Alexandru Nemoianu: „An Example and a Source of Inspiration“
The Romanian-American community is the result of a few major waves of immigration. Before World War I was the generation of the „mia şi drumul“ (a thousand dollars and the fare home) which was followed by the immigrants who arrived between the wars. They in turn were followed by the refugees after World War II, and by those who settled in the United States in the last few decades.
Each of these waves of immigrants had its own characteristics, but it is a fact that the first immigrants were those who accomplished the most; and, even more importantly, laid the foundations of what is today the Romanian-American community.
The Romanians started to come in a larger number after 1900. They started to come after they heard in letters from their Saxon and Hungarian neighbors that America was a very rich country with unlimited opportunities.
Those who immigrated at the beginning of the century intended to stay in America only a limited period of time, enough to earn some money and the fare home. With that money, they planned to pay debts, to buy land and to build houses.
The majority of the first Romanian immigrants were from Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina, at that time parts of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and they were subjected to numerous national and social persecutions. That circumstance was also one of the reasons to immigrate.
Another characteristic of the generation of „mia şi drumul” was that
the majority of the Romanian immigrants were of peasant stock, and only a few of them knew a trade. Also, most were single men and of rather young age. They arrived in the new country without money and with few belongings. Overnight, they had to change from peasants to industrial workers in coal mines, steels mills, railroad construction, meat packing and other industries. Nevertheless, all of them intended to work very hard, to earn money and to improve their condition.
The first years were very difficult for the new immigrants. They had to face a lot of problems such as loneliness, the language barrier and the process of adjusting to an entirely new way of life. Due to all these, pretty soon the new immigrants started to organize themselves into clubs and societies.
In organizing societies, they took the example of other ethnic groups
that settled in America before them. The process of organizing fraternal societies was facilitated by the circumstance that the Romanians from Transylvania were used to the idea of working together in associations. It has to be remembered that 1900-1914 was the period when economic, political and cultural Romanian organizations flourished in Transylvania.
Also, in a certain way, the fraternal societies replaced in the life of the newcomers the role of the old village community. The societies helped the new immigrants to integrate themselves in the new world and offered them an organized social and cultural life.
A very important role of the Romanian-American fraternal societies at the beginning of the century was that of help and assistance in case of misfortune. The societies also helped to establish religious books since a certain organizational experience was needed in order to staff a parish.
A special feature of the first wave of Romanian immigrants was that they brought with them the faith of their ancestors, and that very soon after they organized themselves, they established parishes and built churches. It is to be mentioned that the first parishes and churches were established and built by lay people, and as a rule they applied for a priest only after a material basis already existed.
The first generation of Romanian immigrants also made possible the development of a Romanian-American press which had an important role in the community’s life.
Even if the majority of Romanian immi grants from the beginning of the century were simple men, they realized that to isolate themselves from the rest of the society would be a mistake and a blunder. From the very beginning, the Romanian-Americans tried to integrate themselves in the mainstream of American life, strived to be part of America and to contribute tc the common good.
It is worth remembering that at the beginning of World War I, most of the Romanians were technically Austro-Hungarian citizens, but none of them took advantage of that citizenship to refuse to serve in the American Army. In fact, the Romanians were among the first to answer President Wilson’s call for the formation of an army of volunteers.
It can be concluded that the first generation of Romanian immigrants, the generation of „mia şi drumul,“ initiated the evolution of the Romanian-American group’s main characteristics which in fact define it: the organizations, fraternal societies and churches; the effort to preserve its heritage; and the attachment to the principles of America and the integration into the mainstream of American life. One can only wonder how it was possible for a generation of simple and basically uneducated people to achieve so many things.
The explanation is that even if the first immigrants were simple people, they possessed a very strong sense of identity and of moral values; and, more than that, they were free people and acted accordingly. From time immemorial, they were accustomed to being self-reliant. With such an attitude, it was only a matter of time before they became part of a free and open society.
For all its accomplishments, the first generation of Romanian immigrants should remain in the history of the Romanian-American community as an example and a source of inspiration.