The Heyday of the
New Immigrant Enclave
America's entrance into the war posed challenges for two populations that were very much in flux. By 1917, New Haven Italians and New York Jews had moved well beyond the initial stage of establishing their housing and employment niches and were now able to rely on a wide range of ethnic institutions. Observers regarded these settlements as foreign cities-within-thecity. The immigrants lived and worked mainly with their kinsmen, bought familiar homeland foods from ethnic grocers, and attended religious services and read newspapers (if they could read) in their own languages. The immediate prewar period was really the heyday of the New Immigrant enclave, when its roots in the American landscape were secure and the adult population was still overwhelmingly made up of immigrants.
Yet despite the fact that the colonia of New Haven and the eastern European Jewish communities of New York City were very well developed internally, their influence on the larger American settings was still minor. The two groups were the largest immigrant populations in their respective cities on the eve of the war, but their numbers did not translate into a commensurate level of political clout. For the most part, the two groups enjoyed only token representation on party tickets and did not hold other positions of public trust and authority on an important scale—as teachers, policemen, and professionals—let alone employment in the larger nonethnic businesses, banks, and newspapers that wielded power on the local scene. Though they had been in America for close to four decades, neither community had yet found its voice in mainstream public life.
The war thus came at an important moment for southern and eastern European immigrants and their children in the United States. It called for major, sustained participation in a national effort at a time when the communities were nearly ready to move to the next stage of their settlement, from standing largely outside of the mainstream American public arena to asserting a major role in the politics and society that now shaped their lives.