The Battle Between Homesickness and Economic Growth

The Battle Between Homesickness and Economic Growth

by Ryan Weiner

Whether voluntary or involuntary, one of the root reasons why people have decided to migrate has been for economic growth. The 19th century was full of migration from within and without America. As Susan Matt discusses the market revolution in America during this time in her book Homesickness, she addresses the common trait of people in the country by saying, “Influenced by the ideal of the self-made man, American men and women abandoned the familiar in search of new profits and possibilities” (5). In Away from Home: American Indian School Experiences, K. Tsianina Lomawaima discusses how the Indians were made to go to boarding schools that attempted to educate them intellectually, but mainly focused on developing skills that they could use in the job force and stated, “…many did go on to a meaningful employment, and many alumni report satisfaction at having learned the American ‘work ethic'” (34-35). Both accounts discuss that a person has a desire for economic growth. However, the irony behind this desire is the constant pain and dreadful experiences the people suffer from being homesick. Most of the time people, especially the Indians, left their families behind on their quest for economic growth and without their family or home country/town, they struggled from homesickness. In the Indian Boarding Schools, children had suffered from homesickness and the poor lack of communication to their families back at home did not help (Lomawaima 40-41). The problem was that there was still the constant desire for that economic growth that forbid them from going home until they succeeded. The stories of success were being published in books like The Emigrant’s True Guide that attempted to fight off the emigrants homesickness by telling tales of immigrants succeeding in America (Matt 55). Susan Matt discusses many stories of immigrants who came to America and after a while had strong intentions of going back to their homeland, but one account of a Norwegian lady summed up the immigrant’s problems by writing, “Fate has indeed separated me from my native land and all that was dear to me there…Cannot deny that homesickness gnaws at me hard. When I think, however, that there will be better livelihood for us here than in poor Norway, I reconcile myself to it” (Matt 58).  The battle between desires and homesickness was a problem for many immigrants and the toughest thing was to find balance between the two.

The following source was written by Michael Proctor, who was a resident of America.  He wanted to tell immigrants from England everything he could, good and bad, about America. Proctor discusses the immense amount of economic opportunities that are in America and how an immigrant cannot pass on the opportunities. He also discusses that the work is completely different from that in England and that a person will be miserable doing this type of work, especially without family.

But, from the moment he strikes the first blow with an axe in the forest, to the end of two full years he may bid farewell to every comfort of life; even to all those meagre comforts, which are afforded by the mud cottage of the poorest labourer in England; except he be a man of discernment, and his wife, if he has one, be equally endowed with natural good sense, then he will have one great source of comfort, all the time open, which to the poor man in England is perpetually closed, we mean the comfort of hope. Nay he will realize something more than mere hope, he will have assurance, that after two or three years trial he most certainly will be in such circumstances of comfort, as the greatest dint of industry and economy could never have procured him in his native land (81-82).

“Notes and Observations on America, and the Americas; Including Considerations for Emigrants,” 1830. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories.

This source is a collection of letters written by Norwegians discussing their experiences in America. Most of the Norwegians understood that their home country was suffering economically and this resulted in an influx of immigrants to America all seeking economic growth. A lot of the letters discuss the struggles of these Norwegians as they were homesick, but knew that they could not go home because of the economic conditions. This letter was written in 1883 by a Nordic immigrant who was constantly moving from city to city to find the perfect combination of comfort and wealth. However, the tone expresses that he’ ll never truly be able to mix the two.

  I didn’t get along well there, however, and after a few days in Dallas I went up to Dakota, 2,500 kilometers north. I went there because I had a friend there and thought I would enjoy it but I missed Stavanger and didn’t find it in Dakota. I spent nine weeks in a small town, where I worked in an American’s grocery store. But my homesickness wouldn’t go away, so I went to Chicago, which is full of Norwegians. But I didn’t find Stavanger here, either. At first it was very difficult to find any kind of work here even though I tried as hard as I could to get a job. Now I work for a combined wholesale and retail grocer and expect to stay at this job until spring. Then I’ll look for something else (64)

“Their Own Saga: Letters from the Norwegian Global Migration,” 1986. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral History.

Irish emigrants leaving their home for America--the mail coach from Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland

This image is showing Irish immigrants getting ready to leave for America. The people seem to be celebrating the fact that they are going to America, showing how the immigrants were excited at first for the economic opportunities America offered. What the picture does not show is how these people will feel after months or years of being in America and how homesickness will affect them.

“Irish emigrants leaving their home for America–the mail coach from Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland,” 1866. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

This image was on the back of a newspaper to discuss boarding schools for Indians. The picture was taken at a Dakota mission school. None of the Indians in the picture show any signs of happiness. Two do not even look at the camera. This shows how the schools made the Indians unhappy and miss their homes.

“Dakota Mission School,” 1880-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here

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One thought on “The Battle Between Homesickness and Economic Growth

  1. It is crazy to think that people would leave their families in hopes to provide more wealth for themselves and for their families. Another thing is that people still do this in today’s generation. Everyone is driven by money.

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