‘If it is not too expensive, then you can send me sugar’: money matters among migrants and their families

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History of the Family


© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Discussions about money among migrants and their families have long been a financial and emotional concern. Earning money, or more money, and securing a family’s present and future well-being were significant factors when men and women made the decision to immigrate abroad over the twentieth century. With postal services globally systemized, literally tons of letters crossed oceans and continents for migrants, their families, and others to remain in touch. Letters, as historians and other scholars note, provide a plethora of information and insight on the lives and experiences of migrants and non-migrants. These micro-narratives set against the backdrop of national and local macro-narratives, contribute to understanding the state of mind and the state of heart of correspondents whose reason for writing was directly linked to migration. In this paper, we examine issues that relate to money and its emotional underpinnings as conveyed by a number of migrants and their more sedentary families over the first half of the twentieth century. The letters we examine in our paper are part of the Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project collection housed at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center (archives.ihrc.umn.edu/dil/index.html). The letters, originally written in Italian, Ukrainian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian, and Latvian, were translated into English as part of the Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project. Here, we examine migrant family letters using an interdisciplinary, comparative approach drawn from economic theory, social history and migration history. Some of the questions we explore are: What kind of monetary issues mattered and to whom? In what ways did these issues impact migrants and their families? How did money and familial intimacy intervene with processes of migration? What are some of the prominent links between money, family and migration discussed in migrant correspondence?

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