Sunday, October 27, 2013

Too Many Italians?

Fill it up! We're overrun!

When I'm poking around at San Jose history, my favorite source is the San Jose Evening News back issues, easily available through Google News Archive. (Read 'em while you can; Google News Archive project was stopped in 2011, and although they're keeping the old issues up, I could imagine them going away some day.) The Evening News seems quite modern to my eyes, compared to other papers. (The Campbell Interurban Express, for example, used some syndicated editorial cartoonist who was pretty strongly anti-immigrant.)

However, there's still surprises. For example, in 1919, an anonymous writer gnashed his teeth at the presumption of Italian work crews to start thinking they could run the formerly Anglo-Saxon orchards:

Is the working of the orchards of Santa Clara county passing out of the hands of the owners of the orchards, and will this in time bring on a condition such as there is in England where aristocrats own the land, middle class farmers lease it, and a fixed class of farm laborers do the actual work?
That is one of the questions which occur to anyone who studies the cherry industry in this county. And the thing that brings up this question is the way that Italian and Slavonian middlemen are sliding into the handling of most of the cherry crops. As already stated in this series, in the old days the orchardist generally attended to his own picking and packing, hiring the labor and superintending it, and owning the output of the orchard himself until the day it was sold in New York or some other big eastern city. But now Slavonian and Italian middlemen go to the orchardist, and make a bid for the entire crop as it hangs on the tree. If the bid is accepted, the orchardist's work for the season is finished. The middleman hires and superintends the labor of picking and packing.

...For it is an economic fact which is of precisely the sort that presages all sorts of social and political changes.

The orchardists are most of them of native American stock. They find themselves unable to cope with the problem of hiring and superintending the labor needed, which is generally of foreign origin. It is just here where the middleman comes in. A Slavonian or Italian himself, he has command of sources of labor supply which the American simply cannot reach. He brings his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, wife, and his friends, and their friends. He performs a valuable service, of course, but the orchardists seem to feel that he gets a pretty big share of the proceeds.

Orchardist after orchardist testifies to the tendency of middlemen to slip into the orchard business.

"What's the matter? Haven't we got the ability to handle our own affairs?" asked on orchardist in discussing the matter.

Most of the article continues on the fear that the orchard lands would eventually be owned by distant rich owners, but the wording - comments on the lack of a beautiful home in the orchards, but instead "some shacks occupied by Japanese laborers, and a cheap little house occupied by the [foreign] foreman and his wife."

Kind of a scary proposition - who knows what the Valley might have been like if the Slavonian and Italian middlemen started grabbing the majority of the profits in the Santa Clara Valley, and then started building their homes in the midst of their rented and owned land? Heck, they might have ended up dominating the fruit industry!

[Albert T. Reid editorial cartoon from a Campbell Interurban Express issue, probably in the early 1930's.]

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