going to say they were perfect- alcoholism was a big problem for many of them, and my great-grandmother Antoinette they think committed suicide (she was hit by a subway train). But what we do know is that their kids, grand kids, and I hope now, great grandkids have all grown and been productive. I’m not sure about this, but I think my great-uncle Stephen was even one of the first Americans to interrogate Herman Goehring at the end of WWII. That is uncorroborated, but if true, would be pretty cool.

 

Stephen and Janice Hodyke.jpg

That all being said, I think it important to look at how immigrants now are able to get into, and help us improve, our country. I do believe they should be legal, though, and that we need to figure out how to streamline the immigration process, making it faster and easier to become citizens. We do need to find a way to secure the border, I believe, and if that takes a wall, so be it. I don’t necessarily want to keep hard working, inventive people out (you’d have to be to cross that desert), but we do need to be aware of who is coming into the country, and what they are bringing with them.

It has been shown that it isn’t just Mexicans crossing the southern border and Americans crossing the south- I personally have met many, many people from Central and South America, who, after getting out of their own countries, crossed Mexico, and made into the US. These people were all hard workers, at least the ones I knew, and had raised good families. And we need people like that, especially if minimum wage keeps going up. By the way, if you’re a proponent of minimum wage, you necessarily can’t be an advocate of illegal (or legal, for that matter) immigrants. A minimum wage, just for history’s sake, was initiated to keep blacks unemployed, and keep whites working. (https://www.minimumwage.com has some good information on the minimum wage) It was, and continues to be, a racist law. But that’s a different story. We also know that there are Islamic terrorists who have come across the border through both the southern and the Canadian borders.

I’m not a proponent, really, of a big wall on the south, but I think it could be a good thing. Having had dogs, cats, chickens, and other animals, I will say that fences aren’t always the most effective way of keeping things in (or out) though, of your yard. I don’t know for sure, but if a goat can figure out how to get out of a fenced yard, I think a human or humans can figure out how to get through a wall.

The other concern with stopping illegal immigration is the farm labor- food prices would skyrocket if it weren’t for the seasonal labor that moves through and works in the fields. It isn’t just inalifornia- that labor is up here in Idaho as well. Construction prices would also go up- because actual wages would need to be paid for the workers. This goes back to the minimum wage thing again- if there are people willing to work for less, why not let them? Also, if women really are only paid $.70 for every dollar a man makes, why aren’t business owners and managers going after women like crazy? That’s a 30% reduction in overhead…

Just like at the turn of the last century, immigrants help to move this country forward, and provide not just the labor, but a lot of the grit it takes to survive here. As Gary Veynerchuck likes to say, he had a huge advantage being an immigrant to the US- he didn’t grow up fat and lazy like many Americans. His family had to struggle just to get by, and he is loudly on his way to becoming a billionaire.

So let’s look at immigration in a sensible way- we want the people that want to be here, that want to contribute, that want to succeed. We don’t need more people just coming for the free healthcare or other social services. In fact, we should probably follow Kentucky’s example, and make it harder for those that were born here to use those services. We need to make it harder for people to get by. I mean that in the way that getting rid of safety nets provides some impetus to get moving, to be creative, to create their own dreams, jobs, businesses. Let’s figure out how to make it so people can work again, doing needed, important tasks. Let’s bring back competition, let’s encourage innovation. And let’s get that immigrant spirit back into the US of A!

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About DGrigsby