Italian americans

by George Pozzetta


Moored by Alpine mountains in the north, the boot-shaped Italian peninsula juts into the central Mediterranean Sea. Along its European frontier, Italy shares borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The nation's land mass, which includes the two major islands of Sicily and Sardinia and numerous smaller ones, measures 116,324 square miles (301,200 square kilometers)—almost exactly double the size of the state of Florida. Italy's population in 1991 stood at 57.6 million. With the exception of the broad north Italian Plain at the foot of the Alps, the peninsula is crosscut through much of its length by the Apennine mountain chain. The obstacles created by the highlands, valleys, and gorges found in the mountain regions fostered strong cultural and linguistic differences.


Italy's modern state traces its mythological roots to the founding of the city of Rome in 753 B.C. More historically verified is the fact that the Romans engaged in territorial expansion and conquest of neighboring lands, devising effective colonization policies that ultimately sustained a widespread realm. By 172 B.C., Rome controlled all of the Italian peninsula and began moving outward into the Mediterranean basin. At its peak, the Roman empire extended from the British Isles to the

Italian American immigrant laborers pose with the "first train" over the Trolley Road during the construction of the New Troy, Rensselaer & Pittsfield Electric Railway, through Lebanon Valley, New York.
Italian American immigrant laborers pose with the "first train" over the Trolley Road during the construction of the New Troy, Rensselaer & Pittsfield Electric Railway, through Lebanon Valley, New York.
Euphrates River. The Pax Romana began to crumble, however, by the end of the first century A.D. The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. presaged the more complete disintegration of the empire in the later fifth and sixth centuries. With its political integration shattered, the country remained fragmented until the late nineteenth century. Italy was, in the view of many Europeans, a "mere geographic expression."

Italy is a relatively young nation state, achieving full unification only during the Risorgimento of 1860-1870. Prior to this, the peninsula consisted of often mutually antagonistic kingdoms, duchies, city-states, and principalities. Some of these regions had a history of autonomous rule, while others came under the periodic control of foreign powers as a result of recurrent wars and shifting political alliances. Over the centuries, therefore, powerful regional loyalties emerged, and persisted well after unification. Although local cultural variations remained notable, the most significant internal distinctions have been those stemming from the contrast between a relatively prosperous, cosmopolitan, urban North and a socially backward, economically depressed, agricultural South.

Southern Italy ( Mezzogiorno ), the source of more than 75 percent of immigration to the United States, was an impoverished region possessing a highly stratified, virtually feudal society. The bulk of the population consisted of artisans ( artigiani ), petty landowners or sharecroppers ( contadini ), and farm laborers ( giornalieri ), all of whom eked out meager existences. For reasons of security and health, residents typically clustered in hill towns situated away from farm land. Each day required long walks to family plots, adding to the toil that framed daily lives. Families typically worked as collective units to ensure survival. Angelo Pellegrini, who became a successful immigrant, remembered his sharecropping family: "The central, dominating fact of our existence was continuous, inadequately rewarded labor.... Education beyond the third grade was out of the question.... At eight or nine years of age, if not sooner, the peasant child is old enough to bend his neck to the yoke and fix his eyes upon the soil in which he must grub for bread. I did not know it then, but I know it now, that is a cruel, man-made destiny from which there is yet no immediate hope of escape." (Angelo Pellegrini, Immigrant's Return. New York: Macmillan, 1952; pp. 11, 21.)

The impact of unification on the South was disastrous. The new constitution heavily favored the North, especially in its tax policies, industrial subsidies, and land programs. The hard-pressed peasantry shouldered an increased share of national expenses, while attempting to compete in markets dominated more and more by outside capitalist intrusions. These burdens only exacerbated existing problems of poor soil, absentee landlords, inadequate investment, disease, and high rates of illiteracy. With cruel irony, as livelihoods became increasingly precarious, population totals soared. Italy jumped from 25 million residents in 1861 to 33 million in 1901 to more than 35 million in 1911, despite the massive migration already underway.

An Italian immigrant family arrives at Ellis Island, New York.
An Italian immigrant family arrives at Ellis Island, New York.


An exodus of southerners from the peninsula began in the 1880s. Commencing in the regions of Calabria, Campania, Apulia, and Basilicata, and spreading after 1900 to Sicily, Italian emigration became a torrent of humanity. From 1876-1924, more than 4.5 million Italians arrived in the United States, and over two million came in the years 1901-1910 alone. Despite these massive numbers, it should be noted that roughly two-thirds of Italian migration went elsewhere, especially to Europe and South America. Immigration to the United States before and after this period accounted for approximately one million additional arrivals—a considerable movement in its own right—but the era of mass migration remains central to the Italian immigrant experience.

Yet, there were important precursors. Italian explorers and sailors venturing outward in the employ of other nations touched America in its earliest beginnings. The most famous was, of course, Christopher Columbus, a Genoese mariner sailing for Spain. Other seafarers such as John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), Giovanni da Verrazzano, and Amerigo Vespucci, and important missionaries such as Eusebio Chino and Fra Marco da Nizza, also played roles in early exploration and settlement.

After the American Revolution, a small flow of largely northern-Italian skilled artisans, painters, sculptors, musicians, and dancers came to the new nation, filling economic niches. With the failure of the early nineteenth-century liberal revolutions, these immigrants were joined by a trickle of political refugees, the most famous of whom was Giuseppe Garibaldi. By the second half of the century, American cities also typically included Italian street entertainers, tradesmen, statuette makers, and stone workers, who often established the first beachheads of settlement for the migrations to come. Many of these pioneers were merely extending generationsold migratory patterns that had earlier brought them through Europe. An old Italian proverb instructed: Chi esce riesce (He who leaves succeeds).

This initial Italian movement dispersed widely throughout America, but its numbers were too small to constitute a significant presence. By 1850, the heaviest concentration was in Louisiana (only 915 people), the result of Sicilian migration to New Orleans and its environs. Within a decade, California contained the highest total of any state—a mere 2,805—and New York, soon to become home to millions of Italian immigrants, counted 1,862.

Everything changed with mass migration, the first phase of which consisted primarily of temporary migrants—"sojourners"—who desired immediate employment, maximum savings, and quick repatriation. The movement was predominately composed of young, single men of prime working age (15-35) who clustered in America's urban centers. Multiple trips were commonplace and ties to American society, such as learning English, securing citizenship, and acquiring property, were minimal. With eyes focused on the old-world paese (village), a total of at least half of the sojourners returned to Italy, although in some years rates were much higher. Such mobility earned Italians the sobriquet "birds of passage," a label that persisted until women and families began to migrate and settlement became increasingly permanent in the years following 1910.

Migrants brought with them their family-centered peasant cultures and their fiercely local identifications, or campanilismo. They typically viewed themselves as residents of particular villages or regions, not as "Italians." The organizational and residential life of early communities reflected these facts, as people limited their associations largely to kin and paesani fellow villagers. The proliferation of narrowly based mutual aid societies and festas ( feste, or feast days) honoring local patron saints were manifestations of these tendencies. Gradually, as immigrants acclimated to the American milieu, in which others regarded them simply as Italians, and as they increasingly interacted with fellow immigrants, campanilismo gave way to a more national identity. Group-wide organization and identity, nonetheless, have always been difficult to achieve.


In terms of settlement, immigrants were (and are) highly concentrated. Using kin and village-based chain migration networks to form "Little Italies," they clustered heavily in cities in the Northeast region (the Mid-Atlantic and New England states) and the Midwest, with outposts in California and Louisiana. More than 90 percent settled in only 11 states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, and Louisiana—and approximately 90 percent congregated in urban areas. These patterns largely hold true today, although immigrants have branched out to locations such as Arizona and Florida. In every settlement area, there has been, over time, a slow but steady shift from central cities to suburbs.

Immigrants often sought out Little Italies as a result of the hostility they encountered in American society. As a despised minority rooted in the working class and seemingly resistant to assimilation, Italians suffered widespread discrimination in housing and employment. American responses to the immigrants occasionally took uglier forms as Italians became the victims of intimidation and violence, the most notorious incident being the 1890 lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans. Italian mass migration coincided with the growth of a nativism that identified southern and eastern Europeans as undesirable elements. Inspired by the pseudo-scientific findings of eugenics and social Darwinism, turn-of-the-century nativists often branded southern Italians as especially inferior. Powerful stereo-types centering on poverty, clannishness, illiteracy, high disease rates, and an alleged proclivity toward criminal activities underscored the view that southern Italians were a degenerate "race" that should be denied entry to America. Criticism of Italians became integral to the successful legislative drives to enact the nativist Literacy Test in 1917 and National Origins Acts in 1921 and 1924.

Within Little Italies, immigrants created New World societies. A network of Italian language institutions—newspapers, theaters, churches, mutual aid societies, recreational clubs, and debating societies— helped fuel an emerging Italian-American ethnic culture. Aspects of the folk, popular, and high culture intermixed in this milieu yielding an array of entertainment options. Saloons or club buildings in larger urban centers often featured traditional puppet and marionette shows while immigrant men sipped wines and played card games of mora, briscola, and tresette. By the early 1900s, a lively Italian language theater brought entertainment to thousands and sustained the careers of professional acting troupes and noted performers such as the comedic genius Eduardo Migliacco, known as "Farfariello." On a more informal level, Italian coffee houses often presented light comedies, heroic tragedies, and dialect plays sponsored by drama clubs. Italian opera was a staple in most American urban centers, and working-class Italian music halls attracted customers by offering renditions of Neapolitan or Sicilian songs and dances. Band performances and choral recitals were regularly staged on the streets of Italian settlements. Although illiteracy rates among immigrants often ran well above 50 percent, newcomers in larger cities had access to Italian language bookstores stocked with poetry, short stories, novels, and nonfiction. In 1906 one New York bookseller published a catalogue of 176 pages to advertise his merchandise.

The cultural patterns of Little Italies were constantly evolving, providing for a dynamic interplay between older forms brought from Italy and new inventions forged in the United States. Many immigrants attempted to recreate old-world celebrations and rituals upon arrival in the United States, but those that directly competed with American forms soon fell away. The celebration of Epiphany (January 6), for example, was the principal Christmas time festivity in Italy, featuring the visit of La Befana, a kindly old witch who brought presents for children. In the United States the more popular Christmas Eve and Santa Claus displaced this tradition.

Even those cultural forms more sheltered from American society were contested. Immigrant settlements were not homogenous entities. Various members of the community fought for the right to define the group, and the ongoing struggle for dominance invariably employed cultural symbols and events.

"M y first impression when I got there, I tell you the God's truth, you're in a dream. It's like in heaven. You don't know what it is. You're so happy there in America."

Felice Taldone in 1924, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).

The commercial and political elites ( prominenti )— usually aided by the Italian Catholic clergy—sought to promote Italian nationalism as a means of self-advancement. These forces invested great energy in celebrations of Italian national holidays (such as venti di settembre, which commemorated Italian unification), and in the erection of statues of such Italian heroes as Columbus, the poet Dante, and military leader Giuseppe Garibaldi.

These activities were challenged by a variety of leftist radicals ( sovversivi ), who sought very different cultural and political goals. Anarchists, socialists, and syndicalists such as Carlo Tresca and Arturo Giovannitti considered Italian Americans as part of the world proletariat and celebrated holidays ( Primo Maggio —May Day) and heroes (Gaetano Bresci, the assassin of Italian King Umberto) reflecting this image. These symbols also played roles in mass strikes and worker demonstrations led by the radicals. Meanwhile, the majority of Italian Americans continued to draw much of their identity from the peasant cultures of the old-world paese. Columbus Day, the preeminent Italian American ethnic celebration, typically blended elements of all these components, with multiple parades and competing banquets, balls, and public presentations.

World War I proved an ambiguous interlude for Italian immigrants. Italy's alliance with the United States and the service of many immigrants in the U.S. military precipitated some level of American acceptance. The war also produced, however, countervailing pressures that generated more intense nationalism among Italians and powerful drives toward assimilation—"100 percent Americanism"—in the wider society. Immigration restrictions after 1924 halted Italian immigration, although the foreign-born presence remained strong (the 1930 census recorded 1,623,000 Italian-born residents— the group's historic high). As new arrivals slowed and the second generation matured during the 1920s and 1930s, the group changed.

Several critical developments shaped the character of Italian America during the interwar years. National prohibition provided lucrative illegal markets, which some Italian Americans successfully exploited through bootlegging operations. During the 1920s, the "gangster" image of Italians (exemplified by Al Capone) was perpetuated through films and popular literature. The celebrated case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti further molded the group's national image, underwriting the conception of Italians as dangerous radicals.

The Great Depression overshadowed earlier economic gains, often forcing Italian Americans back into their family-centered ethnic communities. Here, the emerging second generation found itself in frequent conflict with the first. Heavily influenced by the traditional contadino culture passed on from their parents, the second generation uneasily straddled two worlds. Traditional notions of proper behavior, stressing collective responsibilities toward the family, strict chastity and domestic roles for females, rigid chaperonage and courting codes, and male dominance, clashed with the more individualist, consumer-driven American values children learned in schools, stores, and on the streets. Problems of marginality, lack of self-esteem, rebellion, and delinquency were the outcomes.

Partly because of these dynamics, the community structures of Little Italies began to change. The more Americanized second generation began to turn away from older, Italian-language institutions founded by immigrants, many of which collapsed during the depression. Italian theaters and music halls, for example, largely gave way to vaudeville, nickelodeons, organized sports, and radio programming. During the 1920s and 1930s, these transformations were also influenced by Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, which sponsored propaganda campaigns designed to attract the support of Italian Americans. The prominenti generally supported these initiatives, often inserting fascist symbols (the black shirt), songs ("Giovinezza"—the fascist anthem), and holidays (the anniversary of the March on Rome) into the ichnography and pageantry of America's Little Italies. A small, but vocal, anti-fascist element existed in opposition, and it substituted counter values and emblems. Memorials to Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist deputy murdered by fascists, and renditions of Bandiera Rossa and Inno di Garibaldi became fixtures of anti-fascist festivities. Thus, the cultural world of Italian America remained divided.

Any questions concerning loyalties to the United States were firmly answered when Italy declared war on the United States in 1941, and Italian Americans rushed to aid the American struggle against the Axis powers. More than 500,000 Italian Americans joined the U.S. military, serving in all theaters, including the Italian campaign. The war effort and ensuing anti-communist crusade stressed conformity, loyalty, and patriotism, and in the 1940s and 1950s it appeared that Italian Americans had comfortably settled into the melting pot. The second generation especially benefited from its war service and the postwar economic expansion as it yielded new levels of acceptance and integration. In the 1950s, they experienced substantial social mobility and embraced mass consumerism and middle-class values.

Since the end of World War II, more than 600,000 Italian immigrants have arrived in the United States. A large percentage came shortly after passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, at which time yearly totals of Italian immigrants averaged about 23,000. Beginning in 1974, the numbers steadily declined as a result of improved economic conditions in Italy and changing policies in other immigrant-receiving nations. In 1990 only 3,300 Italian immigrants were admitted to the United States, but 831,922 Italian-born residents remained in the country, guaranteeing that Italian language and culture are still part of the American cultural mosaic.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Assimilation takes place at many different levels, but for the individual, it is likely that few captured the essence of the experience better than Rosa Cavalleri. Cavalleri came from the Italian town of Cuggiono in 1884 as a frightened young woman, joining her husband in a mining camp in remote Missouri. After undergoing numerous tribulations, Cavalleri settled in Chicago, where she cleaned floors and bathrooms, while remarrying and successfully raising a family. As Cavalleri neared death in 1943, she mused: "Only one wish more I have: I'd love to go in Italia again before I die. Now I speak English good like an American I could go anywhere—where millionaires go and high people. I would look the high people in the face and ask them questions I'd like to know. I wouldn't be afraid now—not of anybody. I'd be proud I come from America and speak English. I would go to Bugiarno [Cuggiono] and see the people and talk to the bosses in the silk factory.... I could talk to the Superiora now. I'd tell her, `Why you were so mean—you threw me out that poor girl whose heart was so kind toward you? You think you'll go to heaven like that?' I'd scold them like that now. I wouldn't be afraid. They wouldn't hurt me now I come from America. Me, that's why I love America. That's what I learned in America: not to be afraid." (Marie Hall Ets, Rosa: The Life of an Italian Immigrant. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970; p. 254.)

The integration of Italians like Cavalleri into American life was a result of changes in both the group and the larger society. Italians were beginning to make a commitment to permanent settlement. This process was substantially underway by 1910, cresting in the 1920s when new immigration fell off. After this, perpetuation of the old-world public culture became increasingly difficult, although the family-based value structure was more resilient. During the 1920s and 1930s, the second generation continued to display many of its hallmarks: children of immigrants still held largely blue-collar occupations and were underrepresented in schools, tied to Little Italy residences, and attracted to in-group marriages—choices that demonstrated the continuing power of parental mores.

Changing contexts, however, diminished the "social distance" separating Italians from other Americans. In the 1930s, second-generation Italian Americans joined forces with others in labor unions and lobbied for benefits. They also began to make political gains as part of the Democratic Party's New Deal coalition. Also for the first time, the national popular culture began to include Italian Americans among its heroes. In music, sports, politics, and cinema the careers of Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, Fiorello LaGuardia, Frank Capra, and Don Ameche suggested that national attitudes toward Italians were in transition.

World War II was a critical benchmark in the acceptance of Italian Americans. Their wholehearted support of America's cause and their disproportionately high ratio of service in the military legitimized them in American eyes. The war also transformed many Little Italies, as men and women left for military service or to work in war industries. Upon their return, many newly affluent Italian Americans left for suburban locations and fresh opportunities, further eroding the institutions and contadino culture that once thrived in ethnic settlements.

The Cold War pushed the group further into the mainstream as Italian Americans joined in the anti-communist fervor gripping the nation. Simultaneously, structural changes in the economy vastly expanded the availability of white collar, managerial positions, and Italian Americans jumped to take advantage. Beginning in the 1950s, they pursued higher education in greater numbers than ever before, many receiving aid as a result of the G.I. Bill. Such developments put them into more immediate and positive contact with other Americans, who exhibited greater acceptance in the postwar years.

Ironically, a resurgent Italian American ethnicity emerged at the same time, as the group experienced increasing integration into the larger society. Italian Americans were active participants in the ethnic revival of the 1960s and 1970s. As American core values came under assault in the midst of Vietnam, Watergate, and the rising counterculture, and the nation's urban centers became torn by riots and civil protest, Italian Americans felt especially vulnerable and besieged. Unlike other ethnic groups, they had remained in urban enclaves, manifesting high rates of home owner-ship, where they now found themselves in contact and conflict with African Americans. Many interpreted the ensuing clashes in cultural terms, seeing themselves as an embattled minority defending traditional values in the face of new compensatory government programs. In response, ethnic traditions surrounding family, neighborhood, and homes gained heightened visibility and strength. New Italian American organizations and publications fostering ethnic identity came into being, and many old rituals experienced a resurgence, most notably the celebration of the feste.

Intermarriage rates increased after the 1950s, especially among the third and fourth generations who were now coming of age. By 1991, the group's overall in-marriage rate was just under 33 percent, above the average of 26 percent for other ethnic groups. But among those born after 1940—by now a majority—the rate was only 20 percent, and these marriages crossed both ethnic and religious lines. Once a marginalized, despised minority, Italian Americans are now among the most highly accepted groups according to national surveys measuring "social distance" indicators (Italians ranked fourteenth in 1926, but fifth in 1977). All of the statistical data point to a high level of structural assimilation in American society, although Italian American ethnicity has not disappeared.

That Italian American identity has lost much of its former negative weight is suggested further by recent census figures for ancestry group claiming. The 1980 census recorded 12.1 million individuals who claimed Italian ancestry (5.4 percent of national population). By 1990 this figure had risen to 14.7 million (5.9 percent), indicating that ethnicity remains an important and acceptable component of self-identification for substantial numbers of Italian Americans.

Despite strong evidence of integration, Italian Americans retain distinguishing characteristics. They are still geographically concentrated in the old settlement areas, and they display a pronounced attachment to the values of domesticity and family loyalty. Italian Americans still rely heavily on personal and kin networks in residential choices, visiting patterns, and general social interaction. Perhaps most distinctive, the group continues to suffer from stereotypes associating it with criminal behavior, especially in the form of organized crime and the mafia. These images have persisted despite research documenting that Italian Americans possess crime rates no higher than other segments of American society and that organized crime is a multi-ethnic enterprise. Television and film images of Italian Americans continue to emphasize criminals, "lovable or laughable dimwits" who engage in dead-end jobs, and heavy-accented, obese "Mamas" with their pasta pots.

These representations have influenced the movement of Italian Americans into the highest levels of corporate and political life. The innuendos of criminal ties advanced during Geraldine Ferraro's candidacy for vice-president in 1984 and during Mario Cuomo's aborted presidential bids illustrate the political repercussions of these stereotypes, and many Italian Americans believe that bias has kept them underrepresented in the top echelons of the business world. Since the 1970s, such organizations as the Americans of Italian Descent, the Sons of Italy in America, and the National Italian American Foundation have mounted broad-based anti-defamation campaigns protesting such negative imagery.


The major national holidays of Italy— Festa della Republica (June 5), Festa dell'Unità Nazionale (November 6), and Festa del Lavoro (May 1)—are no longer occasions of public celebration among Italian Americans. Some religious holidays, such as Epifania di Gesù (January 6), receive only passing notice. Most Italian Americans celebrate Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Easter Day, but usually without any particular ethnic character. The principal occasions of public celebration typically revolve around Columbus Day, the quintessential Italian American national holiday, and the feste honoring patron saints. In both cases, these events have, in general, become multi-day celebrations virtually devoid of any religious or Italian national connotation, involving numerous non-Italians.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, St. Joseph's Day (March 19) is celebrated by some members of the Italian-American community. The tradition began in Sicily, the origin of much of New Orleans' Italian-American population. The day was commemorated by the building of temporary three-tiered alters, loaded with food offerings for the saint. The alters were found in private homes, churches, some restaurants, and public places associated with Italians, with the general public invited. Visitors to the alters are often given lagniappe (a sack of cookies and fava beans, a good luck charm) to take home.

Preparations for St. Joseph's Day began several weeks in advance with baking of cookies, breads and cakes. Cookies, such as twice-baked biscotti and sesame-seed varieties, could be shaped into forms with religious significance. Bread, cannoli, seafood and vegetable dishes are also found on the alter. Such dishes include forschias and pasta Milanese covered with mudriga. Mudriga was also called St. Joseph's sawdust, made of bread crumbs and sugar. No meat was found because the holiday almost always falls during Lent. In addition to food, the alter often had an image of St. Joseph, home grown flowers, candles and palm branches.

Italian immigrants utilized traditional costumes, folk songs, folklore, and dances for special events, but like many aspects of Italian life, they were so regionally specific that they defy easy characterization. Perhaps the most commonly recognized folk dance, the tarantella, for example, is Neapolitan, with little diffusion elsewhere in the peninsula.


The difficult conditions of daily life in Italy dictated frugal eating habits. Most peasants consumed simple meals based on whatever vegetables or grains (lentils, peas, fava beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, and wild greens) were prevalent in each region. A staple for most common folk was coarse black bread. Pasta was a luxury, and peasants typically ate meat only two or three times a year on special holidays. Italian cuisine was—and still is—regionally distinctive, and even festive meals varied widely. The traditional Christmas dish in Piedmont was agnolotti (ravioli), while anguille (eels) were served in Campania, sopa friulana (celery soup) in Friuli, and bovoloni (fat snails) in Vicenza.

In the United States, many immigrants planted small backyard garden plots to supplement the table and continued to raise cows, chickens, and goats whenever possible. Outdoor brick ovens were commonplace, serving as clear ethnic markers of Italian residences. With improved economic conditions, pastas, meats, sugar, and coffee were consumed more frequently. One New York City immigrant remembered asking, "Who could afford to eat spaghetti more than once a week [in Italy]? In America no one starved, though a family earned no more than five or six dollars a week.... Don't you remember how our paesani here in America ate to their hearts delight till they were belching like pigs, and how they dumped mountains of uneaten food out the window? We were not poor in America; we just had a little less than others." (Leonard Covello, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972; p. 295.)

"Italian cooking" in the United States has come to mean southern-Italian, especially Neapolitan, cuisine, which is rich in tomato sauces, heavily spiced, and pasta-based. Spaghetti and meatballs (not generally known in Italy) and pizza are perhaps the quintessential Italian dishes in the United States. More recently, northern Italian cooking— characterized by rice ( risotto ) and corn ( polenta ) dishes and butter-based recipes—has become increasingly common in homes and restaurants. Garlic ( aglio ), olive oil ( olio d'oliva ), mushrooms ( funghi ), and nuts ( nochi ) of various types are common ingredients found in Italian cooking. Wine ( vino ), consumed in moderate amounts, is a staple. Overall, Italian dishes have become so popular that they have been accepted into the nation's dietary repertoire, but not in strictly old-world forms. Americanized dishes are generally milder in their spicing and more standardized than old-world fare.


A number of Italian American organizations have supported the Cooley's Anemia Foundation to fund research into Thalassemia, once thought to be a sickle cell anemia confined to persons of Mediterranean ancestry. Recent research has demonstrated the fallacy of this belief, however, and contributions have largely ceased.


Italian is a Romance language derived directly from Latin; it utilizes the Latin alphabet, but the letters "j," "k," "w," "x," and "y" are found only in words of foreign origin. "Standard" Italian—based on the Tuscan dialect—is a relatively recent invention, and was not used universally until well into the twentieth century. Numerous dialects were the dominant linguistic feature during the years of mass immigration.

Italian dialects did not simply possess different tonalities or inflections. Some were languages in their own right, with separate vocabularies and, for a few, fully developed literatures (e.g., Venetian, Piedmontese, and Sicilian). Italy's mountainous terrain produced conditions in which proximate areas often possessed mutually unintelligible languages. For example, the word for "today" in standard Italian is oggi, but ancheuj in Piedmontese, uncuĂł in Venetian, ste iorne in Sicilian, and oji in Calabrian. Similarly, "children" in Italian is bambini, but it becomes cit in Piedomontese, fruz in Friulian, guagliuni in Neapolitan, zitedi in Calabrian, and picciriddi in Sicilian. Thus, language facilitated campanilismo, further fragmenting the emerging Italian American world.

Very soon after the Italians' arrival, all dialects became infused with Americanisms, quickly creating a new form of communication often intelligible only to immigrants. The new patois was neither Italian nor English, and it included such words as giobba for job, grossiera for grocery, bosso for boss, marachetta for market, baccausa for outhouse, ticchetto for ticket, bisiniss for business, trocco for truck, sciabola for shovel, loffare for the verb to loaf, and carpetto for carpet. Angelo Massari, who immigrated to Tampa, Florida, in 1902, described preparations in his Sicilian village prior to leaving it: "I used to interview people who had returned from America. I asked them thousands of questions, how America was, what they did in Tampa, what kind of work was to be had.... One of them told me the language was English, and I asked him how to say one word or another in that language. I got these wonderful samples of a Sicilian-American English from him: tu sei un boia, gud morni, olraiti, giachese, misti, sciusi, bred, iessi, bud [you are a boy, good morning, alright, jacket, mister, excuse me, bread, yes, but]. He told me also that in order to ask for work, one had to say, `Se misti gari giobbi fo mi?' [Say, mister got a job for me?]." (Angelo Massari, The Wonderful Life of Angelo Massari, translated by Arthur Massolo. New York: Exposition Press, 1965; pp. 46-47.)

Italian proverbs tend to reflect the conditions of peasant and immigrant lives: Work hard, work always, and you will never know hunger; He who leaves the old way for the new knows what he loses but knows not what he will find; Buy oxen and marry women from your village only; The wolf changes his skin but not his vice; The village is all the world; Do not miss the Saint's day, he helps you and provides at all times; Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you what you are; He who respects others will be respected.

Family and Community Dynamics

The family ( la famiglia ) rested at the heart of Italian society. Family solidarity was the major bulwark from which the rural population confronted a harsh society, and the family unit (including blood relatives and relatives by marriage) became the center of allegiances. Economically and socially, the family functioned as a collective enterprise, an "all-inclusive social world" in which the individual was subordinated to the larger entity. Parents expected children to assist them at an early age by providing gainful labor, and family values stressed respect for the elderly, obedience to parents, hard work, and deference to authority.

The traditional Italian family was "father-headed, but mother-centered." In public, the father was the uncontested authority figure and wives were expected to defer to their husbands. At home, however, females exercised considerable authority as wives and mothers, and played central roles in sustaining familial networks. Still, male children occupied a favored position of superiority over females, and strong family mores governed female behavior. Women's activities were largely confined to the home, and strict rules limited their public behavior, including access to education and outside employment. Formal rituals of courting, chaperonage, and arranged marriages strictly governed relations between the sexes. Above all, protection of female chastity was critical to maintaining family honor.

Family and kin networks also guided migration patterns, directing precise village flows to specific destinations. During sojourner migrations, the work of women in home villages sustained the family well-being in Italy and allowed male workers to actively compete in the world labor market. In America, the extended family became an important network for relatives to seek and receive assistance. Thus, migration and settlement operated within a context of family considerations.

Attempts to transfer traditional family customs to America engendered considerable tension between generations. More educated and Americanized children ventured to bridge two worlds in which the individualist notions of American society often clashed with their parents' family-centered ethos. Still, strong patterns of in-marriage characterized the second generation, and many of their parents' cultural values were successfully inculcated. These carryovers resulted in a strong attachment to neighborhoods and families, consistent deference to authority, and blue-collar work choices. The second generation, however, began to adopt American practices in terms of family life (seen, for example, in smaller family size and English language usage), and the collective nature of the unit began to break down as the generations advanced.


The peasant culture placed little value on formal instruction, seeking instead to have children contribute as soon as possible to family earnings. From the peasant perspective, education consisted primarily of passing along moral and social values through parental instruction (the term buon educato means "well-raised or behaved"). In southern Italy, formal education was seldom a means of upward mobility since public schools were not institutions of the people. They were poorly organized and supported, administered by a distrusted northern bureaucracy, and perceived as alien to the goals of family solidarity. Proverbs such as "Do not let your children become better than you" spoke to these perceptions, and high rates of illiteracy testified to their power.

These attitudes remained strong among immigrants in America, many of whom planned a quick repatriation and saw little reason to lose children's wages. Parents also worried about the individualist values taught in American public schools. The saying "America took from us our children" was a common lament. Thus, truancy rates among Italians were high, especially among girls, for whom education had always been regarded as unnecessary since tradition dictated a path of marriage, motherhood, and homemaking.

Antagonism toward schools was derived not only from culture, but also from economic need and realistic judgments about mobility possibilities. Given the constricted employment options open to immigrants (largely confined to manual, unskilled labor), and the need for family members to contribute economically, extended schooling offered few rewards. From the parental viewpoint, anything threatening the family's collective strength was dangerous. Generations frequently clashed over demands to terminate formal education and find work, turn over earnings, and otherwise assist the family financially in other ways. Prior to World War I, less than one percent of Italian children were enrolled in high school.

As the second generation came of age in the 1920s and 1930s and America moved toward a service economy, however, education received greater acceptance. Although the children of immigrants generally remained entrenched in the working class (though frequently as skilled workers), they extended their education, often attending vocational schools, and could be found among the nation's clerks, bookkeepers, managers, and sales personnel. The economic downturn occasioned by the depression resulted in increased educational opportunities for some immigrants since job prospects were limited.

Italian Americans were well situated in post-World War II America to take advantage of the national expansion of secondary and higher education. They hastened to enroll in G.I. Bill programs and in the 1950s and 1960s began to send sons and daughters to colleges. By the 1970s, Italian Americans averaged about 12 years of formal education; in 1991 the group slightly surpassed the national mean of 12.7 years.


Although Italian immigrants were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, their faith was a personal, folk religion of feast days and peasant traditions that often had little to do with formal dogma or rituals. As such, its practices differed greatly from those encountered in America's Irish-dominated Catholic Church. Unlike Irish Americans, most Italians possessed no great reverence for priests (who had sometimes been among the oppressors in Italy) or the institutions of the official Church, and they disliked what they regarded as the impersonal, puritanical, and overly doctrinal Irish approach to religion. As in Italy, men continued to manifest anticlerical traditions and to attend church only on selected occasions, such as weddings and funerals.

For their part, the Irish clergy generally regarded Italians as indifferent Catholics—even pagans— and often relegated them to basement services. The Irish American hierarchy agonized over the "Italian Problem," and suspicion and mistrust initially characterized relations between the groups, leading to defections among the immigrant generation and demands for separate parishes. A disproportionately

Italian Americans honor St. Amato in this Queens, New York, parade.
Italian Americans honor St. Amato in this Queens, New York, parade.
low presence of Italian Americans in the church leadership today is at least partially a legacy of this strained relationship. Protestant missionaries were not unaware of these developments. Many attempted to win converts, but met with very little success. With the establishment of "national parishes," however, the Catholic Church hit firmer ground, and Italian parishes proliferated after 1900. In many settlements, parish churches became focal points providing a sense of ethnic identity, a range of social services, and a source of community adhesion.

Italian immigrant Catholicism centered on the local patron saints and the beliefs, superstitions, and practices associated with the feste. The feste not only assisted in perpetuating local identities, but they also served as a means for public expression of immigrant faith. In the early years, feast days replicated those of the homeland. Festivals were occasions for great celebration, complete with music, parades, dancing, eating, and fireworks displays. At the high point, statues of local saints such as San Rocco, San Giuseppe, or San Gennaro, were carried through the streets of Little Italies in a procession. New Yorker Richard Gambino, in Blood of My Blood, recalled the feast days of his youth: "Not long ago there were many such street feste. Their aromas of food, the sight of burly men swaying from side to side and lurching forward under the weight of enormous statues of exotic Madonnas and saints laden with money and gifts, the music of Italian bands in uniforms with dark-peaked caps, white shirts, and black ties and the bright arches of colored lights spanning the city streets.... True to the spirit of campanilismo, each group of paesani in New York had its festa. Three feste were larger than the others. Sicilians, especially from the region of Agrigento, went all out for the huge September festival of San Gandolfo. In July, thousands turned out to honor the Madonna del Carmine. And in the fall, Neapolitans paid their respect to the patron of their mother city, San Gennaro."

Worshippers lined the streets as processions moved toward the parish church, and they vied to pin money on the statue, place gifts on platforms, or make various penances (walking barefoot, crawling, licking the church floor [ lingua strascinuni ], reciting certain prayers). Irish prelates frequently attempted to ban such events, viewing them as pagan rituals and public spectacles. A cluster of beliefs focusing on the folk world of magic, witches, ghosts, and demons further estranged Italians from the church hierarchy. Many immigrants were convinced, for example, of the existence of the evil eye ( malocchio or jettatura ), and believed that wearing certain symbols, the most potent of which were associated with horns ( corni ) or garlic amulets, provided protection from its power.

As the second and subsequent generations grew to maturity, most strictly old-world forms of religious observance and belief were discarded, leading to what some have called the "hibernization" of Italian American Catholicism. Many feast day celebrations remain, although, in some cases, they have been transformed into mass cultural events which draw thousands of non-Italians. The San Gennaro feste in Manhattan's Little Italy is a case in point: once celebrated only by Neapolitans, it now attracts heterogeneous crowds from hundreds of miles away.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Throughout the years of mass migration, Italians clustered heavily in the ranks of unskilled, manual labor. In part, this seems to have resulted from cultural preference—men favored outdoor jobs dovetailing old-world skills—and immigrant strategies that sought readily available employment in order to return quickly to Italy with nest eggs. But American employers also imposed the choice of positions since many regarded Italians as unsuited for indoor work or heavy industry. Immigrants thus frequently engaged in seasonal work on construction sites and railroads and in mines and public works projects. Male employment often operated under the "boss system" in which countrymen ( padroni ) served as middlemen between gangs of immigrant workers and American employers. Married women generally worked at home, either concentrating on family tasks or other home-based jobs such as keeping boarders, attending to industrial homework, or assisting in family-run stores. In larger urban centers, unmarried women worked outside the home in garment, artificial flower, and costume jewelry factories, and in sweatshops and canneries, often laboring together in all-Italian groups.

Some Little Italies were large enough to support a full economic structure of their own. In these locations, small import stores, shops, restaurants, fish merchants, and flower traders proliferated, offering opportunities for upward mobility within the ethnic enclave. In many cities, Italians dominated certain urban trades such as fruit and vegetable peddling, confectioniering, rag picking, shoe-shining, ice-cream vending, and stevedoring. A portion of the immigrants were skilled artisans who typically replicated their old-world crafts of shoemaking and repairing, tailoring, carpentry, and barbering.

The dense concentration of Italian Americans in blue-collar occupations persisted into the second generation, deriving from deliberate career choices, attitudes toward formal education, and the economic dynamics of the nation. Italians had begun to make advances out of the unskilled ranks during the prosperous 1920s, but many gains were overshadowed during the Great Depression. Partially in response to these conditions, Italians—both men and women—moved heavily into organized labor during the 1930s, finding the CIO industrial unions especially attractive. Union memberships among Italian Americans rose significantly; by 1937, the AFL International Ladies Garment Workers Union (with vice president Luigi Antonini) counted nearly 100,000 Italian members in the New York City area alone. At the same time, women were becoming a presence in service and clerical positions.

The occupational choices of Italian Americans shifted radically after World War II, when structural changes in the American economy facilitated openings in more white collar occupations. Italian Americans were strategically situated to take advantage of these economic shifts, being clustered in the urban areas where economic expansion took place and ready to move into higher education. Since the 1960s, Italian Americans have become solidly grounded in the middle-class, managerial, and professional ranks. As a group, by 1991 they had equalled or surpassed national averages in income and occupational prestige.

Politics and Government

Italians were slow to take part in the American political process. Due to the temporary nature of early migration, few took the time to achieve naturalization in order to vote. Anti-government attitudes, exemplified in the ladro governo ("the government as thief") outlook, also limited participation. Hence, Italian voters did not initially translate into political clout. Early political activity took place at the urban machine level, where immigrants typically encountered Irish Democratic bosses offering favors in return for support, but often blocking out aspiring Italian politicians. In such cities, those Italians seeking office frequently drifted to the Republican Party.

Naturalization rates increased during the 1920s, but the next decade was marked by a political watershed. During the 1930s, Italian Americans joined the Democratic New Deal coalition, many becoming politically active for the first time in doing so. The careers of independent/sometime-Republican Fiorello LaGuardia and leftist Vito Marcantonio benefited from this expansion. As a concentrated urban group with strong union ties, Italians constituted an important component of President Franklin Roosevelt's national support. The Democratic hold on Italians was somewhat shaken by Roosevelt's "dagger in the back" speech condemning Italy's attack on France in 1940, but, overall, the group maintained its strong commitment to the Party. In the early 1970s, only 17 percent of Italian Americans were registered Republicans (45 percent were registered Democrats), although many began to vote Republican in recent presidential elections. Both President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush were supported by strong Italian-American majorities. Overall, the group has moved from the left toward the political center. By 1991, Italian American voter registrations were 35 percent Republican and 32 percent Democratic.

The political ascent of Italian Americans came after World War II with the maturation of the second and third generations, the acquisition of increased education and greater wealth, and a higher level of acceptance by the wider society. Italian Americans were well-represented in city and state offices and had begun to penetrate the middle ranks of the federal government, especially the judicial system. By the 1970s and 1980s, there were Italian American cabinet members, governors, federal judges, and state legislators. Only four Italian Americans sat in Congress during the 1930s, but more than 30 served in the 1980s; in 1987 there were three U.S. Senators. The candidacy of Geraldine Ferraro for the Democratic vice presidency in 1984, the high profile of New York governor Mario Cuomo in American political discourse, and the appointment of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court are indicative of the group's political importance.

Since World War II, most Italian Americans have remained largely uninvolved in—even ignorant of—the political affairs of Italy, no doubt a legacy of World War II and the earlier brush with fascism. They have been very responsive, however, to appeals for relief assistance during periodic natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Individual and Group Contributions

Italians constitute such a large and diverse group that notable individuals have appeared in virtually every aspect of American life.


Lorenzo Da Ponte (1747-1838), taught courses on Italian literature at Columbia University and sponsored the first Italian opera house in Manhattan in the 1830s. Prior to becoming president of Yale University in 1977, A. Bartlett Giamatti (1938-1989) was a distinguished scholar of English and comparative literature. He resigned his presidency to become the commissioner of the National Baseball League. Peter Sammartino (1904-1992) taught at the City College of New York and Columbia University before founding Fairleigh Dickinson University. He published 14 books on various aspects of education.


Amadeo P. Giannini (1870-1949) began a store-front bank in the Italian North Beach section of San Francisco in 1904. Immediately after the 1906 earthquake he began granting loans to residents to rebuild. Later, Giannini pioneered in branch banking and in financing the early film industry. Giannini's Bank of America eventually became the largest bank in the United States. Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca (1924– ) became president of Ford Motor Company in 1970. Iacocca left Ford after eight years to take over the ailing Chrysler Corporation, which was near bankruptcy. He rescued the company, in part through his personal television ads which made his face instantly recognizable. Iacocca also spent four years as chairman of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation, which supported the refurbishment of these national monuments.


Frank Capra (1897-1991) directed more than 20 feature films and won three Academy Awards for Best Director. His films, stamped with an upbeat optimism, became known as "Capra-corn." Capra won his Oscars for It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can't Take It With You (1938), but he is also well known for Lost Horizon (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It's a Wonderful Life (1947). In addition to directing, Capra served four terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and three terms as president of the Screen Directors Guild. Francis Ford Coppola (1939– ) earned international fame as director of The Godfather (1972), an adaptation of Mario Puzo's best selling novel. The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Among numerous other films, Coppola has made two sequels to The Godfather ; the second film of this trilogy, released in 1974, also won multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Martin Scorcese (1942– ), film director and screenwriter, directed Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Good Fellas (1990), among others, all of which draw from the urban, ethnic milieu of his youth. Sylvester Stallone (1946– ), actor, screenwriter, and director, has gained fame in each of these categories. He is perhaps best known as the title character in both Rocky (1976), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture (and spawned four sequels), and the Rambo series. Don Ameche (1908-1993), whose career spanned several decades, performed in vaudeville, appeared on radio serials ("The Chase and Sanborn Hour"), and starred in feature films. Ameche first achieved national acclaim in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1941) and appeared in many films, earning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Cocoon (1986). Ernest Borgnine (born Ermes Effron Borgnino, 1915– ) spent his early acting career portraying villains, such as the brutal prison guard in From Here to Eternity, but captured the hearts of Americans with his sensitive portrayal of a Bronx butcher in Marty (1956), for which he won an Academy Award. Borgnine also appeared on network television as Lieutenant Commander Quintin McHale on "McHale's Navy," a comedy series that ran on ABC from 1962 to 1965. Liza Minnelli (1946– ), stage, television, and motion picture actress and vocalist, won an Academy Award for Cabaret (1972), an Emmy for Liza with a Z (1972), and a Tony Award for The Act (1977).


Pietro DiDonato (1911-1992) published the classic Italian immigrant novel, Christ in Concrete, in 1939 to critical acclaim. He also captured the immigrant experience in later works, including Three Circles of Light (1960) and Life of Mother Cabrini (1960). Novelist Jerre Mangione (1909– ) wrote Mount Allegro (1943), an autobiographical work describing his upbringing among Sicilian Americans in Rochester, New York. Mangione is also noted for his Reunion in Sicily (1950), An Ethnic at Large (1978), and La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience (1992), with Ben Morreale. Gay Talese (1932– ), began his career as a reporter for the New York Times, but later earned fame for his national bestsellers, including The Kingdom and the Power (1969), Honor Thy Father (1971), and Thy Neighbor's Wife (1980). Talese's Unto the Sons (1992) dealt with his own family's immigrant experience. The poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919– ) captured the essence of the Beat Generation during the 1950s and 1960s. His San Francisco bookstore, City Lights Books, became a gathering place for literary activists. John Ciardi (1916-1986), poet, translator, and literary critic, published over 40 books of poetry and criticism and profoundly impacted the literary world as the long-time poetry editor of the Saturday Review. Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy is regarded as definitive. Novelist Mario Puzo (1920– ) published two critical successes, Dark Arena (1955) and The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965), prior to The Godfather in 1969, which sold over ten million copies and reached vast audiences in its film adaptations. Helen Barolini (1925– ), poet, essayist, and novelist, explored the experiences of Italian-American women in her Umbertina (1979) and The Dream Book (1985).


Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra (1915-1998), began singing with the Harry James Band in the late 1930s, moved to the Tommy Dorsey Band, and then became America's first teenage idol in the early 1940s, rising to stardom as a "crooner." Moving into film, Sinatra established a new career in acting that was launched in 1946. He won an Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity in 1953. Since 1954, Sinatra has made 31 films, released at least 800 records, and participated in numerous charity affairs.

Mario Lanza (1921-1959) was a famous tenor who appeared on radio, in concert, on recordings, and in motion pictures. Vocalist and television star Perry Como (born Pierino Roland Como, 1913– ) hosted one of America's most popular television shows in the 1950s. Frank Zappa (1940-1993), musician, vocalist, and composer, founded the influential rock group Mothers of Invention in the 1960s. Noted for his social satire and musical inventiveness, Zappa was named Pop Musician of the Year for three years in a row in 1970-1972.


Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947) gained national fame as an energetic mayor of New York City, in which capacity he served for three terms (1934-1945). Earlier, LaGuardia sat for six terms as a Republican representative in the U.S. Congress. Known as "The Little Flower," LaGuardia earned a reputation as an incorruptible, hard working, and humane administrator. John O. Pastore (1912– ) was the first Italian American to be elected a state governor (Rhode Island, 1945). In 1950, he represented that state in the U.S. Senate. Geraldine Ferraro (1935– ) was the first American woman nominated for vice president by a major political party in 1984 when she ran with Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale. Her earlier career included service as assistant district attorney in New York and two terms in the U.S. Congress. Mario Cuomo (1932– ) was elected governor of New York in 1982 and has been reelected twice since then. Prior to his election as governor, Cuomo served as lieutenant governor and New York's secretary of state.

John J. Sirica (1904-1992), chief federal judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, presided over the Watergate trials. He was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1973. Antonin Scalia (1936– ) became the first Italian American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court when he was appointed Associate Justice in 1986. Rudolph W. Giuliani (1944– ), served for many years as U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York and waged war against organized crime and public corruption. In 1993, he was elected mayor of New York City.


Father Eusebio Chino (Kino) (1645-1711) was a Jesuit priest who worked among the native people of Mexico and Arizona for three decades, establishing more than 20 mission churches, exploring wide areas, and introducing new methods of agriculture and animal-raising. Francesca Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), the first American to be sainted by the Roman Catholic Church, worked with poor Italian immigrants throughout North and South America, opening schools, orphanages, hospitals, clinics, and novitiates for her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.


Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), a refugee from Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, is regarded as the "father of atomic energy." Fermi was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics for his identification of new radioactive elements produced by neutron bombardment. He worked with the Manhattan Project during World War II to produce the first atomic bomb, achieving the world's first self-sustaining chain reaction on December 2, 1942. Salvador Luria (1912-1991) was a pioneer of molecular biology and genetic engineering. In 1969, while he was a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Luria was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on viruses. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909– ) was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in cell biology and cancer research. Emilio Segre (1905-1989), a student of Fermi, received the 1959 Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the antiproton.


Joseph "Joe" DiMaggio (1914-1999), the "Yankee Clipper," was voted the Greatest Living Player in baseball. DiMaggio set his 56 consecutive game hitting streak in 1941. (The record still stands.) In a career spanning 1936 to 1951, DiMaggio led the New York Yankees to ten world championships and retired with a .325 lifetime batting average. At the time of his death, Vincent Lombardi (1913-1970) was the winningest coach in professional football, and the personification of tenacity and commitment in American sports. As head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led the team to numerous conference, league, and world titles during the 1960s, including two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. Rocky Marciano (born Rocco Francis Marchegiano, 1924-1969) was the only undefeated heavyweight boxing champion, winning all his fights. Known as the "Brockton Bomber," Marciano won the heavyweight championship over Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 and held it until his voluntary retirement in 1956. Rocky Graziano (born Rocco Barbella, 1922– ), middleweight boxing champion, is best known for his classic bouts with Tony Zale. Lawrence "Yogi" Berra (1925– ), a Baseball Hall of Fame member who played for the New York Yankees as catcher for 17 years, enjoyed a career that lasted from 1946 to 1963. He also coached and managed several professional baseball teams, including the New York Mets and the Houston Astros. Joseph Garagiaola (1926– ) played with the St. Louis Cardinals (1946-1951) and several other Major League clubs.


Frank Stella (1936– ) pioneered the development of "minimal art," involving three-dimensional, "shaped" paintings and sculpture. His work has been exhibited in museums around the world. Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880), a political exile from the liberal revolutions of the 1840s, became known as "the Michelangelo of the United States Capitol." Brumidi painted the interior of the dome of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., from 1865 to 1866, as well as numerous other areas of the building. Ralph Fasanella (1914– ), a self-taught primitive painter whose work has been compared to that of Grandma Moses, is grounded in his immigrant backgrounds.



Since the mid-1800s, more than 2,000 Italian American newspapers have been established, representing a full range of ideological, religious, professional, and commercial interests. As of 1980, about 50 newspapers were still in print.

America Oggi ( America Today ).

Currently the only Italian-language daily newspaper in the United States.

Contact: Andrea Mantineo, Editor.

Address: 41 Bergentine Avenue, Westwood, New Jersey 07675.

Telephone: (212) 268-0250.

Fax: (212) 268-0379.


Fra Noi ( Among Us ).

A monthly publication in a bilingual format by the Catholic Scalabrini order; features articles on issues primarily of interest to Chicago's Italian community.

Contact: Paul Basile, Editor.

Address: 263 North York Road, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126.

Telephone: (708) 782-4440.

Italian Americana: Cultural and Historical Review.

An international journal published semi-annually by the University of Rhode Island's College of Continuing Education.

Contact: Carol Bonomo Albright, Editor.

Address: 199 Promenade Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02908.

Italian Tribune News.

Publishes a heavily illustrated journal that features articles weekly in English on Italian culture and Italian American contributions.

Contact: Joan Alagna, Editor.

Address: 427 Bloomfield Avenue, Newark, New Jersey 07107.

Telephone: (201) 485-6000.

Fax: (201) 485-8967.


The Italian Voice ( La Voce Italiana ).

Provides regional, national, and local news coverage; published weekly in English.

Contact: Cesarina A. Earl, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 9, Totowa, New Jersey 07511.

Telephone: (201) 942-5028.

Sons of Italy Times.

Publishes news bi-weekly concerning the activities of Sons of Italy lodges and the civic, professional, and charitable interests of the membership.

Contact: John B. Acchione III, Editor.

Address: 414 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106-3323.

Telephone: (215) 592-1713.

Fax: (215) 592-9152.


VIA: Voices in Italian Americana.

A literary journal published by Purdue University.

Contact: Fred L. Gardophe, Editor.

Address: Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, 1359 Stanley Coulter Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907-1359.

Telephone: (765) 494-3839.

Fax: (765) 496-1700.


WHLD-AM (1270).

Broadcasts eight hours of Italian-language programming a week.

Contact: Paul A. Butler.

Address: 2692 Staley Road, Grand Island, New York 14072.

Telephone: (716) 773-1270.

Fax: (716) 773-1498.

Online: .

WSBC-AM (1240).

Presents seven hours of Italian-language programming each week.

Contact: Roy Bellavia, General Manager.

Address: 4900 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60641.

Telephone: (773) 282-9722.

WSRF-AM (1580).

Features 12 hours of Italian-language programming weekly.

Contact: Tony Bourne, Program Director.

Address: 3000 S.W. 60th Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33314.

Telephone: (305) 581-1580.

Fax: (305) 581-1301.

WUNR-AM (1600).

Features 12 hours of programs of ethnic interest.

Contact: Jane A. Clarke.

Address: 160 North Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114-2142.

Telephone: (617) 367-9003.

Fax: (617) 367-2265.

Organizations and Associations

America-Italy Society (AIS).

Fosters friendship between Italy and the United States based upon mutual appreciation of their respective contributions to science, art, music, literature, law, and government.

Contact: Gianfranco Monacelli, President.

Address: 3 East 48th Street, New York, New York 10017.

Telephone: (212) 838-1560.

American Committee on Italian Migration.

A non-profit social service organization advocating equitable immigration legislation and aiding newly arrived Italian immigrants. It sponsors conferences, publishes a newsletter, and disseminates information beneficial to new Italian Americans.

Contact: Rev. Peter P. Polo, National Executive Secretary.

Address: 373 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (212) 679-4650.


American Italian Historical Association.

Founded in 1966 by a group of academics as a professional organization interested in promoting basic research into the Italian American experience; encourages the collection and preservation of primary source materials, and supports the teaching of Italian American history.

Contact: Fred L. Gardaphe, President.

Address: 209 Flagg Place, Staten Island, New York 11304.


Italian Cultural Exchange in the United States (ICE).

Promotes knowledge and appreciation of Italian culture among Americans.

Contact: Professor Salvatore R. Tocci, Executive Director.

Address: 27 Barrow Street, New York, New York 10014.

Telephone: (212) 255-0528.

Italian Historical Society of America.

Perpetuates Italian heritage in America and gathers historical data on Americans of Italian descent.

Contact: Dr. John J. LaCorte, Director.

Address: 111 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201.

Telephone: (718) 852-2929.

Fax: (718) 855-3925.

The National Italian American Foundation.

A nonprofit organization designed to promote the history, heritage, and accomplishments of Italian Americans and to foster programs advancing the interests of the Italian American community.

Contact: Dr. Fred Rotandaro, Executive Director.

Address: 666 Eleventh Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20001-4596.

Telephone: (202) 638-0220.


Online: .

Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA).

Established in 1905, the organization is composed of lodges located throughout the United States. It seeks to preserve and disseminate information on Italian culture and encourages the involvement of its members in all civic, charitable, patriotic, and youth activities. OSIA is committed to supporting Italian-American cultural events and fighting discrimination.

Contact: Philip R. Piccigallo, Executive Director.

Address: 219 E Street, N.E., Washington, D.C., 20002.

Telephone: (202) 547-2900.

Fax: (202) 546-8168.

Museums and Research Centers

American Italian Renaissance Foundation.

Focuses on the contributions of Italian Americans in Louisiana. Its research library also includes the wide-ranging Giovanni Schiavo collection.

Contact: Joseph Maselli, Director.

Address: 537 South Peters Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130.

Telephone: (504) 891-1904.

The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies.

Contains many documents addressing the Italian American experience in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, most notably the Leonard Covello collection. A published guide to the holdings is available.

Contact: Pamela Nelson, Associate Curator/Registrar.

Address: 18 South Seventh Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106.

Telephone: (215) 925-8090.

Fax: (215) 9258195.


Online: .

The Center for Migration Studies.

Houses a vast collection of materials depicting Italian American activities. It features extensive records of Italian American Catholic parishes staffed by the Scalabrini order. The center also provides published guides to its collections.

Contact: Dr. Lydio F. Tomasi, Director.

Address: 209 Flagg Place, Staten Island, New York, 10304.

Telephone: (718) 351-8800.

Fax: (718) 667-4598.


Online: .

Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), University of Minnesota.

IHRC is the nation's most important repository for research materials dealing with the Italian American experience. The center holds major documentary collections representing a wide cross-section of Italian American life, numerous newspapers, and many published works. A published guide is available.

Contact: Dr. Rudolph J. Vecoli, Director.

Address: 826 Berry Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114.

Telephone: (612) 627-4208.

Fax: (612) 627-4190.


Online: .

The New York Public Library, Manuscripts Division.

Holds many collections relevant to the Italian American experience, most notably the papers of Fiorello LaGuardia, Vito Marcantonio, Gino C. Speranza, and Carlo Tresca.

Address: 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10018-2788.

Telephone: (212) 930-0801.

Sources for Additional Study

Alba, Richard. Italian Americans: Into the Twilight of Ethnicity. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Battistella, Graziano. Italian Americans in the '80s: A Sociodemographic Profile. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1989.

DeConde, Alexander. Half Bitter, Half Sweet: An Excursion into Italian American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.

Gabaccia, Donna. "Italian American Women: A Review Essay," Italian Americana, Volume 12, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1993); pp. 38-61.

Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood. New York: Anchor, 1975.

Mangione, Jerre, and Ben Morriale. La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Orsi, Robert A. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Pozzetta, George E., "From Immigrants to Ethnics: The Italian American Experience," Journal of American Ethnic History, Volume 9, No. 1 (Fall 1989); pp. 67-95.

Vecoli, Rudolph J. "The Search for Italian American Identity: Continuity and Change," in Italian Americans: New Perspectives in Italian Immigration and Ethnicity, edited by Lydio Tomasi. Staten Island: Center for Migration Studies, 1985; pp. 88-112.

User Contributions:

I enjoyed every minute of this article. I got so caught up in comparing and verifying these facts with what I know and feel about my own family's background.

I am a 4th generation Italian American-New Orleanean descendant who after being rudely awakened by Katrina began to pour my heart and soul into my family's history and heritage.

So far, I have traced back to my 3rd great ancestors who lived in Palermo, Sicily. I am so pleased with my findings and have begun to find a rhyme and reason for my own personality and family values.

Thank you,
i got some great pictures of your site and it was a great site for my research project. thnx
It was a please to read. Thanks for your efforts. I'm proud to be Italian-American. I wish that the rest of us would also be too.
Loved it, my grandparents (who lived with my family) immigrated in 1910 from Potenza.

Thank you, this article provided much insite to my family.

I loved this article. It really helped me with writing my research paper.

I am proud to be an American of Italian descent. I beleive in my heart that wveryone wishes they too were Italian!!

We are the beautiful people...
Thanks a lot. This helped me a lot with my report in italians and how they came to america.
Thank you so very much for your information! I had a project for my Sociology class, and found your site to be the most informative! I will remember this in the future!
Thank you. This article has helped me to further understand the play that I am currently studying, "A view from the bridge".
Hi there, I'm studying English and Chinese translation. For my final exam I want to translate an English essay or text regarding the Italian immigration in the USA. Do you have any text or essay that I could translate (at least 40 pages).

Please let me know,
Thank you so much for the great info!
I wish I would have found your site a lot earlier. It would have saved me a lot of time!
i want to know who were the first immigrants to come to amerca and how many were there
try this one it has a little of everything in it i hope you can use it
i love you guys fer helping me out so MUCH!
love, Ana
aka yur biggest FAN!
This really helped my friends daughter about Italian immigration.
This is a very good essay. Very informative and one more good read giving us a great visual of the ever changing italiano immigrant. My grandparents were birds of passage and didn't completely settle into US until the first decade of the 20th century. I was born after both of my grandparents passed away. It s stories like this one that gives me a window into their story and mine. I am proud to be an American, just as proud as they were.
I loved reading the history and story of immigrant experience and how much courage it took to start over in a new land with different ways of life,language,etc. Both my parents people came from small towns in Campania.Napoliteans they say.They came during the mass migration 1880-1920 via New York to finally Connecticut. In Connecticut the biggest ethnic group is Italian-American.I live in Waterbury,Ct. in New Haven county and we are everywere theres a apizza joint on every corner. I wish i had half of the courage my grandparents did to move to a new land and start all over. Thank god for what they did, the values they instilled in me and for the beutifull culture they gave me.
I absolutly loved reading this. My Great Grandparents, Grandparents came to Ellis Island from Calabria, Italy in 1938. ( My mother born in the US) My grandparents have passed over 10 years ago. My mother and I finally went through pictures. I was in AWE! I have always been a very pround Italian -American. But never as proud as I was going through my family history.

As I read the caption above about Italians leaving school in 2nd or 3rd grade, instantly brought back memories of my grandmother learning English and telling me how she only went to school until the 3rd grade. I could not even believe it. My grandfather was considered to be one of the smartest in his family of 12 children and was granted an education for 8 years.

Anyways, Thank you for this site and I will be back !

Family Name: Galimi and Carbone
In the late 1800s, about one million people from northern Italy came to America.
I read a book named the orphan at Ellis Island and it is just great! It tells the life of the people who immigrated from italy. It is great book! You should read it!
Carmen Sarno
Second Generation Italian. Article brought back wonderful memories, and great times. I still try to keep up old traditions with my family. Thank You
Robert L. Frenza
Great article! I am an American with Italian and English ancestry. Grew up in Berkeley, CA so I affectionately call myself a "Melting Pot American." I'm working on my master's in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling at Cal State Univ., Sacramento and, I'd like to cite this article in a paper I'm writing on "CULMINATING PRESENTATION OF SELF - Who Am I?"

Can you provide some more information so I can cite this article properly i.e. year it was published, publisher, publisher's address, etc.


Robert L. Frenza, MS
USAF Capt. Ret.

1163 E. Bianchi Rd. Apt 41
Stockton, CA 95210

(209) 227 8094
Antoinette Mollichella
I am trying to locate some tapes of my father's radio broadcast in Philadelphia during the 1950's. He had classical and opera featured. He spoke Italian to his audience and was well known in the South Philadelphia area not only for his radio program but also for his work at the bank on Broad and Federal St. His name was Vincent J. Losco. I would love to have some of his recorded programs for my grandchildren. Is there anyway of getting them?
Thank you.
Antoinette Losco Mollichella
EmilyAnn Frances May
This entry gives a very good overview of the experiences of the Southern Italian immigrant in the early 20th century. It is helpful to me as I piece together my family history through the Federal Census and New York State Census records. The section about the educational level of the Southern Italians dovetails what I've learned about a paternal Great Aunt from Resuttano, Sicily who only completed 2nd Grade and a maternal Great Aunt from Agropoli, Italy who went only as far as 4th Grace.

I am researching the Torregrossa family line of Alphonso and Benedetta Torregrossa and welcome information on their children and descendants. I am from the branch of Francesco and Caternina (nee Di Gioccimo) Torregrossa (my Great Grandparents on the paternal side). My Maternal Family lines are Nicola and Letizia (nee Scotti)Muro and Gennaro and Emilia (nee Papalardo) Serrapede.
My husband's great grandmother was Giuseppa Torregrassa, her parents were Grispino and Filippa Torregrassa. They were from Resuttano. I'm wondering if the Alpfonso and Benedetta Torregrassa that you mention are Giuseppa's parents? I am working on my husband's family Tree, can you let me know it they are?
Santina Lopiccolo
I'm sorry for my english, I m Italian.
I write to you, after a long search because the search Lopiccolo family (Lo Piccolo) emigrated first time in Louisiana and later he settled in Brooklyn, NY;
the family was:
-Francis (Frank) Lopiccolo (. B.1887 born in San Giuseppe Jato Sicily-, IT-d circa 1954 Brooklyn, NY) and his wife was Catherine Alcamo
Address known until the year 1940 176 Menahan St
Lopiccolo, they had many children:
Benjamin - Birth June 1, 1908 "Louisiana (died April 13, 1989 Garden City, Nassau, NY) Spouse Rose Lopiccolo, children Catherine, 1931, Frank, 1934, Lucille 1939. Known until the year 1940 Address: 1259 De Kalb Avenue.
Josephine - Birth about. 1913 "Louisiana (probably married Hercules Forgione?)
Gaetana / Tina - Birth about. 1916 - New York (probably married to Sigmund Tomaszewski?)
Joseph - Birth about. 1918 - New York (fate unknown)
Florence - Birth about. 1923 - New York (ditto)
Diana - Birth about. 1925 - New York (ditto)

I am looking for many years the family Lopiccolo, Can you help me?
I'm trying to find out some history on my italian roots. My maiden name is Dorsey which is what it was changed to after my ancestors came to America. I don't know a lot About my italian family. My mom and dad divorsed when i was a baby and my mother moved me several hours away so i did not know my birth family very well and my father passed a few yrs after i was reunited with him and my grandparents and many other relatives have passed away. from the few i have left that i k ow of they are not too sure either. My father was born in brooklyn New York and he has mentioned his family came to New York from Italy and had to change their name for work.
I think he said it was Dorso and there was a baby ring that was in his family that was to be passed down to me mug my step mother said she can't find it and 8 yrs of asking her if she found it and it is still lost. If anyone can tell me anything I would greatly apreciate it.
Hello, Just wondering .. under academia, if Maria Montessori was omitted for a reason.
Sandy Montanino
If you check with the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, they can help you. They have all the records of people coming to this country. They have the ships passenger lists, who came, who they came with, how old everyone was, etc. They have baptism records, marriage records, death records, newspaper articles, military records, even criminal records for America and Italy. I know they can help you.
Frank Milazzo
A few years back I came across a book on Famous Italian's in America I can't remember the exact title however my Grandfather was in it (Dominic Ricci) from Madera, Ca being the owner of the Ricci Fruit and Packing Co of Calif. and New York, also some of the facts in this book match stories my relatives told me about my Grandfather and Giannini the founder of the Bank of America which doesn't line up with what is now written about Giannini and the B of A, can you shed some light on this and maybe tell me where I could get a copy of the above book?
Was the Italian Immigration successful or failure?
I'm first generation Italian/American. My parents,Lorenzo DeCecco and Irma Maddalena arrived in Queens, N.Y. in 1954. To immigrate from Italy then you had to be sponsored by a family member. Meaning my Uncle, Richard Maddalena took 2 years filling out paperwork which included the fact that he would be responsible for us in every way. From finding my father work, housing etc. There was no government handouts, and you were expected to learn English. My family came from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy aka The Friuli. Unlike my cousins, I grew up speaking Italian & English. My Father worked for Port Morris Tile&Terrazzo laying terrazzo till he retired at 65. Unfortunately, my beloved Mother died of Colon Cancer when I was 12 but,she had already instilled in me that I was never to forget that I was the lucky one. "You are 100% American. Study hard, work hard and you can become whomever you wish!" I took her words to heart. And, at age 60 I know my Mama looks down from Heaven proudly. I am fiercely proud of my Italian heritage. Although as a child it was difficult as everyone else was from Southern Italy where the traditions are quite different. Depending on where our ancestors came from they spoke their dialect from the region. My Mama made sure I only spoke Italian, and not our dialect. It was quite upsetting when at 7 years old my neighbor yelled at me, and told me I didn't speak Italian. Upon hearing this, my Father took me back to her ( for he spoke various dialects) and he said to her in Sicilian, No Maria. You do not speak Italian. You speak Sicilian which my daughter doesn't understand. Additionally, our region eats a lot of game, polenta, and risotto. I had no idea what spaghetti and meatballs were. In Italy itself there is no chicken parm, or double expresso's. Those are American creations. Before you visit Italy Google where you're going. You'll have a much better time. I can just sum up my experience in this way. The first time I went to Italy at 22 I was able to visit one of my Father's sisters. I was on business and was able to stay in a lovely, rustic hotel that had the only TV in the village. It was a dream to meet some of my family, and to eat, breathe, and live the Italian life. As I was staring at the Church up the hill ( where our wine, fresh goat milk, and meat came from I realized I had run out of cigarettes. As I walked up to my room I excused myself as I passed about 25 towns people watching TV. On my return trip to the restaurant of the hotel I noticed they were all watching a John Wayne movie, and cheering. Tears came to my eyes. I was the luckiest girl in the world. My heart and body in the land that generations came from in my DNA, and my Land of the Free on TV. Never take what we Americans have for granted. And, as Italians we have our family, and the best of everything else! Ciao!
This website gave me a heap of info for a project thanks
Trying to find my dads dads full name Giacomo J. Giambrone from Termini Sicily to Louisiana
Fantastic article beyond more words. I'm second-generation from the Philly area. You've helped me understand much of the dynamic between "us kids" and our Dad. I married a bond-haired blue-eyed German guy... drove Dad nuts. Now I wish he'd been with us as my kids made their traditional First Communion, and I walked across the stage to receive my masters degree. I'm hoping paternal pride would overcome the old country hangups. Actually, I'm pretty sure it would.
Tony Marchese
This article was very helpful , it's good to know more of our history in the early years in the country. I am second generation here both my grandparents were from Calabria area , they came as young children. Any other family that may be related please contact me.
Patrizia Zuccarelli
I enjoyed every minute reading this article!!! Thank you
Chelsea ferraro
Hi Elizabeth,
So I'm looking for a photo my father was is.
My dad, guiseppe Ferraro (dob 16.3.1949) came out from Naples Italy in 1957 (he thinks) on a boat called the USS Independence. He was with a group of orphans who were bought over to New York with a lady miss Falloon. The photo was in the New York Daily Newspaper.
We have been trying to find this photo for years and have had no luck.
Would you be able to assist us?
Thank you,
Chelsea Ferraro
I loved this article because I am Italian-American but know almost nothing about my heritage- so I love learning about it and I can claim all of it. I hope to immerse myself further into the culture and bond with more Italian people so I can find out more about myself. I love being Italian!

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