The great emigration

At the end of the 19th century our rural economy was on the brink of collapsing due to the old fashioned method of agriculture, the lack of industrial development in the countryside and excessive taxation. The landowners, who didn't care about the plight of the peasants, drove people to leave the country.
This state of affairs applied also to the surroundings areas of Cuggiono and it was the period which marked the massive exodus and whose embedded roots exist to the present day. The rate of emigration from Cuggiono exceeded not only that of the whole province of Milan but was greater than the national average.
At first the emigration was seasonal and mainly to European countries; it consisted of unskilled workers, generally composed of manual workers who went where major public projects were undertaken, often guided by Cav. Ercole Belloli, who was head of one of the major construction companies. The workers from Cuggiono participated in the construction of the Fort of Bilbao, the foundations of the Corinth canal, the construction of the railway Salonika-Constantinople, the Gotthard railway tunnel, the Suez canal, the Panama canal and the construction of the railway in Congo.
The census of 1881 gave Cuggiono a population of 6.105; that of 1931 (50 years later) registered 4.475!  The annual flow of emigrants between the age of 15 and 40 reached 200 and the total number was at least 3.000!

Some foreign shipping companies, such as the Cunard Line, opened up agencies in Cuggiono run by local personnel namely Angelo Rossi, Giuseppe Colombo (Pinél da agensìa), Giacomo Merlo (Giacum Marlèt): these agencies assisted also people from nearby villages to obtain tickets, to fill in forms, to comply with emigration regulations, with tickets to Le Havre, Calais or Genoa, plus the tickets for the voyage of several weeks to take them to South or North of  “a 'Merica”.
Many left for Buenos Aires and established themselves in various towns of Argentina and nearby states. The major part of our emigrants went to North America landing at Ellis Island in the Bay of New York.
In a recent American publication one can read: “Ellis Island is a testimony of the more than 12 million immigrants (more than 2.5 million Italians) who docked at the port between 1892 and 1954. They are individual cases which tell of privation, fear of the unknown and sorrow for leaving one's homeland and family. It is the story of the faith and courage of the immigrants in the pursuit of better future. This is the history of America”.
Herrin, in Illinois, was really re-created by the Cuggionesi; Detroit, in Michigan, and St. Louis, in Missouri, saw a massive influx of our compatriots. Wherever they landed they founded associations and clubs, built churches and meeting places in order to help each other, stay united and observe their traditions, to speak both Italian and dialect, maintaining memories of the past whose ties remained.