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Our Emigration: the Miseria

Renzo Grosselli is a noted journalist of the Adige and author of many books. He has studied, researched and written about the migration phenomena of the Trentino. He will be providing us with on-going features of how our people needed to leave their beloved villages and valleys and recreate their lives and establish their lives and create families here in the USA. Around 1875-1900, the time of the great emigration, in the Italian Tyrol more than 20% of the children died prior to they were one year old. Tuberculosis and pellagra afflicted the valleys and the towns. This might very well be the picture that explains why thousands of Trentini left their lands to emigrate to other European countries and in Americain the USA more than anywhere else.

We deal with that misery which has always been considered the reason of every migratory wave. What was this misery? It is best to explain it by the analysis of the commentators of that era, the commentators in the specialized journals, the medical journals or the scientific journals that were present in a very poor area but was strictly connected and tied to Middle Europe, part of that Empire of Austria and Hungary to which the peasant class was sincerely and emotionally attached. The first information that springs to our eyes, in the various publications, was that of the infant mortality rate. In the varied districts of the Italian Tyrol, the rate fluctuated in 1880 and 1890 between 18% and 24.5%. One child in every five died prior to his first year. What were the causes? More than 20% of the new born would die from an illness that the doctors defined as congenital weakness. But what were we dealing with? Here is a diagnosis of one such doctor. The skin is withered, the stare is semi-alert, the brow is wrinkled, as if there had occurred the difficulties of life; they do not have even the breath to cry. The coloring was yellow and the children of several months were not able to remain seated since they had not the strength. It was a death tied not only to hunger but to a severe malnutrition. These young ones were the children of mothers who were themselves undernourished and who had to work exceedingly hard in the fields and in their homes, all the way up to the birth itself. They resumed this difficult regime of work shortly after their delivery, while still not full recovered. Those newborn, therefore, who were still breast feeding, were fed with a breast milk of little caloric content so that in the mountainous areas, the breast feeding lasted just several weeks and we learned that the premature weaning was often the cause of their deaths.

There was yet another endangering illness: tuberculosis, diffused primarily in the lower valleys. In the major centers: Trento, Rovereto and Riva del Garda, in the last decades of the nineteenth century there were the greatest incidents of the disease up to 10% of the population. But conditions were getting worse. The doctors, in fact, since tuberculosis was considered a shameful disease, often avoided the reporting, referring to the causes with euphemisms. Consumption was killing young people between 18 and 35 primarily. Yet another illness that was victimizing the valleys of the Trentino in the period of the great emigration: Pellagra. This illness about whose causes were not known was according to a study by a doctor from Rovereto. It had three stages of development. At first, the patient saw his skin flake and dry on certain parts of the body exposed to the sun, elbows and knees. As a result, this weakened the patient and made it difficult to work. In the last phase, pellagra led to muscle atrophy, pulmonary tuberculosis, and in many cases even madness and suicide. Only later did doctors and researchers discover that pellagra is caused by a vitamin deficiency. In the 1980s, those afflicted with pellagra were 60,000 in Lombardy, 40,000 in the Veneto while there were no exact statistics in the Trentino. A study was attempted that found that 5% of the deceased in 14

These were not the only sicknesses that afflicted the Italian Tyrol. Many children were dying of scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, consumption. Widespread among all ages was scrofolosi, tuberculosis of the lymph nodes and rickets that was referred to as the dominant disease. Rickets created deformations of the bones in every part of the body. A doctor of that time wrote that among us the deformed flourish like mushrooms.Even this infirmity had as a principal cause bad nutrition. One lived poorly in the Trentino in second part of the 1800s. In every one hundred children, there died 23 prior to their first year and 43 would die before their twentieth birthday. The median life expectancy was between 36 and 37 years of age. Meanwhile the life expectancy of a German or French child was 43-45 year while a Scandinavian child was 48- 50 years. It was evident that such a situation was due to a complexity of conditions. Sanitary practices were not well known and there was an absence of medical practices and instruments. But the principal reason was nor the lack of such practices since in 1890 in the Trentino there was one physician for every 2770 inhabitants and 8 hospitals that had infirmaries in various valleys. In 1889 such infirmaries numbered 703, 408 midwives and in 1882 there was established the Association of Trentino Medical Practice.
Pellagra Victim

Rovereto were due to pellagra and that 20% of the mental illness were due to the illness. A disturbing finding was found in Terragnolo in the Municipio near Rovereto. In 1896 there were 650 people afflicted with pellagra, 27% of the population. These individuals while working spend more than what they have and do not repair sufficiently the wear and tear of their work. They are contadini (farmers) who pay with their premature deaths this time imbalance and with the exercise of one of the most sacred and holy functions, their work, they dig fatally an early grave.

But it was a medical science at its very beginning and the cures to which the majority of Trentini, the farmers, resorted to were those of a typical nature tied to the use of herbs, to the practices of tiraossi (bone pullers-primitive chiropractic), and cavadenti (tooth pullers performed by blacksmiths) and those who treated sickness with magical-religious practices. These were signals that indicated the transition from the ancient world to modernity. There were yet another significant cause for the diffusion of the sicknesses that devastated the population. These causes were connected with the type of habitation in which lived the Trentino peasant class but also the poorer urban classes: environments poorly heated, in a land that offered long and rigid winters, small rooms that were poorly ventilated. The houses were juxtaposed that did not allow the sun to enter; houses wherein was situated their stables, rooms in which they lived many hours every day, especially in the wintergathered frequently for the real Filo`. The ally ways were replete with water that ran and carried with them garbage and wastes. The mature of the cow used to fertilize the fields were accumulated proximate to the homes.

But above all the Trentino people, the unfortunate, the small farmers principally, would poorly nourish themselves in the latter part of the 1800s. From the information gathered in the part of the 19th century, we can assert that in 80 and the 90s, the amount of food was greatly reduced. The heart of their meals was polenta, few vegetables, milk and cheese. Meat was almost totally absent as well as bread while the consumption of potatoes because ever more widespread in those years. Polenta, which today is the very symbol of Trentino folklore, could have been considered a condemnation.Many timeswrote an observerespecially among the poor, and during the hot months when the work increased and the need to restore what is lost by the body increases, it is not infrequent the case of farmers forced by the economic conditions to eat polenta, the base of their food, combine their leavy vegetables, turnips 15

with the remnant of sour milk. Since even in the mountains, where it was common to rear cattle, milk, butter and the cheese needed to be sold to overcome the scarcity of food for their families. Here then is a brief overview of the miseria in the Trentino of the 1800s. Insufficient nourishment hence was widespread sickness. Coupled with this, there was a way of life based on extraordinary physical labor. The farmer, who had insufficient land, was forced to work many hours a day to bring home the bare minimum to live. It equally engaged women, children and the elderly to work as hard. It was the only way to survive, a thing that needed to be done in times of grave economic and social crisis. The miseria that led to the emigration sprung from the impossibility to nourish oneself properly and the necessity to work ever more to put on the table ever less and from the poverty of their houses and villages in which they lived.

One lived badly in the Italian Tyrol in those times of crisis. Very bad! But there was yet another circumstance. From the world of Central Europe, Great Britain and especially the United States, there arrived news of a totally different way of life; news of great consumption ma also of liberties and freedoms unthinkable in the Trentino. In the Italian Tyrol, the farmer, the very majority of its population, stood on the lowest level of the social scale. He was overshadowed by the few but powerful rich, the clergy and the nobility. These were the social classes that farmer grouped into word and concept of siori,the rich. They improvised a song as they faced the unknown and emigration. Ai siori del Tirol/ noi ghe daren la zapa/ la zapa e anca el badl./ I siori a menar i boi, le siore a menar el plof (aratro)/ e i contadini en Merica/ a bver el vin nof. To the rich of the Tirol, we will give them the hoe, the hoe and the shovel, the rich women will lead the oxen, and the rich women will pull the plowwhile the farmers will to America to drink a new wine. How then had they arrived at this point? It was because in the second part of the 1800s, they found themselves on the threshold of hunger. But how they arrive to this comprehensive miseria. Truly, it was because in the second part of the 1800s, the Italian Tyrol was on the threshold of hunger. TO BE CONTINUED


T --- total in honesty Y --- youthful in nature R --- regard to his fellow man O --- obedient to our laws L --- loving proud & independent E --- economy above all A --- always willing to help others N --- nobility

When you have met a Tyrolean, you have friend

These words and image were combined into a small card by Dasalina Valentina Dalvet who lived in Middleport, PA. She was extremely proud of her Tyrolean heritage and identity. 16