Immigrants in the US whether legal or otherwise have always had the short end of the deal as far as equality, and human rights are concerned. David Von Drehles book, Triangle: the Fire That Changed America only serves to highlight the plight of immigrants as far back in history as 1911. In his work, he narrates about a fire incident that took place in a blouse factory located in New York. Though not a lot of details are given about the cause of the fire, the ensuing flames engulfed the Triangle factory in a matter of minutes. Most of the workers present on that 25th day of March died while trying to escape from the searing flames by jumping from the 10th floor and the room. The firefighters and good Samaritans could only watch as the workers fell to their deaths. Owing to the influx of immigrants and the economic rejuvenation of America at the time, it was unsurprising that almost all of the 146 victims who perished in the fire were immigrants from as far as Italy (Von Drehle 1-10).
However, it is Davids narration and imagery of the dilapidating standards in the factory and that best highlight the conditions under which immigrants are often forced to work. Additionally, he continues to give compelling arguments as to why the immigrant situation in America was at that point in time less than desirable. The unions which were supposed to fight for workers rights were at that time in their infancy and not as organized as modern day unions. Consequently, they did not have as much support even from the workers they were supposed to protect. Subsequently, employers did not feel compelled to bow to the Unions demands since they had no power over the workers. Moreover, David notes that the laborers worked against themselves in that calls to boycott work were met with skepticism as most laborers would eventually turn up to work for fear of being fired. Cheap laborers in the form of immigrants were also in plenty hence employers were not afraid to terminate unionized employees (Von Drehle 163).
The political system and the society were also at fault in making the immigrant experience as horrid as they were. The society was unwilling to absorb the immigrants by giving them good jobs. Consequently, the immigrants had no choice as they had to fend for themselves and their families. Additionally, by not accepting them, the society ensured that they would never get a political voice that would have been used to champion for their rights. Since they had no political pull, the political class did not bother with their rights as they could not be translated into votes (Von Drehle 245).
However, a lot changed after the fire as it served to highlight the conditions under which immigrants worked; the public outcry that ensued forced employers and manufacturers to embrace change. Better working conditions and safety mechanism were made mandatory in all factories. Moreover, the political class started noticing the immigrant plight for fear of losing public support. Nevertheless, the prosecution of the factory owners did not yield any concrete results as all the accused parties walked scot-free. This was a testament to how immigrants were treated as second-class citizens.
Davids work paints a grim picture of the immigrant experience through vivid imagery, telling details and inferences drawn from the incident.
Von Drehle, David. Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2003. Print.
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