DiPietro Petruolo Families
The Emigrants of Agnone
Slide Show of Agnone, Italy, 2004 pictures taken by Sandra oldfield
In 1884 the local newspaper L'Aquilonia reviewed the causes of emigration of peasants from Agnone and concluded that the two main factors were excessive taxes on consumers' goods and usurious interest rates that at times surpassed 20 percent in the town. . . .
The peasant was a shadowy figure in the pages of Agnone's newspapers. When he is mentioned at all, it is usually either as a social problem or as the victim of natural disaster. From such articles it is possible to catch a brief glimpse of a world characterized by considerable violence and tragedy. Robbery, homicide, assaults, and infanticides were not unusual for rural Agnone. On occasion, peasants were arrested for stealing the crops of the galantuomini, and a particularly frequent crime was the illegal cutting of timber on the town commons.
In 1863, for example, the authorities actually prosecuted 624 cases of illegal felling of trees, many of which involved several defendants.
Consequently, when by the 1870s, owing to improvements in sea travel, a lowering of fares, and the expansive nature of the economies of both the United States and the Rio de la Plata region of southern South America, transatlantic emigration became a viable alternative, the lower classes of Agnone were, out of a sense of desperation, prime candidates.
Politically alienated by decades of unfulfilled promises of land reform, mired in endemic poverty, dependent on a rapacious class of galatuomini for what was, by any yardstick, a meager existence, the peasantry was further squeezed by relentless population increase throughout the first seven decades of the nineteenth century.
For Agnone's contadino, then, the act of emigration, even though to an uncertain destination and destiny, could scarcely be regarded as extravagant risk taking. By concentrating its efforts, a peasant family, sometimes seeking aid from its extended kin network, pooled its resources to provide one or two of its young adult male members with passage.
The whole process was quickly facilitated by agents and agencies, some operating for private gain and others commissioned by the Argentine government, who recruited emigrants with the promise of loans and other forms of assistance. For Agnone's poor, emigration held at least the prospect of escape from misery.
Emigration, then, was a tremendously complex social question. In the main, its driving force was youthful imagination fueled by the success stories of a few. For many a person, unbridled enthusiasm and energy seemed more than a match for any adversity, and so they departed in droves, and their departures touched upon practically every aspect of life in communities like Agnone.
Families were deprived of members, fields of their tillers, workshops of their artisans, patrons of their clients, priests of their parishioners, towns of their taxpayers. Consequently, the merits and demerits of emigration were debated incessantly.
Gamberale, in a public discourse delivered in Agnone in 1902, phrased the question eloquently: Some say that emigration is the cause [of the town's decline]. Possibly so, at least in part. But consider that emigration, clearly the cause of many ills, is itself an effect.
- "Emigration in a South Italian Town" An Anthropological History by William A. Douglas