Why Migrate?

He had to be resilient to leave Italy to come to work as an immigré in Canada. There are those who want to escape something. I don’t think it was my father’s case. He came because he wanted to see the world and thought he could make [a] better [life] here than in Italy.

Alessandro Biffi, son of internee A.S. Biffi, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

He came alone in 1914. He was 18 then because he was born in 1896. He came alone. And the family wanted him to come and make his million and he always said all he ever got was cooties. So he never wanted to go back. He was upset with the way they wanted him to leave and come over here, so he never went back.

Doug Brombal, son of enemy alien Nereo Brombal, video interview, Columbus Centre Collection

During the Risorgimento (Resurgence) – as the process of unification is known – Republican leaders such as Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi made promises to the largely peasant population in order to gain their support. Mazzini and others promised that land would be redistributed, taxes would decrease, and life would improve for all Italians. After unification, however, the life of average Italians did not change much, if at all. Land was scarce and jobs were difficult to find.

The majority of Italians who left Italy were peasant men in their early to mid-twenties. Most left Italy to look for work in order to support families at home. These men sent a portion of their earnings to parents or wives in Italy. In many cases, Italian migrants planned to make enough money to return to Italy and purchase land. However, the realities of working abroad – low wages, high living expenses, and job insecurity – made saving money very difficult.

Women usually migrated in the company of family members. Although they were not engaged in wage labour to the same degree as their male counterparts, women were also labour migrants who contributed to family incomes.