Within major urban cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, “Little Italy” communities formed to provide Italian immigrants with a sense of unity and Italian nationalism that they did not have in Italy.
Many of the first Italians who immigrated to the United States landed and then settled in
During the 1840’s and 1850’s, small groups of emigrants from northern Italy sought financial security in the United States. Unlike members of the later migration of southern Italians, members of this earlier group proudly identified themselves as Italians. After Italy itself was finally unified in 1870, these early Italian immigrants gloried in their newfound national identity. Southern Italians, by contrast, left Italy in great numbers after unification. For them, Italy was a nation in name only. Although the Risorgimento strengthened Italy overall, the northern provinces alone experienced its economic and political benefits. To immigrants from the southern regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Basilicata, Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily, northern Italy was as foreign as America.
For southern Italians who suffered the pangs of starvation, high taxes, and dislocation under Italy’s unification government, the possibility of employment and a better place in which to live was worth the journey across the Atlantic. Thanks to cheaper and safer oceanic transatlantic transportation and the promise of riches overseas, more than five million southern Italians immigrated to the United States and countries in South America and North Africa between 1876 and 1930. Plagued with outbreaks of cholera in the Italian countryside that killed more than 55,000 people, many southern Italians left their homeland only to be turned away at the various ports of entry, the most famous being Ellis Island in New York.
Although Italian immigrants suffered degradation in America from native-born residents who believed that southern Europeans were too ignorant to assimilate, the newcomers compensated for their unfriendly reception by forming their own communities in small enclaves in major American cities. Dubbed “Little Italies” in most cities, these neighborhoods were essentially transplanted Italian villages, or paesi.
After arriving in New York Harbor, Italian immigrants moved from the port to Manhattan, and then on to that island’s crime-ridden Five Points district. The immigrants soon staked their claims within the enclave. Many earned their livings as organ grinders, street performers, and rag pickers. Despite the fact that the majority of the immigrants had been farmers in their homeland, most accepted work in crowded East Coast American cities to avoid having to travel great distances inland in the unfamiliar land.
Italians who settled in New York City eventually moved beyond Manhattan’s Point to other boroughs, such as Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Some went much farther and toiled in the coal mines in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and West Virginia, while others followed the rails farther west.
Although Italians had settled in
Following the Great Irish Famine of the late 1840’s,
Following the national Panic of 1873, many southern Italians followed a general migration from New York City to
Mulberry Street, the heart of New York City’s Little Italy, around 1900.
Little Italies provided Italian immigrants with familiar communities within an unfamiliar country. Although some Italians never learned to speak the English language, others acclimated easily to their new surroundings and achieved wealth in America. Because farming land was becoming more scarce, many Italians who immigrated to America had no choice but to settle in the cities. They also migrated to the South and West Coast, earning notoriety and profiting by operating
Barkan, Elliott Robert. From all Points: America’s Immigrant West, 1870’s-1952. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Excellent source on Little Italies in the West. Dinnerstein, Leonard, and David M. Reimers. Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration. 4th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Textbook that provides an excellent outline on the trends of migration in the United States. Iorizzo, Luciano J., and Salvatore Mondello. The Italian Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Concise narrative of the Italian American experience. Mangione, Jerre, and Ben Morreale. La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian-American Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. Informative study of Italian immigration and Italian contributions to American culture and government.
Italian American press
New York City