The Romanian Emigration to the United States until the First World War. Revisiting Opportunities and Vulnerabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract: The European emigration on the other side of the Atlantic was a complex phenomenon. The areas inhabited by Romanians got acquainted to this phenomenon towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Therefore, starting with the year 1895, a certain mixture of causes led to a massive migration to America, especially of the Romanians from the rural areas. The purpose of our study is to explore the causes of the Romanian emigration across the ocean up to the First World War to present the Romanian emigrants' features (occupation, age, gender, social status, religious affiliation, the way they were distributed across the North-American territory) and to bring forth essential aspects of the way they embraced the assimilation process. From a methodological standpoint our analyses are based upon official data of the US Census. This data is being interpreted in the light of some reference papers referring to the period that makes the object of our study. A certain amount of information presented here relies on our research activity in the Metropolitan Archives of Sibiu, where the ecclesiastic correspondence of that time provides very interesting data.

Key Words: emigration, America, Romanian, assimilation process, identity, religion, church, orthodox, gender

Romanian emigration across the Ocean - some facts

The European emigration on the other side of the Atlantic has been and it continues to be a complex phenomenon, its motivation, time span, area, content and effect having natural similarities and differences from one country to another, from one historic period to another.1 The areas inhabited by Romanians got acquainted to this phenomenon towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. From the American point of view2, this immigration is part of what is called the new immigration wave, a wave that includes ethnical groups from Eastern and Central Europe, such as: Polish, Czechs, Slovenians, Serbs, Hungarians, Russians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Romanians, Macedo-Romanians, and so on. This new wave was different from what the American authorities3 called the old immigration4 that had come from the Western and Northern Europe and had reached its peak before the Civil War (1861-1865).5

A first group of Romanian immigrants reached on the other side of the Atlantic by the middle of the nineteenth century. They came from Transylvania, Wallachia, Banat, Dobrudja and Bukovina, mostly making their way across Europe in order to embark in Hamburg or other ports, sailing to Halifax, St-John, Montreal or New York.6 The approximate number of Romanian immigrants, who leftbehind their fatherland, after the 1848 Revolution, is difficult to establish for at least two reasons: there are only American sources7 to certify it, and they refer only to the Romanians from the time of the Habsburg Empire (up to 1867)8 or from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without mentioning their ethnic origins.9

Romanian historians estimate that the very first stage of the Romanian emigration to the United States, numerically reduced to a couple of thousands, may be ascribed to the general European trend of those times, that is the refuge of some of the European revolutionaries to the United States, right after the 1848 Revolution when a general antirevolutionary action started spreading all over the old continent.10

Serban Drutzu11 and Samuel Joseph12 are the ones stating that between 1881 and 1900 the Romanian emigration to the United States included mainly Jewish people13. The beginning of emigration of the first Jewish group from Romania was estimated in 187214. The emigration of the first Jewish group from Romania began in 1872 in political circumstances which should be recalled briefly (we have in view direct group or collective emigrations and not the reported isolated cases in the first half of the nineteenth century). According to Vâtcu & Badarau, one of its initiators was Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, the American general consul in Bucharest, who was famous as one of the sustainers of the migrating current to America as a variant of the Zionist ideology of the epoch. …