Bordighera Press has announced the publication of a new book titled Here in Cerchio - Letters to an Italian Immigrant by Constance Sancetta.
I haven't read it yet (its on the way from Amazon) but the concept of the book is exciting. The book is a collection of real letters from a literate Italian farmer between 1910-13 to his son who was working in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania. If you've been researching your Italian ancestors for awhile, you'll know that literacy was not common amongst the peasant class, of which farmers were a part. This book should provide a unique glimpse into the Italy our ancestors left behind. Not through the eyes of a historian interpreting the records but rather through the eyes of someone who actually lived there.
A contadino or peasant received little to no formal education outside the home. Occupations were often passed down from generation to generation within the same family, parents teaching their children what skills they knew in order to help them survive. Class distinctions were wide and practically unbridgeable. There were the rich and the poor, with precious few opportunities to earn a living that was somewhere in between.
The peasant class in Italy consisted of five general types of occupations: agriculture, fishing, peddlers, traveling artisans and small shopkeepers. Those who lived in coastal towns were often fisherman whose work provided food, as well as income for their families. Any excess catch, over and above what a family needed, was sold to provide for other necessities. Fisherman were considered a lesser class of peasant because they had only one useful skill, while the other peasant groups were thought to have several.
A farmer worked hard for very little wages, often leaving for work before dawn and returning long after sundown. Others plied whatever skills they had: entertaining, herb or firewood gathering...even grave digging could produce a small fee which might put bread on the table.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Italy began to hemorrhage its people, the poorer areas seeing the highest concentration of emigrants. Poverty and forced military constription featured strongly in many Italian's decision to emigrate.
Constance Sancetta's book cam be ordered from Amazon, Small Press Distribution, Barnes and Noble, Ingram Book Company, and Baker and Taylor, Inc.