2010 — 17,250,211
2000 — 15,723,555
1990 — 14,664,550
1980 — 12,183,692
|Regions with significant populations|
|New York City, New Haven, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Providence, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas|
|72% Roman Catholic; 14% Protestant, 2% Christian – unspecified; 14% other|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Italians, Italian Canadians, Italian Argentine, Italian Brazilian, Italian Mexican, Italian Australian, Italian Briton, Sicilian American|
Italian Americans (Italian: Italoamericani) are an ethnolinguistic group of Americans of Italian ancestry. Italian Americans are the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United States (not including American ethnicity, an ethnonym used by many in the United States; overall, Italian Americans rank seventh, behind German, Irish, African American, English, American, and Mexican American).
About 5.5 million Italians immigrated to the United States from 1820 to 2004. The greatest surge of immigration, which occurred in the period between 1880 and 1920, alone brought more than 4 million Italians to America. About 80% of the Italian immigrants came from Southern Italy, especially from Sicily, Campania, Abruzzo and Calabria. This was a largely agricultural and overpopulated region, where much of the populace had been impoverished by centuries of foreign misrule, and the economic measures imposed on the South after Italian unification in 1861. After unification, the Italian government initially encouraged emigration to relieve economic pressures in the South. After the American Civil War, which resulted in over a half million killed or wounded, immigrant workers were recruited from Italy and elsewhere to fill the labor shortage caused by the war. In the United States, most Italians began their new lives as manual laborers in Eastern cities, mining camps and in agriculture. Italian Americans gradually moved from the lower rungs of the economic scale in the first generation (1890s–1920s) to a level comparable to the national average by 1970. By 1990, more than 65% of Italian Americans were managerial, professional, or white-collar workers. The Italian-American communities have often been characterized by strong ties with family, the Catholic Church, fraternal organizations and political parties. Today, over 17 million Americans claim Italian ancestry, second only to Brazil, which has 31 million people of Italian descent.
Italians and their descendents in America helped shape the country, and were in turn shaped by it. They have gained prominence in politics, sports, the media, the fine arts, the culinary arts, and numerous other fields of endeavor.
Italians and their descendants played a key role in the discovery, exploration and settlement of the Americas. Christopher Columbus, the explorer who discovered the Americas, was of Italian origin. Another notable Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, is the source of the name America. The fact that English is the language spoken in the United States can be directly attributed to England's claims in North America, based on the voyages of the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot). The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to enter New York Bay. The first Italian to reside in America was Pietro Cesare Alberti, a Venetian seaman who, in 1635, settled in what would eventually become New York City. A group of 200 Waldensians arrived from Italy in 1640 in search of a more hospitable place to practice their religion. The Taliaferro family, originally from Venice, was one of the first families to settle in Virginia.
These were joined by a small but steady stream of new arrivals, some of whom had been invited to come to America because they possessed much needed skills in agriculture and the making of glass, silk and wine. Others came because of their musical abilities as teachers and performers, such as the group of Italian musicians Thomas Jefferson invited to come to form a military band, which later became the nucleus of the U.S. Marine Band. Still others came as adventurers, explorers, military engineers, missionaries and political refugees.
These early arrivals settled in many different areas, but constituted a relatively small part of the American population as a whole. However, their contributions were very significant in the founding and settling of the country. Filippo Mazzei, a physician and promoter of liberty, was a close friend and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. He published a pamphlet containing the phrase: "All men are by nature equally free and independent", which Jefferson incorporated essentially intact into the Declaration of Independence. Italian artists and sculptors were brought to Washington to work on the new Capitol building and to create some of its major monuments. Constantino Brumidi created the frescoed interior of the Capitol dome, and spent the rest of his life executing still other artworks to beautify the Capitol.
Numerous Italians in the employ of Spain and France, whose territorial claims in America were based on the voyages of Italian navigators, were involved in exploring and mapping these territories, and in establishing settlements. Alessandro Malaspina explored and mapped much of the west coast of the Americas, from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska. The southwest and California were explored and mapped by Eusebio Kino (Chino), an Italian priest. Henri de Tonti (Enrico de Tonti), together with the French explorer LaSalle, explored the Great Lakes region. De Tonti founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1679, and in Arkansas in 1683. With LaSalle, he co-founded New Orleans, and was governor of the Louisiana Territory for the next 20 years. His brother Alphonse de Tonty (Alphonso de Tonti), with French explorer Antoine Cadillac, was the co-founder of Detroit, and its colonial governor for 12 years. The headwater region of the Mississippi was explored by Giacomo Beltrami in the territory that was later to become Minnesota, which named a county in his honor.
Since France and Spain were Catholic countries, many missionaries were sent by the Catholic Church to convert the native population to Christianity and to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers. Among these were numerous Italians. Alessandro Geraldini was the first Catholic bishop in the Americas. Father Francesco Bessani labored among the Algonquin and Huron Indians in the early 17th century. Later, Italian missionaries of the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were active in many parts of America, and especially in the west. Italian Jesuits founded numerous missions, schools and five colleges in the west, subsequently to become Jesuit universities (San Francisco, Seattle, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Regis). The Italian Jesuits also laid the foundation for the wine-making industry that would later flourish in California. In the east, the Italian Franciscans founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, and a college that later became St. Bonaventure University. Samuel Mazzuchelli, a missionary and expert in Indian languages, ministered to whites and Indians in Wisconsin and Iowa for 34 years and, after his death, was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church. Joseph Rosati was named the first Catholic bishop of St. Louis in 1824. Father Charles Constantine Pise, a Jesuit, served as Chaplain of the Senate from 1832 to 1833, the only Catholic priest ever chosen to serve in this capacity.
Italian Americans served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, both as soldiers and officers. Francesco Vigo aided colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War by being one of the foremost financiers of the Revolution in the Northwest. Later, he was a co-founder of Vincennes University in Indiana. Six Italian Americans received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, among whom was Colonel Luigi di Cesnola, later to become the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York.
The early arrivals were scattered throughout the country, with the largest concentration of Italian Americans being in the northeast. It was there that recognition of their common Italian roots and culture was the greatest. Filippo Traetta established the nation's first conservatory of music in Boston in 1801. The first opera house in the country opened in 1833 in New York through the efforts of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's former librettist, who had immigrated to America. The first Italian American newspaper, "L'Eco d'Italia" was published in New York in 1849 by Francesco de Casale. The first Columbus Day celebration was organized by Italian Americans in San Francisco in 1869. Italian American involvement in politics was already underway, with John Phinizy (Finizzi) becoming the mayor of Augusta, Georgia in 1837 and Anthony Ghio becoming the mayor of Texarkana, Texas in 1880. Francis Spinola, the first Italian American to serve in Congress, was elected in 1887 from New York. An immigrant, Antonio Meucci, brought with him in 1845 a concept for the telephone. He is credited by many researchers with being the first to demonstrate the principle of the telephone; however, considerable controversy existed relative to the priority of invention, with Alexander Graham Bell also being accorded this distinction. (In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution (H.R. 269) declaring Antonio Meucci the true inventor of the telephone).
The Italian unification in 1871 caused economic conditions to considerably worsen for many in southern Italy and Sicily. Heavy taxes and other economic measures imposed on the South made the situation virtually impossible for many tenant farmers, and small business and land owners. Multitudes chose to emigrate rather than try to eke out a meager living. Often, the father and older sons would go first, leaving the mother and the rest of the family behind until the male members could afford their passage.
From 1880 to 1920, an estimated 4 million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States, the majority from 1900 to 1914. Once in America, the immigrants faced great challenges. Often with no knowledge of the English language and with little formal education, many of the immigrants were compelled to accept the poorest paying and most undesirable jobs, and were frequently exploited by the middlemen who acted as intermediaries between them and the prospective employers. Many sought housing in the older sections of the large northeastern cities where they settled, that became known as "Little Italies", frequently in overcrowded substandard tenements which were often dimly lit with poor heating and ventilation. Tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were a constant health threat for the immigrant families that were compelled by economic circumstances to live in these dwellings. Other immigrant families lived in single-family abodes, which was much more common in areas outside of the enclaves of the large northeastern cities, and other parts of the country as well.
About a third of the immigrants, so-called "birds of passage", intended to stay in the United States for only a limited time, followed by a return to Italy with enough in savings to re-establish themselves there. While many did return to Italy, others chose to stay, or were prevented from returning by the outbreak of World War I.
The Italian male immigrants in the Little Italies were most often employed in manual labor, heavily involved in public works, such as the construction of roads, sewers, subways and bridges being carried out at the time in the northeastern cities. The women most frequently worked as seamstresses in the garment industry or in their homes. Many established small businesses in the Little Italies to satisfy the day-to-day needs of fellow immigrants. In spite of the economic hardship of the immigrants, civil and social life flourished in the Italian American neighborhoods of the large northeastern cities. Italian theater, band concerts, choral recitals, puppet shows, mutual-aid societies, and social clubs were available to the immigrants. An important event, the "festa", became for many an important connection to the traditions of their ancestral villages in Italy and Sicily. The festa involved an elaborate procession through the streets in honor of a patron saint or the Virgin Mary in which a large statue was carried by a team of men, with musicians marching behind. Followed by food, fireworks and general merriment, the festa became an important occasion that helped give the immigrants a sense of unity and common identity.
To assist the immigrants in the Little Italies, who were overwhelmingly Catholic, Pope Leo XIII dispatched a contingent of priests, nuns and brothers of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo. Among these was Sister Francesca Cabrini, who founded schools, hospitals and orphanages. She was canonized as the first American saint in 1946. Hundreds of parishes were founded by the St. Charles missionaries to serve the needs of the Italian communities. By 1910, Italians had founded 219 Italian Catholic churches and 41 parochial schools, served by 315 priests and 254 nuns, 2 Catholic seminaries and 3 orphanages.
The destinations of many of the Italian immigrants were not only the large cities of the East Coast, but also more remote regions of the country, such as Florida and California. They were drawn there by opportunities in agriculture, mining, railroad construction, lumbering and other activities underway at the time. Many of the immigrants had contracted to work in these areas of the country as a condition for payment of their passage. In many cases, especially in the South, the immigrants were subject to economic exploitation, hostility and sometimes even violence. Many of the Italian laborers who went to these areas were later joined by wives and children, which resulted in the establishment of permanent Italian American settlements in diverse parts of the country.
In time, the Italian immigrants and their descendants adjusted to life in their adopted country, and began making contributions to mainstream American life and culture. Many of the immigrants had brought with them specialized skills and knowledge, and an entrepreneurial spirit. A significant number of business innovations were brought about by Italian Americans. Amadeo Giannini originated the concept of branch banking to serve the Italian American community in San Francisco. He founded the Bank of Italy, which later became the Bank of America. His bank was also instrumental in providing financing to the film industry developing on the west coast at that time. Other companies founded by Italian Americans – such as Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Progresso, Planters Peanuts, Contadina, Chef Boyardee, Italian Swiss Colony wines and Jacuzzi – became nationally known brand names in time. An Italian immigrant, Italo Marciony (Marcioni), is credited with inventing the earliest version of an ice cream cone in 1898. Another Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Bellanca, brought with him in 1912 an advanced aircraft design, which he began producing. It was Charles Lindbergh's first choice for his flight across the Atlantic, but other factors ruled this out; however, one of Bellanca's planes, piloted by Cesare Sabelli and George Pond, made one of the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flights in 1934. A number of Italian immigrant families, including Grucci, Zambelli and Vitale, brought with them expertise in fireworks displays, and their pre-eminence in this field has continued to the present day.
Following in the footsteps of Constantino Brumidi, other Italians and their descendants helped create Washington’s impressive monuments. An Italian immigrant, Attilio Piccirilli, and his five brothers carved the Lincoln Memorial, which they began in 1911 and completed in 1922. Italian construction workers helped build Washington's Union Station, considered one of the most beautiful in the country, which was begun in 1905 and completed in 1908. The six statues that decorate the station's facade were sculpted by Andrew Bernasconi between 1909 and 1911. Two Italian American master stone carvers, Roger Morigi and Vincent Palumbo, spent decades creating the sculptural works that embellish Washington National Cathedral.
Italian Americans became involved in entertainment and sports. Rudolph Valentino was one of the first great film icons. Dixieland jazz music had a number of important Italian American innovators, the most famous being Nick LaRocca of New Orleans, whose quintet made the first jazz recording in 1917. The first Italian American professional baseball player, Ping Bodie (Giuseppe Pezzole), began playing for the Chicago White Sox in 1912. Ralph DePalma won the Indianapolis 500 in 1915.
Italian Americans became increasingly involved in politics, government and the labor movement. Andrew Longino was elected Governor of Mississippi in 1900. Charles Bonaparte was Secretary of the Navy and later Attorney General in the Theodore Roosevelt administration, and founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fiorello LaGuardia was elected from New York in 1916 to serve in the US Congress, and was Mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. Italian Americans, such as Arturo Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca and Joseph Ettor were at the forefront in fighting for worker's rights in industries such as the mining, textiles and garment industries.
World War I, together with the restrictive Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924, effectively put an abrupt end to the large flow of Italian immigrants into the country. By 1920, the Little Italies had stabilized and grown considerably more prosperous as workers were able to obtain higher-paying jobs, often as skilled workers. English was now the language most commonly heard on the streets of the Little Italies. The passage of child labor laws required children to stay in school at least through the eighth grade, which assured a better future for Italian American children as they entered adulthood.
The Italian American community wholeheartedly supported the war effort, and its young men enlisted in large numbers. It was estimated that Italian American servicemen made up approximately 12% of the total American forces in World War I, a disproportionately high percentage of the total. An Italian American infantryman, Michael Valente, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service.
In the post-war years, jobs as policemen, firemen and civil servants became available to Italian Americans; while others found employment as plumbers, electricians, mechanics and carpenters. Women found jobs as civil servants, secretaries, dressmakers, and clerks. The changing employment prospective occasioned large numbers to move to neighborhoods outside of the Italian enclaves. The Great Depression (1929–39) had a major impact on the Italian American community, and temporarily reversed some of the earlier gains made. Many benefitted from New Deal work programs, such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp.
Italian Americans of the post-war years contributed significantly to American life and culture. In politics, Al Smith (Ferrara) was the first Italian American governor of New York, and a candidate for president in 1928. Fiorello LaGuardia became mayor of New York City in 1931. Vito Marcantonio was elected to Congress in 1934 from New York. Ferdinand Pecora led a Senate investigation of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which exposed major financial abuses, and spurred Congress to rein in the banking industry. Italian Americans continued their significant involvement in the labor movement. James Petrillo became president of the American Federation of Musicians, a position he held for 18 years.
There were numerous Italian Americans involved in music, both classical and popular. Under the leadership of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the Metropolitan Opera became an internationally known musical organization. Many Italian operatic singers and conductors were invited to perform for American audiences, including the tenor Enrico Caruso. The conductor Arturo Toscanini introduced many Americans to classical music through his NBC Symphony Orchestra radio broadcasts. Rosa Ponselle, a daughter of Italian immigrants, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918, and subsequently became an international performer. Ruggiero Ricci, a child prodigy born of Italian immigrant parents, gave his first public performance in 1928 at the age of 10, and had a long international career as a concert violinist. Popular singers included Russ Columbo, who established a new singing style that influenced Frank Sinatra and other singers that followed. On Broadway, Harry Warren (Salvatore Guaragna) wrote the music for 42nd Street, and received three Academy Awards for his compositions. Other Italian American musicians and performers, such as Jimmy Durante, who later achieved fame in movies and television, were active in vaudeville. Guy Lombardo formed a popular dance band, which played annually on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square.
The film industry of this era included Frank Capra, who received three Academy Awards for directing. Italian American cartoonists were responsible for some of the most popular animated characters: Donald Duck was created by Al Taliaferro, Woody Woodpecker was a creation of Walter Lantz (Lanza), Casper the Friendly Ghost was co-created by Joseph Oriolo, and Tom and Jerry was co-created by Joseph Barbera. The voice of Snow White was provided by Adriana Caselotti, a 21-year-old soprano.
In public art, Luigi Del Bianco was the chief stone carver at Mount Rushmore from 1933 to 1940. Simon Rodia, an immigrant construction worker, built the Watts Towers over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954.
In sports, Gene Sarazen (Eugenio Saraceni) won both the Professional Golf Association and U.S. Open Tournaments in 1922. Pete DePaolo won the Indianapolis 500 in 1925. Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti started playing for the New York Yankees in 1926. Tony Canzoneri won the lightweight boxing championship in 1930. Lou Little (Luigi Piccolo) began coaching the Columbia University football team in 1930. Joe DiMaggio began playing for the New York Yankees in 1936. Hank Luisetti was a three time All American basketball player at Stanford University from 1936 to 1940. Louis Zamperini, the American distance runner, competed in the 1936 Olympics, and later became the subject of the bestselling book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, published in 2010.
In business, Italian Americans were the nation's chief supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables, which were cultivated on the large tracts of land surrounding many of the major U.S. cities. They cultivated the land and raised produce, which was trucked into the nearby cities and often sold directly to the consumer through farmer's markets. In California, the DiGiorgio Corporation was founded, which grew to become a national supplier of fresh produce in the United States. Also in California, Italian Americans were leading growers of grapes, and producers of wine. Many well known wine brands, such as Mondavi, Carlo Rossi, Petri, Sebastiani, and Gallo emerged from these early enterprises. Italian American companies were major importers of Italian wines, processed foods, textiles, marble and manufactured goods.
As a member of the Axis powers, Italy declared war on the United States in 1941. Any concerns about the loyalty of Italian Americans were quickly dispelled. At least half a million Italian Americans served in the various branches of the military in World War II. According to the National Italian American Foundation, the actual number may be closer to 1. 5 million, based on a comment the late Vice President Nelson Rockefeller made in a speech to the Italian American War Veterans of America on August 25, 1961. Rockefeller said that Italian Americans constituted "more than 10 percent of the might of the American forces in World War II".
In spite of this display of loyalty, hundreds of Italians viewed as a potential threat to the country were interned in detention camps, some for up to 2 years. As many as 600,000 others, who had not become citizens, were required to carry identity cards identifying them as "resident alien". Thousands more on the West Coast were required to move inland, often losing their homes and businesses in the process. A number of Italian-language newspapers were forced to close because of their past support of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Two books, Una Storia Segreta by Lawrence Di Stasi and Uncivil Liberties by Stephen Fox; and a movie, Prisoners Among Us, document these World War II developments.
Italian Americans served with distinction during the war, and 14 were awarded the Medal of Honor. Among these was Sgt. John Basilone, one of the most decorated and famous servicemen in World War II, who was later featured in the HBO series The Pacific. Colonel Henry Mucci led the raid by Army Rangers in 1945 that freed 500 survivors of the Bataan Death March from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines. In the air, Capt. Don Gentile became one of the war's leading aces, with 25 German planes destroyed. At home, the work of Enrico Fermi was crucial in shortening the war. Fermi, a Nobel Prize laureate nuclear physicist, immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1938. He led a research team at the University of Chicago that was able to produce the world's first sustained nuclear chain reaction, which clearly demonstrated the feasibility of an atom bomb. After the first sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt received the message: "The Italian navigator has landed in the new world". Fermi later became a key member of the team at Los Alamos Laboratory that developed the first atom bomb. He was subsequently joined at Los Alamos by Emilio Segrè, one of his students from Italy, who was also destined to become a Nobel Prize laureate in Physics. Fermi's work on the nuclear chain reaction laid the foundation for the nuclear power industry which began developing after the war.
Two United States World War II destroyers were named after Italian Americans. The USS Damato (DD-871) was named for Corporal Anthony P. Damato, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor during World War II. The USS Gherardi (DD-637) (later DMS-30) was named for Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi, who served during the Mexican–American and U.S. Civil Wars.
World War II opened up new employment opportunities for large numbers of Italian Americans in the factories producing war materiel. This included many Italian American women, such as Rose Bonavita, who was recognized by President Roosevelt with a personal letter commending her for her performance as an aircraft riveter. She was subsequently known as "Rosie the Riveter", and came to symbolize all of the millions of American women workers in the war industries. Chef Boyardee, the company founded by Ettore Boiardi, was one of the largest suppliers of rations for U.S. and allied forces during World War II. For his contribution to the war effort, Boiardi was awarded a gold star order of excellence from the United States War Department.
The post-war period was a time of great social change for Italian Americans. Many aspired to a college education, which became possible for returning veterans through the GI Bill. With better job opportunities, and better educated Italian Americans entered mainstream American life in great numbers. The Italian enclaves were largely abandoned by the younger generation, who more often chose to live in other urban areas and in the suburbs. Many married outside of their ethnic group, most frequently with other ethnic Catholics, but increasingly also with those of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Italian Americans took advantage of the new opportunities that generally became available to all after World War II. They made great strides in virtually all fields of endeavor:
Italians continued to immigrate after the war, and an estimated 600,000 arrived in the United States in the post-war decades. Many were well educated men and women who had come seeking greater opportunities in their chosen fields. Among these were five who were destined to become Noble Prize laureates: Salvatore Luria, Renato Dulbecco, Franco Modigliani, Mario Capecchi and Riccardo Giacconi.
Within a century of the period of peak immigration, Italian Americans had achieved education, employment and income parity with Americans in general. They had excelled in all fields of endeavor, and had made substantial contributions in virtually all areas of American life and culture:
By the turn of the century, Italian Americans had risen into the highest ranks of politics, the judiciary, business, the professions, the military and the Catholic hierarchy. They were counted among the country's best known sports and entertainment figures.
In the 1930s, Italian Americans voted heavily Democratic. Carmine DeSapio in the late 1940s became the first non-Irish political boss of Tammany Hall, and by 1951 more than twice as many legislators with Italian names as in 1936 served in the six states with the most Italian Americans. Since 1968, voters have split about evenly between the Democratic (37%) and the Republican (36%) parties. The U.S. Congress includes Italian Americans who are leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The highest ranking Italian American politician is currently Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who became the first woman and Italian American Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was a candidate for the U.S. presidency in the 2008 election, as was Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman on a major party ticket, running for Vice President as a Democrat in 1984. Two of the justices of the Supreme Court—Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito—are Italian-Americans, appointed by Republican presidents. Both are members of the conservative wing of the court, along with Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts. The family name of Jill Jacobs Biden, the Second Lady, was originally Giacoppa.
The Italian American Congressional Delegation currently includes 30 members of Congress who are of Italian descent. They are joined by more than 150 associate members, who are not Italian American but have large Italian American constituencies. Since its founding in 1975, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) has worked closely with the bicameral and bipartisan Italian American Congressional Delegation, which is led by co-chairs Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio.
The NIAF hosts a variety of public policy programs, contributing to public discourse on timely policy issues facing the nation and the world. These events are held on Capitol Hill and other locations under the auspices of NIAF's Frank J. Guarini Public Policy Forum and its sister program, the NIAF Public Policy Lecture Series. NIAF's 2009 public policy programs on Capitol Hill featured prominent Italians and Italian Americans as keynote speakers, including Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, and Franco Frattini, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Italy.
By the 1890s Italian Americans in New York City were mobilizing as a political force. They helped elect Fiorello La Guardia (a Republican) as mayor in 1933, and helped reelect him in 1937, and 1941. They rallied for Vincent R. Impellitteri (a Democrat) in 1950, and Rudolph W. Giuliani (a Republican) in 1989 (when he lost), and in 1993 and 1997 (when he won). All three Italian Americans aggressively fought to reduce crime in the city; each was known for his good relations with the city's powerful labor unions. La Guardia and Giuliani have the reputation among specialists on urban politics as two of the best mayors in American history. Mario Cuomo (Democratic) served as the 52nd Governor of New York for three terms, from 1983 to 1995. His son Andrew Cuomo is the 56th Governor of New York and previously served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1997 to 2001, and as the Attorney General of New York from 2007 to 2010.
Italian-Americans have served an important role in the economy of the United States, and have founded companies of great national prominence, such as Bank of America (by Amadeo Giannini in 1904), and many companies that have contributed to the local culture and character of U.S. cities, such as Petrini's Markets (founded by Frank Petrini in 1935), among many others. Italian-Americans have also made important contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy through their business expertise. Italian Americans have served as CEO’s of numerous major corporations, such as the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation by Lee Iacocca, IBM Corporation by Samuel Palmisano, Lucent Technologies by Patricia Russo, The New York Stock Exchange by Richard Grasso, Honeywell Incorporated by Michael Bonsignore and Intel by Paul Otellini.
About two thirds of America's Italian immigrants arrived during 1900-24. Having little formal education and industrial skills, approximately 80% became unskilled laborers heavily concentrated in the cities. The remaining 20% came with traditional Italian skills as: tailors; barbers; bricklayers; stone masons; stone cutters; marble, tile and terrazzo workers; fisherman; musicians; singers; shoe makers; shoe repairers; cooks; bakers; carpenters; grape growers; wine makers; silk makers; dressmakers; and seamstresses. Others came to provide for the needs of the immigrant communities, notably doctors, dentists, midwives, lawyers, teachers, morticians, priests, nuns and brothers. Many of the skilled workers found work in their speciality, first in the Italian enclaves, and eventually in the broader society. Traditional skills were often passed down from father to son, and from mother to daughter.
By the second-generation approximately 70% of the men had blue collar jobs, and the proportion was down to approximately 50% in the third generation, according to surveys in 1963. By 1990, according to the U.S. census, more than 65% of Italian Americans were employed as managerial, professional, or white-collar workers. In 1999, the median annual income of Italian-American families was $61,300, while the median annual income of all American families was $50,000.
Italian women who arrived during the period of mass immigration had to adapt to new and unfamiliar social and economic conditions. Mothers, who had the task of raising the children and providing for the welfare of the family, commonly demonstrated great courage and resourcefulness in meeting these obligations, often under adverse living conditions. Their cultural traditions, which placed the highest priority on the family, remained strong as Italian immigrant women adapted to these new circumstances.
Married women typically avoided factory work and chose home-based economic activities such as dressmaking, taking in boarders, and operating small shops in their homes or neighborhoods. Italian neighborhoods also proved attractive to midwives, women who trained in Italy before coming to America. Many single women were employed in the garment industry as seamstresses, often in unsafe working environments. Many of the 146 who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 were Italian American women. Angela Bambace, an 18-year-old Italian American organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York worked to secure better working conditions and shorter hours for women workers in the garment industry.
In the second and third generations, opportunities expanded as women were gradually accepted in the workplace and as entrepreneurs. Women also had much better job opportunities because they had a high school or sometimes college education, and were willing to leave the Little Italies and commute to work. During World War II large numbers of Italian American women entered the workforce in factories providing war materiel, while others served as auxiliaries or nurses in the military services. After the war, Italian American women had much greater freedom in choosing a career, and seeking higher levels of education. Consequently, the second half of the 20th century was a period in which Italian American women excelled in virtually all fields of endeavor. They were responsible for a significant number of firsts:
The National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW), founded in 1980, is an organization for women of Italian heritage committed to preserving Italian heritage, language and culture by promoting and supporting the advancement of women of Italian ancestry.
The culture the Italian immigrants brought with them was generally not the high Italian culture of Dante and Michelangelo, but the culture of the region or village from which they came. These individual cultures, which had many more similarities than differences, established the basis of contemporary Italian American culture.
A University of Chicago study of fifteen ethnic groups showed that Italian Americans were among those groups having the lowest percentages of divorce, unemployment, people on welfare and those incarcerated. On the other hand, they were among those groups with the highest percentages of two-parent families, elderly family members still living at home, and families who eat together on a regular basis.
Most Italian immigrants to the country had arrived by 1920, so their descendants can trace multiple generations in the U.S.. Many have inter-married with other ethnic groups. They are well represented in all fields of endeavor. Many Italian Americans still retain aspects of their culture. This includes Italian food, drink, art, annual Italian American festivals, and a strong commitment to family, including extended family.
Italian American culture, and transplanted Italian culture, have influenced American culture in a variety of ways, such as: Italian restaurants, foods, coffees and gelato; wine production, in California and elsewhere in the U.S., and consumption; popular music, starting in the 1940s and 1950s, and continuing into the present; operatic and classical music; fashion and design; Montessori schools; Christmas crèches; and firework displays.
The Italian American Museum in New York City, established in 2001, is dedicated to the struggles of the Italian immigrants and their descendants, and to their achievements and contributions to American culture and society.
The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. – works to represent Italian Americans, spread knowledge of the Italian language, foster U.S./Italy relations and connect the greater Italian American community. Additionally, two major Italian American fraternal and service organizations, Order Sons of Italy in America and Unico National, actively promote knowledge of Italian American history and culture. Another prominent organization, The Italic Institute of America, is also in the forefront of these activities.
The Italian Heritage and Culture Committee – NY, Inc. was founded in 1976, and has organized special events, concerts, exhibits and lectures celebrating Italian culture in New York City. Each year it focusses on a theme representative of the history and culture of Italy and Italian Americans.
A large and growing number of Italian American authors are having success getting their works publishing in America. Some of the authors who have written about the Italian American experience are Pietro Di Donato; Lawrence Ferlinghetti; Dana Gioia, Executive Director of the National Endowment for the Arts; John Fusco, author of Paradise Salvage; and Daniela Gioseffi, winner of the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry and The American Book Award. Poets Sandra (Mortola) Gilbert and Kim Addonizio were also winner of the award from Italian Americana, Vol. 19, no. 1 and Vol. 21, no. 2, respectively; and Helen Barolini, editor of The Dream Book, a collection of Italian American women's writings. Several of these herein mentioned Italian American women writers and editors are American Book Award winners and pioneers of Italian American writing, as is poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan. These women have authored many books depicting Italian American women in a new light. Helen Barolini's The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (1985) was the first anthology that pulled together the historic range of writing from the late 19th century to the 1980s. It exhibited the wealth of fiction, poetry, essays, and letters, and paid special attention to the interaction of Italian American women with American social activism.
A scholarly literature has also emerged that critiques the literary output. Common themes include conflicts between marginal Italian American and mainstream culture, and tradition-bound immigrant parents opposed by their more assimilated children. Mary Jo Bona (1999) provided the first full-length scholarly analysis of the literary tradition. She is especially interested in showing how authors portrayed the many configurations of family relationships, from the early immigrant narratives of journeying to a new world, through novels that stress intergenerational conflicts, to contemporary works about the struggle of modern women to form nontraditional gender roles.
Among the scholars who have led the renaissance in Italian American literature are professors Richard Gambino, Anthony Julian Tamburri, Paolo Giordano, and Fred Gardaphe. The latter three founded Bordighera Press and edited From the Margin, An Anthology of Italian American Writing, Purdue University Press. These men, along with academics like novelist and accomplished critic, Dr. Josephine Gattuso Hendin of New York University, have taught Italian American studies at such institutions as the City University of New York, John D. Calandra Institute, Queens College (CUNY), and Stony Brook University, as well as Brooklyn College, where Dr. Robert Viscusi founded the Italian American Writers Association, and is an author and American Book Award winner, himself.
As a result of the efforts of magazines like VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, "Ambassador", a publication of the National Italian American Foundation and Italian Americana, edited by Carol Bonomo Albright, and numerous authors young and old, as well as early immigrant pioneer writers like poet Emanuel Carnevali ("Furnished Rooms") and novelist Pietro DiDonato, author of Christ in Concrete, Italian Americans have been reading more works of their own writers. A supplemental website at www.italianamericana.com to the journal "Italian Americana", edited by novelist Christine Palamidessi Moore, also offers historical articles, stories, memoirs, poetry, and book reviews. A growing number of books about the Italian American experience are published each year. Famed authors such as Don DeLillo, Giannina Braschi, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gay Talese, John Fante, Tina DeRosa, Daniela Gioseffi, Kim Addonizio and Dana Gioia have broken into mainstream American literature and publishing. Many of these authors' books and writings are easily found on the internet, as for example on an archive of Contemporary Italian American authors always in-progress edited by American Book Award winning author, Daniela Gioseffi, as well as in bibliographies online at Stonybrook University's Italian American Studies Department in New York, or at the Italian American Writers Association website. Dana Gioia was Poetry Editor of Italian Americana from 1993 to 2003. He initiated an educational series in which a featured poet talked about his/her work with poet Kim Addonizio as his first Featured Poet selection. Poet Michael Palma continues Dana Gioia's work in the journal. He also selects poems for Italian Americana's webpage supplement. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Daniela Gioseffi and Paul Mariani, are among the widely and internationally published authors who have been awarded The John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry by Italian Americana during Michael Palma's tenure as Poetry Editor. Daniela Gioseffi with Alfredo De Palchi founded The Annual $2000 Bordighera Poetry Prize to further the names of Italian American Poets in American literature. As of 1997, twelve books have been published in the bilingual series from Bordighera Press.
Italian Americans have written not only about the Italian American experience but, indeed, the human experience. Some of the most popular inspirational books have been authored by Italian Americans - notably, those of Og Mandino, Leo Buscaglia and Antoinette Bosco. Mario Puzo's first novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, was a highly inspiration treatment of the immigrant experience, which was widely reviewed as being well crafted, moving and poetic. Puzo considered it to be his best work. The Right Thing to Do, by Josephine Gattuso Hendin, is an iconic inspirational novel for Italian American women. A series of inspirational books for children has been written by Tomie dePaola. Best-selling fiction writers include Paul Gallico (Poseidon Adventure), David Baldacci, Kate DiCamillo, Richard Russo, Adriana Trigiani and Lisa Scottoline.
The vast majority of the Italian Americans are Catholics, at least nominally. Four hundred Italian Jesuit priests left Italy for the American West between 1848 and 1919. Most of these Jesuits left their homeland involuntarily, expelled by Italian nationalists in the successive waves of Italian unification that dominated Italy. When they came to the West, they ministered to Indians in the Northwest, Irish-Americans in San Francisco and Mexican Americans in the South West; they also ran the nation's most influential Catholic seminary, in Woodstock, Md. In addition to their pastoral work, they founded numerous high schools and colleges, including Regis University, Santa Clara University, the University of San Francisco, Gonzaga University and Seattle University.
In some Sicilian American communities, primarily Buffalo and New Orleans, Saint Joseph's Day (March 19) is marked by parades and celebrations, including traditional "St. Joseph's tables", where meatless dishes are served for the benefit of the communities' poor. Columbus Day is also widely celebrated, as are the feasts of some regional Italian patron saints. In Boston's North End, the Italian immigrants celebrate the "Feast of all Feasts" Saint Anthony's Feast. Started by Italian immigrants from Montefalcione, a small town near Naples, Italy in 1919, the feast is widely considered the largest and most authentic Italian Religious festival in the United States. Over 100 vendors and 300,000 people attend the feast over a 3 day period in August. San Gennaro (September 19) is another popular saint, especially among Neapolitans. Santa Rosalia (September 4), is celebrated by immigrants from Sicily. Immigrants from Potenza celebrate the San Rocco's Day (August 16) feast at the Potenza Lodge in Denver the third weekend of August. San Rocco is the patron saint of Potenza, as is San Gerardo. Many still celebrate the Christmas season with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated in Cleveland's Little Italy on August 15. On this feast day, people will pin money on a Blessed Virgin Mary statue as a symbol of prosperity. The statue is then paraded through Little Italy to Holy Rosary Church. For almost 25 years, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla participated in the parade and Mass to celebrate his Italian heritage. Bishop Pilla retired in April 2006, but continues to participate.
While most Italian-American families have a Catholic background, there are converts to Protestantism as well. In the early 20th century, about 300 Protestant missionaries worked in urban Italian American neighborhoods. Some have joined the Episcopal Church, which still retains much of the Catholic liturgical form. Some have converted to evangelical churches. Fiorello La Guardia was an Episcopalian on his father's side; his mother was from the small but significant community of Italian Jews. There is a small charismatic denomination, known as the Christian Church of North America, which is rooted in the Italian Pentecostal Movement that originated in Chicago in the early 20th century. A group of Italian immigrants in Trenton, New Jersey converted to the Baptist denomination. The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), a denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement, which is headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, counts significant numbers of Italian-Americans in its leadership and membership.
During the era of mass immigration, rural families in Italy did not place a high value on education since they needed their children to help with chores as soon as they were old enough. For many, this attitude did not change upon arriving in America, where children were expected to help support the family as soon as possible. This view toward education steadily changed with each successive generation. The 1970 census revealed that those under age 45 had achieved a level of education comparable to the national average, and within six decades of their peak immigration year, Italian Americans as a whole had equaled the national average in educational attainment. Presently, according to Census Bureau data, Italian Americans have an average high school graduation rate, and a higher rate of advanced degrees compared to the national average. Italian Americans throughout the United States are well represented in a wide variety of occupations and professions, from skilled trades, to the arts, to engineering, science, mathematics, law, and medicine, and include a number of Nobel prize winners.
|^a Foreign-born population only|
According to the Sons of Italy News Bureau, from 1998 to 2002 the enrollment in college Italian language courses grew by 30%, faster than the enrollment rates for French and German. Italian is the fourth most commonly taught foreign language in U.S. colleges and universities behind Spanish, French, and German. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, Italian (including Sicilian) is the fifth (seventh overall) most spoken language in the United States (tied with Vietnamese) with over 1 million speakers.
As a result of the large wave of Italian immigration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian and Sicilian were once widely spoken in much of the U.S., especially in northeastern and Great Lakes area cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, as well as San Francisco, St. Louis and New Orleans. Italian-language newspapers exist in many American cities, especially New York City, and Italian-language movie theatres existed in the U.S. as late as the 1950s. L'Idea is a bilingual quarterly published in Brooklyn since 1974. Arba Sicula (Sicilian Dawn) is a semiannual publication of the society of the same name, dedicated to preserving the Sicilian language. The magazine and a periodic newsletter offer prose, poetry and comment in Sicilian, with adjacent English translations.
Today, prizes like the Bordighera Annual Poetry Prize, founded by Daniela Gioseffi, Pietro Mastrandrea and Alfredo di Palchi, with support from the Sonia Rraiziss-Giop Foundation and Bordighera Press, which publishes the winners in bilingual editions, have helped to encourage writers of the diaspora to write in Italian. Chelsea Books in New York City and Gradiva Press on Long Island have published many bilingual books due to the efforts of bilingual writers of the diaspora like Paolo Valesio, Alfredo de Palchi, and Luigi Fontanella. Dr. Luigi Bonaffini of the City University of New York, publisher of The Journal of Italian Translation at Brooklyn College, has fostered Italian dialectic poetry throughout Italy and the U.S. Joseph Tusiani of New York and New York University, a distinguished linguist and prize-winning poet born in Italy, paved the way for Italian works of literature in English and has published many bilingual books and Italian classics for the American audience, among them the first complete works of Michelangelo's poems in English to be published in the United States. All of this literary endeavor has helped to foster the Italian language, along with Italian opera, of course, in the United States. Many of these authors and their bilingual books are located throughout the internet.
Author Lawrence Distasi argues that the loss of spoken Italian among the Italian American population can be tied to U.S. government pressures during World War II. During World War II, in various parts of the country, the U.S. government displayed signs that read, "Don't Speak the Enemy's Language". Such signs designated the languages of the Axis powers, German, Japanese, and Italian, as "enemy languages". Shortly after the Axis powers declared war on the U.S., many Italian, Japanese and German citizens were interned. Among the Italian Americans, those who spoke Italian, who had never become citizens, and who belonged to groups that praised Benito Mussolini, were most likely to become candidates for internment. Distasi claims that many Italian language schools closed down in the San Francisco Bay Area within a week of the U.S. declaration of war on the Axis powers. Such closures were inevitable since most of the teachers in Italian languages were interned.
Despite previous decline, Italian and Sicilian are still spoken and studied by those of Italian American descent, and it can be heard in various American communities, especially among older Italian Americans. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, interest in Italian language and culture has surged among Italian Americans.
The official Italian that is taught in colleges and universities is an amalgam of the Tuscan and Roman dialects. It is generally not the "Italian" with which Italian Americans are generally acquainted. Because the languages spoken by Italian Americans come from a time just after the unification of Italy, their languages are in many ways archaic and resemble the southern Italian and Sicilian dialects of pre-unification Italy. These variations, though still spoken along with Standard Italian (Tuscan/Roman), have also evolved in minor ways.
Despite it being the fifth most studied language in higher education (college and graduate) settings throughout America, the Italian language has struggled to maintain being an AP course of study in high schools nationwide. It was only in 2006 that AP Italian classes were first introduced, and they were soon dropped from the national curricula after the spring of 2009. The organization which manages such curricula, the College Board, ended the AP Italian program because it was "losing money" and had failed to add 5,000 new students each year. Since the program's termination in the spring of 2009, various Italian organizations and activists have attempted to revive the course of study. Most notable in the effort is Margaret Cuomo, sister of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. She provided the impetus for the program's birth in 2006 and is currently attempting to secure funding and teachers to reinstate the program. It is also worth noting that Italian organizations have begun fundraisers to revive AP Italian. Organizations such as the NIAF and Order Sons of Italy in America have made strides in collecting money, and are prepared to aid in the monetary responsibility any new AP Italian program would bring with it.
Moreover, Web-based Italian organizations, such as ItalianAware, have begun book donation campaigns to improve the status and representation of Italian and Italian American literature in the New York public libraries. According to ItalianAware, the Brooklyn Public Library is the worst offender in New York City. It has 11 books pertaining to the Italian immigrant experience available for checkout spread across 60 branches. That amounts to 1 book for every 6 branches in Brooklyn, which (according to ItalianAware) cannot supply the large Italian/Italian American community in the borough. ItalianAware aims to donate 100 books to the Brooklyn Public Library by the end of 2010.
Generoso Pope (1891–1950), the owner of a chain of Italian-language newspapers in major cities, stands out as the epitome of the Italian American ethnic political broker. He bought Il Progresso Italo-Americano in 1928 for $2 million; he doubled its circulation to 200,000 in New York City, making it the largest Italian-language paper in the country. He purchased additional papers in New York and Philadelphia, which became the chief source of political, social, and cultural information for the community. Pope encouraged his readers to learn English, become citizens, and vote; his goal was to instill pride and ambition to succeed in modern America. A conservative Democrat who ran the Columbus Day parade and admired Mussolini, Pope was the most powerful enemy of anti-Fascism among Italian Americans. Closely associated with Tammany Hall politics in New York, Pope and his newspapers played a vital role in securing the Italian vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt's Democratic tickets. He served as chairman of the Italian Division of the Democratic National Committee in 1936, and helped persuade the president to take a neutral attitude over Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. He broke with Mussolini in 1941 and enthusiastically supported the American war effort. In the late 1940s Pope supported the election of William O'Dwyer as mayor in 1945 and Harry S. Truman as president. His business concerns continued to prosper under New York's Democratic administrations, and in 1946 he added the Italian-language radio station WHOM to his media holdings. In the early years of the Cold War, Pope was a leading anti-Communist and orchestrated a letter-writing campaign by his subscribers to stop the Communists from winning the Italian elections in 1948.
Voters did not always vote the way editorials dictated, but they depended on the news coverage. At many smaller papers, support for Mussolini, short-sighted opportunism, deference to political patrons who were not members of the Italian-American communities, and the necessity of making a living through periodicals with a small circulation, generally weakened the owners of Italian-language newspapers when they tried to become political brokers of the Italian American vote.
James V. Donnaruma purchased Boston's La Gazzetta del Massachusetts in 1905. La Gazzetta enjoyed a wide readership in Boston's Italian community because it emphasized detailed coverage of local ethnic events and explained how events in Europe affected the community. Donnaruma's editorial positions, however, were frequently at odds with the sentiments of his readership. Donnaruma's conservative views and desire for greater advertising revenue prompted him to court the favor of Boston's Republican elite, to whom he pledged editorial support in return for the purchase of advertising space for political campaigns. La Gazzetta consistently supported Republican candidates and policy positions, even when the party was proposing and passing laws to restrict Italian immigration. Nevertheless, voting records from the 1920s-1930s show that Boston's Italian Americans voted heavily for Democratic candidates. Carmelo Zito took over the San Francisco newspaper Il Corriere del Popolo in 1935. Under Zito, it became one of the fiercest foes of Mussolini's fascism on the West Coast. It vigorously attacked Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and its intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Zito helped form the Italian-American Anti-Fascist League and often attacked certain Italian prominenti like Ettore Patrizi, publisher of L'Italia and La Voce del Popolo. Zito's paper campaigned against alleged Italian pro-Fascist language schools of San Francisco.
In 1909, Vincenzo Giuliano, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, and his wife Maria (Oliva) founded La Tribune Italiana d'America, known today as The Italian Tribune, which circulates throughout southeastern Michigan.
After landing in New York, Giuliano went to Pittsburgh, where he worked as a clerk in a bank. At the end of four months, he returned to New York and worked in the wholesale liquor business for a year. He then moved to Utica, New York, where he worked in a factory for a short time, after which he went to Chicago. To give a voice to his fellow immigrants in Chicago, he created a pro-union paper that reflected their concerns. Not long after the Chicago paper began, a Detroit group asked him to start a newspaper for Italians there, and thus La Tribuna Italiana d’America was born. A second newspaper founded by a Catholic order of priests, La Voce del Popolo also served the Metro Detroit community until the 1920s, when that newspaper merged with La Tribuna Italiana d’America.
Upon Giuliano's death in the 1960s, his grandson Edward M. Baker assumed the role of publisher, along with his wife, Marlene. For over 50 years the couple ran the newspaper and were cornerstones of the Italian American community in Detroit. Upon Edward Baker's death in 2004 and his wife's death in 2009, their daughters Marilyn Borner and Pam White have taken over as publishers of the newspaper. Marilyn's daughter, Linda Richardson, and son, Daniel Kammer, are both active in the business as well, making five generations of the Giuliano family to run the paper. The content of the paper has changed a bit. In the early days, it focused on English language lessons, citizenship requirements and the basic necessities for living in Metro Detroit. Now the paper's focus is on providing the Italian American community news and events of Italian American clubs, organizations, churches, senior centers and entertainment venues in Metro Detroit.
The most characteristic and popular of Italian American cultural contributions has been their feasts. Throughout the United States, wherever one may find an "Italian neighborhood" (often referred to as "Little Italy"), one can find festive celebrations such as the well-known Feast of San Gennaro in New York City, the unique Our Lady of Mount Carmel "Giglio" Feast in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, Italian feasts involve elaborate displays of devotion to Jesus Christ and patron saints. On the weekend of the last Sunday in August, the residents of Boston's North End celebrate the "Feast of all Feasts" in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, which was started over 300 years ago in Montefalcione, Italy. Perhaps the most widely known is St. Joseph's feast day on March 19. These feasts are much more than simply isolated events within the year. Feast (Festa in Italian) is an umbrella term for the various secular and religious, indoor and outdoor activities surrounding a religious holiday. Typically, Italian feasts consist of festive communal meals, religious services, games of chance and skill and elaborate outdoor processions consisting of statues resplendent in jewels and donations. The celebration usually takes place over the course of several days, and is communally prepared by a church community or a religious organization over the course of several months.
Currently, there are more than 300 Italian feasts celebrated throughout the United States. The largest is Festa Italiana, held in Milwaukee every summer. These feasts are visited each year by millions of Americans from various backgrounds who come together to enjoy Italian music and food delicacies. In the past, as to this day, an important part of Italian American culture centers around music and cuisine.
During the period of mass immigration to the United States, Italians suffered widespread discrimination in housing and employment. They were often victims of prejudice, economic exploitation, and sometimes even violence, particularly in the South. Italian stereotypes abounded as a means of justifying this maltreatment of the immigrants. The print media greatly contributed to the stereotyping of Italians with lurid accounts of secret societies and criminality. Between 1890 and 1920, Italian neighborhoods were often depicted as violent and controlled by criminal networks. Two highly publicized cases illustrate the impact of these negative stereotypes:
In 1891, eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans were lynched due to their alleged role in the murder of the police chief David Hennessy. This was one of the largest mass lynchings in U.S. history. The lynching took place after nine of the immigrants were tried for the murder and acquitted. Subsequently, a mob broke into the jail where they were being held and dragged them out to be lynched, together with two other Italians who were being held in the jail at the time, but had not been accused in the killing.
In 1920, two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were tried for robbery and murder in Braintree, Massachusetts. Many historians agree that they were given a very unfair and biased trial because of their anarchistic political beliefs and their Italian immigrant status. In spite of world-wide protests, Sacco and Vanzetti were eventually executed.
While the vast majority of Italian immigrants brought with them a tradition of honesty and hard work (as documented by police statistics of the early 20th century in Boston and New York City, which show that Italian immigrants had an arrest rate no greater than that of other major immigrant groups ), a very small minority brought a very different custom. This criminal element preyed on the immigrants of the Little Italies, using intimidation and threats to extract protection money from the wealthier immigrants and shop owners, and were also involved in a multitude of other illegal activities. When the Fascists came to power in Italy, they made the destruction of the Mafia in Sicily a high priority. Hundreds fled to America in the 1920s and 1930s to avoid prosecution.
Prohibition, which went into effect in 1920, proved to be an economic windfall for those in the Italian American community already involved in illegal activities, and those who had fled from Sicily. This entailed smuggling liquor into the country, wholesaling it, and then selling it through a network of outlets. While other ethnic groups were also deeply involved in these illegal ventures, and the associated violence, Chicago mobster Al Capone became the most notorious figure of the Prohibition era. Though eventually repealed, Prohibition had a long-term effect as the spawning ground for later criminal activities.
In the 1950s, the scope of Italian American organized crime became well known though a number of highly publicized congressional hearings that followed a police raid on a top-level meeting of racketeers in Apalachin, New York. With advanced surveillance techniques, the Witness Protection Program, the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act, and vigorous and sustained prosecution the power and influence of organized crime were greatly diminished in the decades that followed. Two Italian American prosecutors, Rudy Giuliani and Louis Freeh, were instrumental in bringing this about. Freeh was later appointed director of the FBI, while Giuliani would serve two terms as Mayor of New York City.
From the earliest days of the movie industry, Italians have been portrayed as violent criminals and sociopaths. This trend has continued to the present day. The stereotype of Italian Americans is the standardized mental image which has been fostered by the entertainment industry, especially through commercially successful movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino; and TV programs such as The Sopranos. This follows a known pattern in which it is possible for the mass media to effectively create universally recognized, and sometimes accepted, stereotypes.
A highly publicized protest from the Italian American community came in 2001 when the Chicago-based organization AIDA (American Italian Defamation Association) unsuccessfully sued Time Warner for distribution of HBO's series The Sopranos because of its negative portrayal of Italian Americans.
The DreamWorks animated film, Shark Tale, was widely protested by virtually all of the major Italian America organizations as expanding the mob genre and introducing negative stereotyping into a children's movie. In spite of the protests, which started during its early production, the movie was produced and released in 2004.
More recently, MTV launched a reality show, Jersey Shore, which prompted severe criticism from Italian American organizations such as the National Italian American Foundation, Order Sons of Italy in America, and Unico National for its stereotypical portrayal of Italian Americans.
The effective stereotyping of Italian Americans as being associated with organized crime was shown by a comprehensive study of Italian American culture on film, conducted from 1996 to 2001 by the Italic Institute of America. The findings showed that over two-thirds of the more than 2,000 films studied portray Italian Americans in a negative light. Further, close to 300 movies featuring Italian Americans as criminals have been produced since The Godfather, an average of nine per year. According to the Italic Institute of America:
In actuality, according to recent FBI statistics, Italian American organized crime members and associates number approximately 3,000; and, given an Italian American population estimated to be approximately 18 million, the study concludes that only one in 6,000 has any involvement with organized crime.
Little Italies were, to a considerable extent, the result of Italophobia. The ethnocentrism and anti-Catholicism exhibited by the earlier Anglo-Celtic and northern European settlers helped to create an ideological foundation for fixing foreignness on urban spaces occupied by immigrants. Communities of Italian Americans were established in most major industrial cities of the early 20th century, such as Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts (the "North End"); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and Kansas City, Missouri. New Orleans, Louisiana was the first site of immigration of Italians and Sicilians into America in the 19th century, before Italy was a unified nation-state. This was before New York Harbor and Baltimore became the preferred destinations for Italian immigrants. In sharp contrast to the Northeast, most of the Southern states (exceptions being the Atlantic coast of Florida, New Orleans, and a fast-growing communities in Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas) have very few Italian-American residents. During the labor shortage in the 19th and early 20th centuries, planters in the Deep South did attract some Italian immigrants to work as sharecroppers, but they soon left the extreme anti-Italian discrimination and strict regimen of the rural areas for the cities or other states. The state of California has had Italian-American residents since the 1850s. By the 1970s gentrification of inner city neighborhoods and the arrival of new immigrant groups caused a sharp decline in the old Italian-American and other ethnic enclaves. Many Italian Americans moved to the rapidly growing Western states, including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and California. Today, New York and New Jersey have the largest numbers of Italian Americans in the U.S. while smaller Northeastern cities such as Pittsburgh, Providence and Hartford have the highest percentage of Italian Americans in their metropolitan areas.
Several Little Italies exist in New York City, including Manhattan, Bronx, Bensonhurst, Howard Beach and Rosebank. Historically, Little Italy on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, extends as far south as Canal Street, as far north as Bleecker, as far west as Lafayette and as far east as the Bowery. The neighborhood was once known for its large population of Italians. Today it consists of Italian stores and restaurants. The Italian immigrants congregated along Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy to celebrate San Gennaro as the Patron Saint of Naples. The Feast of San Gennaro is a large street fair, lasting 11 days, that takes place every September along Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal Streets. The festival is as an annual celebration of Italian culture and the Italian-American community. Today, much of the neighborhood has been absorbed and engulfed by Chinatown, as immigrants from China moved to the area. Arthur Avenue in the Fordham section of New York City's northernmost borough, The Bronx, was once the heart of the Bronx's "Little Italy". Robert De Niro's directing debut, A Bronx Tale, takes place within Little Italy, however, it was largely filmed in Astoria, Queens. The series Third Watch was initially based on Arthur Avenue, with the first episode referring to the firehouse as "Camelot", based on its location at the intersection of King Street and Arthur Avenue. The 1973 film The Seven-Ups, starring Roy Scheider, was filmed on Arthur Avenue and Hoffman Street. In 2003, a scene from the HBO series The Sopranos was shot in Mario's Restaurant. Leonard, of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, grew up in this area. Much of the novel Underworld takes place near Arthur Avenue. The author himself, Don DeLillo, grew up in that neighborhood. Bensonhurst is heavily Italian-American, and it is usually considered the main "Little Italy" of Brooklyn. The Italian-speaking community remains over 20,000 strong, according to the census of 2000. However, the Italian-speaking community is becoming "increasingly elderly and isolated, with the small, tight-knit enclaves they built around the city slowly disappearing as they give way to demographic changes". Its main thoroughfare, 18th Avenue (also known as Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard) between roughly 60th Street and Shore Parkway, is lined with predominantly small, Italian family-owned businesses—many of which have remained in the same family for several generations. 86th Street is another popular local thoroughfare, lined by the arches of the elevated BMT West End Subway Line. The 18th Avenue Station was popularized in opening credits of Welcome Back, Kotter. Rosebank in Staten Island was another one of NYC's main area of Italian immigrants since the 1880s, and their descendants have continued as its predominant ethnic group, exemplified by the location of the Garibaldi Memorial in the community. In recent years the town has experienced an influx of other ethnic groups, including Eastern Europeans, various Latin nationalities as well as Asians, particularly from the Philippines. Howard Beach in the Queens is also home to a large Italian population.
Philadelphia's Italian American community is the second-largest in the United States. South Philadelphia is largely Italian, and the area has many Italian stores and restaurants. Philadelphia is well known for its Italian Market in South Philadelphia. The Italian Market is the popular name for the South 9th Street Curb Market, an area of Philadelphia featuring many grocery shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, and butcher shops, many with an Italian influence. The historical heart of the market is the area of 9th Street between Christian Street and Washington Avenue, and is now generally considered to extend from Fitzwater Street at the north to Wharton Street at the south. The term Italian Market is also used to describe the surrounding neighborhood between South Street to the North and Wharton Street to the South running a few blocks to the east and west of 9th Street. It is entirely contained in the Bella Vista neighborhood. The "outdoor" market features bright, colorful metal awnings that cover the sidewalks where vendors of fruit, vegetables, fish, and housewares conduct business year round. Ground floor shops in traditional Philadelphia rowhouses line the street. Owners would have originally lived above their shops, and many still do.
The market has also played a role in the culture of Philadelphia, and is often included in cultural depictions of the city. For example, the Italian Market was featured in the Rocky films, most notably the running/training montage where a vendor tosses the boxer an orange in Rocky. The television series Hack also filmed several episodes that featured the Italian Market. The Italian Market was also featured on a season 5 episode of the television show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has played a large role in Italian-American cooking, featuring numerous cheesesteak shacks such as Pat's and Geno's throughout the city and suburbs. Italian Philadelphians have strongly influenced the creation of Philadelphia's brand of cuisine with cheesesteak sandwiches, Hoagies, Italian ices, Philly style Soft Pretzels, Stromboli and bakery styled tomato pies.
South Philadelphia has produced many well-known Italian American popular singers and musicians, including: Frankie Avalon, Jim Croce, Joey DeFrancesco, Buddy DeFranco, Fred Diodati (lead singer of The Four Aces), Fabian Forte, Buddy Greco, Mario Lanza, Al Martino, Bobby Rydell, Charlie Ventura, Joe Venuti, and Vinnie Paz
In its heyday, Seventh Avenue in Newark was one of the largest Little Italies in the U.S. with a population of 30,000, in an area of less than a square mile. The center of life in the neighborhood was St. Lucy's Church, founded by Italian immigrants in 1891. Throughout the year, St. Lucy's and other churches sponsored processions in honor of saints that became community events. The most famous procession was the Feast of St. Gerard, but there were also great feasts for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Lady of Snow, the Assumption, and St. Rocco. Joe DiMaggio loved the restaurants of Seventh Avenue so much that he would take the New York Yankees to Newark to show them "real Italian food". Frank Sinatra had bread from Giordano's Bakery sent to him every week until his death, no matter where in the world he was. New York Yankees catcher Rick Cerone also grew up in the First Ward. One of the nation's largest Italian newspapers, The Italian Tribune, was founded on Seventh Avenue. Seventh Avenue produced stars such as Joe Pesci and Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons. Congressman Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon was a native of the First Ward as well. Seventh Avenue was notoriously devastated by urban renewal efforts during the 1950s. Eighth Avenue was obliterated by the city council, scattering the Italian American residents. Most of its businesses never recovered. The construction of Interstate 280 also served to cut the neighborhood off from the rest of the city. After the devastating urban renewal, some of the First Ward's Italians stayed in the neighborhood, while others migrated to other Newark neighborhoods like Broadway, Roseville, and the Ironbound.
Italian immigrants first came to the area around Syracuse, New York in 1883 after providing labor for the construction of the West Shore Railroad. At first, they were quite transient and came and went, but eventually settled down on the Northside. By 1899, the Italian immigrants were living on the Northside of the city in the area centered around Pearl Street. The Italians all but supplanted the Germans in that area of the city and had their own business district along North State and North Salina Streets. By September 2009, Syracuse's Little Italy district received millions of dollars of public and private investment for new sidewalks, streetscapes, landscaping, lighting and to set up a "Green Train" program, which trains men to work in green construction and renovation industries. In recent years, the neighborhood is a mix of Italian shops, restaurants and businesses that cater to the area's South Asian and African population. Although the neighborhood is far less Italian than in past years, banners throughout the district still read Little Italy. By 2010, demographics showed that 14.1% of the population in Syracuse was Italian descent.
Federal Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, is best known for its Italian American community and abundance of restaurants. The first two decades of the 20th century witnessed heavy Italian-American immigration into Federal Hill, making it the city's informal Little Italy. Though the area today is more diverse, Federal Hill still retains its status as the traditional center for the city's Italian-American community. The neighborhood features a huge square dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, a monumental gateway arch decorated with La Pigna sculpture (a traditional Italian symbol of welcome, abundance, and quality) and a DePasquale Plaza used for outdoor dining. Providence's annual Columbus Day parade marches down Atwells Avenue.
North End in Boston since the early 20th century became the center of the Italian community of Boston. It is still largely residential and well known for its small, authentic Italian restaurants and for the first Italian cafe, Caffe Vittoria. The influx of Italian inhabitants has left a lasting mark on the area; many seminal Italian American institutions have called Boston's North End their home. Some multi-national Italian products companies that began in the North End include Dragone Cheese, Prince Pasta and the Pastene Corporation. Prince Pasta was begun by three Sicilian immigrants Gaetano LaMarco, Giuseppe Seminara, and Michele Cantella. Pastene was formed by Sicilian immigrant Luigi Pastene. Both companies have grown into million dollar a year businesses, and continue to succeed to this day. To fully understand the sheer size of the Italian immigrant population, one must look back at the groups that preceded them. The Irish, at their peak, numbered roughly 14,000 and the Jews numbered 17,000. The Italians, however, peaked at over 44,000.
The neighborhood around Chicago's Taylor Street has been called the port of call for Chicago's Italian American immigrants. Taylor Street's Little Italy was home to Hull House, an early settlement house, founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr in 1889. Chicago's Italian American experience begins with the mass migration from the shores of southern Italy, the Hull House experiment, the Great Depression, World War II, and the machinations behind the physical demise of a neighborhood by the University of Illinois in 1963.
Italian Americans dominated the inner core of the Hull House neighborhood, 1890s–1930s. One of the first newspaper articles about Hull House (Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1890) is an invitation, written in Italian, to the residents of the Hull House neighborhood signed, "Le Signorine, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr".
The 1924 historic picture, "Meet the 'Hull House Kids'", was taken by Wallace K. Kirkland Sr., one of the Hull House directors. It served as a poster for Jane Addams and the Hull House Settlement House. All twenty kids were first generation Italian Americans...all with vowels at the end of their names. "They grew up to be lawyers and mechanics, sewer workers and dump truck drivers, a candy shop owner, a boxer and a mob boss."
As suburbs grew in the post-World War II era, Chicago's Italian American population spread from the central city. Chicago's northwest side and the neighboring village of Elmwood Park has the highest concentration of Italian Americans in the state. Harlem Avenue, "La Corsa Italia", is lined with Italian stores, bakeries, clubs and organizations. The Feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, in nearby Melrose Park, has been a regular event in the area for more than one hundred years. The near-west suburbs of Melrose Park, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, River Grove, Norridge, Chicago Heights, and Harwood Heights are also home to many Italian Americans. West suburban Stone Park is home of Casa Italia, an Italian American cultural center.
Cleveland's Little Italy, also known as Murray Hill, is the epicenter of Italian culture in Northeast Ohio, a combined statistical area reporting 285,000 (9.9%) Italian Americans. Little Italy took root when Joseph Carabelli, immigrating in 1880, saw the opportunity for monument work in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery and established what soon became the city's leading marble and granite works. Most fresco and mosaic work in Cleveland was accomplished by Italian artist immigrants. Local Cleveland industrial billionaire John D. Rockefeller took a special liking to the Italian immigrants of the neighborhood and commissioned the building of the community center Alta House, named after his daughter Alta Rockefeller Prentice, in 1900. In 1906, Italian immigrant Angelo Vitantonio invented the first hand-crank pasta machine, which made pasta much easier to produce by eliminating the need to flatten and cut it by hand. Some other famous Italian Americans from Northeast Ohio included Anthony J. Celebrezze (49th Mayor of Cleveland), Ettore "Hector" Boiardi (Chef Boyardee), Frank Battisti (Federal Judge), and Dean Martin, born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio.
Ohio's largest outdoor Italian American street festival, the Feast of the Assumption, takes place the weekend of August 15 every year and draws over 100,000 people to the Little Italy neighborhood. The festival is sponsored by the congregation of Holy Rosary Church, which was founded in 1892 with the current church built in 1905. .
Italians first came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 19th century. Then in the 19th and 20th centuries large numbers of Italian immigrants began to come in mainly from Sicily and southern Italy. Brady Street, the historic Third Ward and the east side of Milwaukee is considered the heart of Italian immigration to the city, where as many as 20 Italian grocery stores once existed on Brady Street alone. Every year the largest Italian American festival in the United States, Festa Italiana, takes place in Milwaukee. Italians number at around 40,000 in the city, but in Milwaukee County they number at 111,000. There is also an Italian newspaper called The Italian Times printed by the Italian Community Center (ICC).
The community of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida is a cigar-centric company town founded in 1885 and originally populated by a unique mix of Spanish, Cuban, Jewish, and Italian immigrants, with most of the Italians coming from a small group of villages in southwestern Sicily. At first, Italians found it difficult to find employment in the insular and guild-like cigar industry, which had moved to Tampa from Cuba and Key West and was dominated by Hispanic workers. Many founded businesses to serve cigar workers, most notably small grocery stores in the neighborhood's commercial district supplied by Italian-owned vegetable and dairy farms located on open land east of Tampa's city limits. The immigrant cultures in town became better integrated as time went by; eventually, approximately 20% of the workers in the cigar industry were Italian Americans. The tradition of local Italian-owned groceries continued, however, and a handful of such businesses founded in the late 1800s were still operating into the 21st century. Many descendants of Sicilian immigrants eventually became prominent local citizens, such as mayors Nick Nuccio and Dick Greco.
Birmingham, Alabama, was representative of smaller industrial centers. Most Italians in the early 20th century came to work in the burgeoning iron and coal industries. Dorothy L. Crim founded the Ensley Community House in the Italian district in 1912 at the behest of the Birmingham City Mission Board. From 1912 to 1969, Ensley House eased the often difficult transition to American life by providing direct assistance such as youth programs and day care services, social clubs, and 'Americanization' programs.
According to the 1940 census, 18.5% of all European Immigrants were Italian, the largest in the city. North Beach is San Francisco's Little Italy, and has historically been home to a large Italian American population. The American Planning Association (APA) has named North Beach as one of ten 'Great Neighborhoods in America'.
Historically, Little Italy in San Diego was the home to Italian fishermen and their families. Many Italians moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in search of tuna and other deep-sea sport and commercial fish. When Interstate 5 was constructed through Little Italy in the early 1970s, 35% of the neighborhood was destroyed and during the same time the California tuna industry was declining, which caused the neighborhood to suffer nearly 30 years of decline. With the creation of the Little Italy Association in 1996, the neighborhood has gone through gentrification and has seen a renaissance as Community Benefit District specializing in Italian food, boutique shopping and maintenance that makes this shopping district the place to live in Downtown San Diego. Prior to gentrification, the neighborhood was mainly composed of low-density commercial businesses and single-family detached homes. Currently, the neighborhood is mainly composed of residential units, mostly mid-rises, high-rises, and lofts, with ground floor retail stores and a few commercial buildings.
In the 2000 U.S. Census, Italian Americans constituted the fifth largest ancestry group in America with about 15.6 million people, 5.6% of the total U.S. population. Sicilian Americans are a subset of numerous Americans of regional Italian ancestries. As of 2006, the U.S. Census estimated the Italian-American population at 17.8 million persons, or 6% of the population, constituting a 14% increase over the six-year period.
The top 25 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Italian ancestry are:
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