The Americas 57.3 (2001) 436-438
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The result of exhaustive, cross-Atlantic research over the course of several years, Samuel Baily's new book demonstrates the usefulness of a richly comparative model in examining the lives of Italians who comprised an extraordinary proportion of the Europeans who came to the Americas in the age of mass migration. The use of comparative frameworks has been on the rise lately, often with salutary results that point to both regional peculiarities and connective threads in the course of Latin America's history. Baily's approach is unusual. He is one of the very few historians of immigration in the national period who has worked the documentation found on both sides of the Atlantic, down to the municipal levels of New York, Buenos Aires, Agnone, and Valdengo. These documents include manuscript census schedules, vital records, passport registries, voluntary association membership lists, family correspondence, and other sources that pinpoint social data down to the level of the individual. This is an obviously time-consuming approach but the yield is ample, as this work demonstrates.
The book's first part focuses on the Italian side of the migration cycle, and includes the environmental, demographic and economic bases that are used to contextualize migration's push factors. In general, Italians from the economically more advanced north migrated to Argentina, while southerners came to the United States from more traditional and less urban settings. The former group demonstrated in Argentina greater levels of both occupational and organizational skills than their counterparts in the city of New York. In tracing their relative successes and failures, Baily explores the linkages among individuals and between individuals and institutions that are embedded in the concept of "network" migration. He thus interweaves dimensions that touch on the collective and the institutional, the familial and the communal, the individual and the greater Atlantic economy.
Baily's argument about the nature and extent of Italian "adjustment" to their different destinations rests on two broad foundations. First, the emigrants themselves took with them significantly different skills, based on the greater levels of experiences with industrial and capital-intensive environment found among of northern Italians, as compared to the pastoral, proto-industrial south. This is another way of saying that economic development in Italy, based for example on locational preferences and the greater development of commercial capitalism in the north, resulted in different exchanges of technology, capital formation, and labor relationships, as [End Page 436] compared to the south. Starting in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, migration--and the migrants' own adjustments in the Americas--represented the different strategies of negotiating the social and economic changes resulting from the fast-maturing stages of industrial capitalism.
The second dimension affecting adjustment deals with the nature of the absorbing site. New York and Buenos Aires appeared to have presented very different types of receptivity, according to the quantitative and qualitative data, with the Argentine capital representing a more open and, in the end, more successful venue for Italians. Buenos Aires's environment presented a simpler, two-tier class structure which immigrants rounded out by forming and elaborating a middle class consisting of commercial and industrial activities. To be sure, much of the industrial activity would remain modest in volume and reach and employ primarily family and kin during the period covered by this study, but it represented the leading edge of a wider and robust industrial plant later in the twentieth century. New York, by contrast, represented a much more mature version of industrial capitalism in which a full-fledged three-class system, including a middle class solidly occupied by previous immigrants and the long-time descendants of earlier Americans limited the range of possibilities for Italians.
Beyond the structural conditions and receptivity of the host societies, Baily explores the different communal support...