The Padrone, Men and Heavy Labor Leads to The Rise of Family Enterprises
Occupations of Italian Americans in Buffalo
Men first began engaging in heavy labor in industry on the docks or in construction, and their labor was usually contracted by the padrone. The padrone or "patron" the eased the transition to American industrial society. Labor organizers charged that the patron became an exploiter who found jobs in construction or industry, but levied extortionate fees for his services. One sympathetic newspaperman estimated that "nine tenths of the failures of the Italian people in this country were due to the systems of these self-possessed friends of the working class." At best the work that they could get for their clients was unsteady, and Italian American men frequently found themselves unemployed for extended periods of time.
Partly out of necessity, but also out of choice, Italian-Americans moved into family enterprises--selling food, fruits and vegetables, or pasta products, and very occasionally as street musicians. Many later found success as barbers, greengrocers, cobblers and restauranteurs. Eventually these enterprises were a passport to the middle clas
What About Italian Women?
Women had always worked seasonally in the fields in Italy, tending their children at the same time. In Buffalo, Italian women, wives and daughters, often worked under the direction of relatives. They also earned money by taking boarders in their homes. Unlike women of other ethnic groups, they did not often work outside the home. Some worked at farms, canneries, and vineyards in Eden Center, or Fredonia. A respite from the crowded city, this was also work that could be done as part of a family group This way the traditional authority of the male head of the family could be sustained.
Work was never allowed to interfere with the task of raising children. Italians had a history of family, and emphasized the importance of education for their children. Stability and divorce, desertion, and abandonment were very rare in Buffalo Italian society.