People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Italian Americans Part 2

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.


Their Story in America: The typical Italian immigrants arriving in New York in the late 1800s were poor, unskilled, and illiterate. If they did not have friends or relatives already living in America, they moved into Italian-run boarding houses and from there went out searching for work, or they sought the local padrones ("bosses"), who, for a price, would find them shelter, arrange for their documents, and get them jobs. Once employed, the immigrants saved as much as possible so that they could eventually send for their loved ones back home.

When families were finally united, they faced great hardships: unemployment, inadequate housing, high mortality rates, and the poverty they thought they had left behind in Italy. In order to support their families, Italian men took any work that came along, usually strenuous manual labor, and made an average salary of $10 a week. Italian women often brought work home, and children--at the urging of their parents--dropped out of school to find jobs.

The harsh realities of day-to-day existence reinforced an old Italian belief: Trust only your own. Throughout the U.S., Italians banded together in Italian neighborhoods, "Little Italys," where their own language was spoken and life was familiar. In many ways, "America" existed only outside these neighborhoods, and for the new immigrants assimilation was a slow and difficult process.

The Italians were constantly denied equal opportunities in housing and employment. Existing ethnic tensions were further heightened when Italians were used as strikebreakers and were hired by American factory owners because they would work harder for less money than other immigrant groups. Between 1875 and 1915, more than 35 Italian Americans were killed as a result of mob violence, including the infamous mass lynching of 11 Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans following the murder of the chief of police there. In another controversial and prejudice-tainted case, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti stood trial for robbery and murder in a Massachusetts court in 1921. Though the evidence against them was dubious, they were convicted and eventually executed, despite their contention that they were innocent and were being tried because of their immigrant status and radical political beliefs rather than for any criminal wrongdoing.

More than any other ethnic group, Italian Americans still live in their original neighborhoods. The vaunted Italian family structure endures; children of second- and third-generation families maintain close ties with their elders. Alcoholism, desertion, and divorce are rarer among Italian Americans than in the U.S. as a whole, reflecting the strength of their religious and cultural backgrounds.

Though some Italian Americans are sensitive about it, they have provided this country with one of its most pervasive myths--the Mafia. The Godfather, a chilling novel about the Mafia by Mario Puzo, was one of the fastest-selling books in publishing history, and the films made from it are high on the list of the top-grossing films of all time.

Famous Italian Americans: Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi; Watergate's Judge John J. Sirica; gangster Al Capone; baseball star Joe DiMaggio; film directors Frank Capra and Francis Ford Coppola; entertainers Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli; actors Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Sylvester Stallone; and the first U.S. citizen to be raised to sainthood, Mother Frances Cabrini.

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