People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Italian Americans Part 1

About the Italian Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Italian-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: After 1870, the flow of Italian immigration came from the south of Italy, as ever increasing numbers of contadini ("peasants") left the poverty of their homeland. It has been estimated that between 1875 and 1920, nearly 90% of Italian immigrants landing in the U.S. were from the regions south and east of Rome. Of those immigrants, approximately 25% came from Sicily. Present-day immigration trends are very similar to those established at the turn of the century, with the majority of Italian immigrants coming from the southern part of the country.

Why They Left: Italians left to escape the miserable static existence that had been the lot of the southern Italian peasant for hundreds of years. In 1861, for the first time in centuries, the various kingdoms and territories of the Italian peninsula were united into the kingdom of Italy. yet the wretched conditions of poverty and powerlessness did not improve as the peasants had expected. In fact, in many ways the lot of the contadini worsened after the unification. Between 1870 and 1890, the peasants' average income went down as the cost of living doubled. Additionally, the new government, made up almost entirely of northern Italians, had little feeling for the problems of the southerners and sometimes proved more repressive than the previous governments of the independent nation-states.

Natural disasters, too, struck hard at the peasants. In the 1870s a phylloxera epidemic crippled the economically essential Italian wine industry, and in the early 1900s a series of devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions left a grim wake of death and destruction.

Where They Settled: In general, most Italian immigrants to the U.S. settled where they arrived--New York City and its environs. A goodly number eventually moved on to Boston, Philadelphia, and the other cities of the North-east, as well as to San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The original settlement pattern, however, still holds true. Nearly half of all Italian Americans live within a 200-mi. radius of New York City. In 1960, according to U.S. census figures, 70.3% of all Italian Americans lived in the Northeast.

Numbers: In 1860 less than 20,000 Italians were living in the U.S., but by 1890 the number had increased to 500,000. The greatest surge of Italian immigration came between 1891 and 1920, when more than 4 million Italians entered the country--285,731 in 1907 alone. Approximately 25,000 Italians now enter the U.S. each year.

A 1972--1973 survey put the number of Italian Americans at 8.8 million, or 4% of the U.S. population. Some 5.2 million Italians have entered the U.S. just since accurate records have been kept, so they are among the most numerous of all ethnic groups in America.

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