(Italian) immigrants immigrating to far off countries

Hi all,

I have a question: form 1890’s to 1920’s there was a great influx of Italian immigrants going to the US. Did they ever go back to their family that they left behind in Italy? Nowadays, you can travel much faster by plane, but in those days only by boat.

Didn’t their elderly parents say to them that they abandoned them? Don’t you have the moral responsibility to care for your elderly parents?

Obviously, this does not only count for Italian immigrants, but for all people that left their home and went to study or work far abroad.

Even earlier people left regions or places with little opportunities to other far places by horse or camel. So they couldn’t see their parents for years, maybe never even.

Wouldn’t their parents be mad if their son went off to some far country without coming back for years or even decades? Wouldn’t their parents feel ditched and not loved by their child? If they would love their parents they wouldn’t go that far for so long?

What do you think? Thanks in advance!

Greeting Don.

Economic and political pressures drove most to leave their homelands; that’s not an easy thing to do but times were tough. But my Italian grandfather succeeded well enough that he was able to return-for six months-in the ‘30s, by sea, just as he had traveled to the US to begin with. I remember hearing of several who immigrated to our area in Northern California who made the trip more than once, some returning to the “old country” permanently.

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Hi Don, I am one of the lucky ones born in the US to Italian immigrants.
My dad brought my mom and brother here from Italy after a few years as he settled, got a home and prepared a home for them.
My mom was in the US for 14 years before she could go back and visit her parents and brothers.


I know in my family’s case, my grandparents were THRILLED for my mom to have the opportunity to come to the US from the war torn country and make a better life.


Again, in my case, my uncle, my mom’s brother, took care of my grandparents. In return, as was the custom, he inherited the lion’s share of my grandparent’s estate, including land that was deeded to him way before impending deaths.


Parents want what is best for their children and are willing to make sacrifices for that goal.
Children in turn do what they can to make their parents proud of them.
Those were some tough times and I am so appreciative of everything my parents and grandparents did!

My great grand parents, and their widowed sister in law came from Italy to the US.

My great grandparents had 5 children, and then moved back to Italy when the children were very small.

The sister in law stayed in the US and remarried.

My great grandmother had many siblings (12 I think) so while she worked (as a seamstress then running a boarding house) her other siblings cared for the parents.

Not Italian but all my ancestors emigrated to USA from other countries so I will answer from my perspective.

Some people went back for visits, but in many cases they had left because things were really bad (like a persecution or genocide situation) and therefore it was not a good idea to return. Often they also did not have the money to travel back.

As I said in some cases the person had no choice but to leave or else they would likely be killed or starve. In other cases there was very limited economic opportunity in their home country, so emigration made sense in order to earn a living and perhaps send money back to the parents. Elderly parents might have objected but might also have understood and wanted their children to go far away in order to be safe and prosper. Elderly parents were often cared for by other relatives who did not emigrate, also elderly parents often just died.

It depends on the particular parent and the situation. Like I said, the parent might be dead and/or might be very supportive of their child pursuing a safer and better life elsewhere.

In some cultures, people are used to their children not living close or being away for long periods of time. They don’t get upset about it. Often if it’s a large family there will be one child who stays close to the parents and cares for them while the other children may move away.

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I think travelling back and forth was more common than we tend to assume. Often children who emigrated sent money back to their parents to help look after them. I think most parents would have wanted their children to find better lives, and so would not have been angry or resentful. Sometimes, parents encouraged their children to emigrate. But most importantly, I think most parents realised their children were adults, maybe with children of their own. And their adult children deserved to make life choices that suited them, not their parents.

Don, I truly don’t mean to offend you with this, but may I ask if you created this thread because of a personal situation with your own parents? I recall some of your previous threads.


But what if there were no other relatives? What if they all emigrated?

I know a mother who was really upset by her daughter emigrating to Australia. The mother lived in Europe. This does sound a little contradictory to what you said?

But what if there were no other relatives? What if they all emigrated?
Often the parents came with in those cases.

I know a mother who was really upset by her daughter emigrating to Australia. The mother lived in Europe. This does sound a little contradictory to what you said?
I am sure more than one mother was upset. Mine was a generality.

Contradictory? Of course there are always exceptions!

I am also curious as to the reason behind this post :slight_smile:

But isnt it not strange that if you love your parents you still decide to move far abroad knowing that you will not be able to see them for a very long time? Maybe ten years?

Well, this is not such an issue anymore than it used to be, but yesterday I saw pictures of Italian immigrant arriving in the US and I was wondering.

I know my mother would really resent me going far abroad. She always throws the above back at me: ‘if you love your mother then why would you choose to move far abroad for work/ study etc…? Then you cannot see me anymore. Why would you choose to go far away when you can also stay close and continue seeing your mother? If you choose to go far away you also choose not seeing your mother anymore for a long time and then you don’t love your mother really’.

So is this mother in the wrong then? Should all parents want the best for their kids?

YES, all parents should want the best for their kids. The mother isn’t in the wrong for feeling sad or for wishing her daughter hadn’t moved so far away. But she would be in the wrong if she were to insist her daughter not move, or to constantly tell her she was a bad daughter for moving.

No. Because you can love your parents and do what you want to do for yourself, even if that includes moving away. Proximity doesn’t equal love and a lack of proximity doesn’t correlate to the strength of a relationship.

I’m glad you say it is not so much an issue anymore, but I am sorry your mother tries to emotionally manipulate you like that. She’s 100% wrong. Your life is about more than what your mother wants. What she wants is for her to be the centre of your world, what you orbit around every day. That is unhealthy and not something you should consider, let alone feel obligated to follow.


and what if she said: ‘if you move that far away you also choose not to see me anymore (at least for a long time) so that is also your decision…otherwise you would not have gone so far away if you wished to continue seeing me…’

I’m a mother and a grandmother. I have the luxury of having all my family close to me but…if economics or political situations were keeping my children in a state of hunger, fear or repression…and they could have opportunities to overcome all of that by moving to a distant land…I would not only support that decision, I’d be helping them pack! I’ve lived my life and raised my children as best I could and I certainly want my children to do what’s best for themselves. Of course I don’t want them to forget me but I should no longer be the center of their lives. It is my job to see that I am not!

I also want to add…in this wonderful day of technology we have FaceTime and Skype to keep in touch…face to face…so no one should be felt abandoned! Imagine what our ancestors would have given to have such gifts!

Don, with all due respect, billions of people have emigrated and you’re talking about one mother. You cannot assume that every parent in the world feels the same way. Some of them, probably many of them in times of famine or oppression, would likely be telling their children to go and wishing them well and hoping for their success in the new land. Parents usually want what is best for their children and often leaving is “what was best”. I would suggest you read some of the history that drove the emigrations.

and what if there are no such extreme things, but a child wants to emigrate just to get a better job or move to a nicer place?

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Whatever manipulation tactic she uses doesn’t take away from the fact that proximity ≠ love. The best thing to do is simply to disengage. I recommend you learn about the ‘grey rock’ technique, if you haven’t already.

Are you still talking to a therapist about this? I hope so. Your mother is wrong, just wrong. As I said, she wants to be the thing your life revolves around, and that is not healthy. The fact that she sees you and your life choices through this prism does not mean you should too. It just means she is unable to see past herself.

Moving away is not wrong. It isn’t wrong to move for a job, to live in a nicer area, or just because you want to. It isn’t wrong to live your life how you want to live it. The only thing wrong is the fact that your mother has spent your life telling you the opposite.


I would still support their decision. Who am I to try and hold them back? If they feel that the work opportunity is better in another country, I trust their judgment as I want them to succeed. As I said, I’ve lived my life. I’m not done yet, but I’m retired and happy to watch them grow and advance…perhaps much further than I and my husband ever did. If they feel that the opportunities are better over there, it isn’t my place to hold them back…no more than it was my parents place to hold my husband and I back when we moved from Ohio to Wyoming! They were happy that we were going to an area where my husband had much better opportunities for a good job and affordable housing. Because my father had a bad heart, I knew they would unlikely ever be able to visit due to the high altitudes and they only came out once. I travelled several times to visit them but it was often years between visits. This was before FaceTime/Skype but I wrote letters and sent pictures often and called every Sunday. If they were upset with our decision to move, they never said a word and often acknowledged the wisdom of our decision.

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So even even if it was just a luxury decision and consequently you would not see your child for years…you would still support that decision as a mother? @Pattylt

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Yes I do. I have no contact with my mother for about more than a year now, but I feel a lot of guilt about that.

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