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THE City’s Poverty Zone


Integration into society and settling into a new city created certain responsibilities. 

Since we first arrived, our relatives had been good to us and very considerate; they took us everywhere we needed to go for any occasion or for any reason.  

They had taught us how to travel from one place to another, or how to read the name of the street signs that were on the affixed to the sides of buildings at every corner. We had learned how to read road signs, at least the simplest ones such as: STOP-- GO –ADVANCE- TURN RIGHT-- TURN LEFT. The streets were very crowded; cars would zip up and down the streets. We had to be careful where and when we crossed the streets. Thinking about it now, it seems strange that somebody wouldn't know how to cross the street especially because the roads were quite large, had sidewalks on both sides and there was a traffic light at every intersection. But remember that we didn't know the rules; we didn't know the meaning of the road signs and we didn't even know how to read them…not yet.

 In our little villages, the few cars there were didn't go fast and they would stop to let people, animals and farmers’ carts cross. We didn't have traffic lights; we didn't need them.

 Our friends and relatives had shown us the way to get to the places where the ones who had recently arrived used to go.

Now we had to take the initiative to go to places we needed to go to without being taken by someone else. To make it easier, we had formed groups of “paesani” and “non-paesani” (fellow Italians and non-fellow Italians), to create new friendships born from the necessity of need for the common good we banded together.

 We who worked in the purse factory were the most numerous group. We would meet early in the morning at the first intersection where the person who lived the farthest from the factory lived. Then, we walked together and meet the other workers that were waiting for us to walk together to the factory. The walk was almost one hour, but since we were together it didn't bother us. As we were walking, we talked about our new lives and how it was so different from what we had imagined. Others who had come before us would throw a few words of English into the conversation to show off what they had learned, knowing that we hadn't gotten to “that level” yet.  

When I heard them, it bothered me that I couldn't understand them and I would promise myself to learn the language as soon as possible. But before talking about general stuff, the paesani would exchange news that had just come from the village.  

Every letter that arrived from the families brought news and greetings not only from the sender to the recipient, but even from other mothers that had let their children go in an extreme sacrifice to “open the road” to the promising New Land. It was always moving to know that a mother was thinking about us, sent us blessings and missed us. 

 Those were tender words that were easier to write than to say. If someone started crying, thinking about a mother that was far away, the others would comfort them and we all would start walking fast again. 

The walk toward the factory would lead us through the poorest and most broken down places in the city. The roads were dirty and covered with garbage. 

The houses were old and falling into decay; there were wooden boards covering the most damaged parts of the walls. Old and worn out curtains hung over the windows. Even the sidewalks were all crumbled. It was all so different from the clean roads and the well-kept houses of the area where the Italians lived: the “West Side”.

 What captured our attention the most, though,  were the men and the women sitting in front of the houses; people laying down on the sidewalks even, who, that early in the morning, were already drinking whisky and beer, soaked in filth and misery. It was a scene that we, who had come from small villages, were not used to seeing, especially women drinking like that. It was another unexpected cultural shock that made us want to back track a bit.

When we were getting close to that place, we would cross the street and walk on the other side to avoid that sidewalk. They were all African Americans, society’s poorest and most forsaken people.

 I know that all of us promised ourselves: “I will do everything I can to never fall into those conditions” and walking quickly, with a renewed will to make it, we would walk along that last part of the road to get to work. 




Delia Socci Skidmore