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Diaries Reveal Immigration History

CHS senior Tana Stamper conducts research to write the diary of Carmen Emilio, an Italian immigrant from the turn of the century.

Students in Butch Phaneuf’s 20th Century America Honors class have wasted no time diving in to their studies and making it personal. The assignment: Create an immigrant character based on historical facts of the turn of the century, and write a diary the character may have written that spans the course of a few years. Students need to include details they found in their research such as why their character decided to leave their homeland; what each aspect of the journey was like such as saying goodbye, traveling across the ocean, getting processed in Ellis Island once arriving in America; and finding work in a country where more than likely they did not speak the language and were not necessarily welcomed.

“I wanted them to get the whole immigration experience, not just statistics. My instructions included, ‘I need to be moved to tears,’” said Phaneuf.

Senior Tana Stamper wrote about “Carmen Emilio,” an Italian immigrant who traveled to America from Mezzogiorno, Italy, in June 1909. Carmen’s family’s vineyards were struck with Phylloxera, a disease that destroys grape plants. The lure of possible financial success pulled Carmen to America to try her luck.

“The reason I created her was that I am Italian so I thought it would be cool to get back to my roots,” said senior Tana Stamper.

“I learned that 50% of Italians who came to America returned after only a year. They came to make money to support their families. However, my character decided to stay.”

Stamper explained that her diary reveals that Carmen got married and her husband, who spoke English, helped her learn the language. She attempted many jobs over the course of two years, ranging from fruit vendor to shoemaker and eventually a bartender who came to own her own restaurant. She made a home on Mulberry Street in New York City, a street still heavily associated with Italian–American culture and history.

Did Carmen find success? Did her story move Mr. Phaneuf to tears? We will have to check in with the 20th Century Honors class to find out!

Written by: Paula White
Posted: Sep 02, 2014 by Paula White

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