A pen is never an easy instrument in the hands of those who do not know how to use it, and the letters of emigrants often tell us all too little. By contrast, remittances provide clear evidence that there was no lack of work, that emigrants were in good health and that emigration was bearing its fruits. Those hard-earned savings, which improved the lives of so many families, also played a fundamental part in the industrial development in our country.
According to a study by Francesco Balletta, in the first fifteen years of the 20th century remittances from abroad were consistently higher than direct taxation paid to the Italian government.
The study actually provides a conservative estimate, as it refers only to remittances paid through the Banco di Napoli (Bank of Naples), the only bank which officially handled these payments in 1901. Remittances were actually sent through a large number of “banchisti” (or small bankers), or simply taken back to Italy in person. Obviously, remittances served first and foremost to pay off the family’s debts, including those contracted to provide funds for the emigrant.
The relationship with Italy was obviously not limited to sending remittances to the family. In the event of natural calamities, such as earthquakes or floods, communities all over the world sent money to their homeland.
Equally generous support was received from emigrant communities during both World Wars, when money was sent and men returned to enrol in the Army. Even in the thirties, when Italy was sanctioned for the war in Ethiopia, emigrant communities provided their contribution.