Italian and Italians in the United States

Authored by: Anna De Fina

Handbook of Heritage, Community, and Native American Languages in the United States

Print publication date:  January  2014
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415520669
eBook ISBN: 9780203122419
Adobe ISBN: 9781136332494

10.4324/9780203122419.ch12

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Abstract

Italian Americans are one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States. They contributed significantly to the migration wave that brought millions of immigrants from Europe to the United States between the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. Italians started migrating in high numbers around 1876, and by 1930 about 4.5 million were in the country (Mangione & Morreale, 1993). Wyman (1993) calculates the number of Italian immigrants between 1908 and 1923 at around 2 million. According to Tomasi (1975), about 5 million people had migrated from Italy to the United States by 1930, and 80% of them came from southern Italy. The majority were peasants and laborers who had fled a situation of utter poverty and discrimination in their country of origin. In that period, Italy was going through a process of unification (which concluded in 1871) under a local monarchy, the Savoia of Piedmont, after centuries of foreign rule. The new king and recently elected parliament were unable to close the social/economic gap between the north and the south and unwilling to bring social justice to regions that had been dominated by governments controlled by foreign monarchies, absentee landowners, and noblemen. The south suffered from an agricultural crisis, periodic droughts, bouts of malaria and other debilitating illnesses, lack of industrialization, lack of education, high taxation on the part of the north, and deliberate neglect and impoverishment under the Piemontese rule (Privitera, 2002). It is not surprising that under these conditions, migration to America became both a dream and a harsh reality for millions of southerners. The Italian state did not seem concerned about letting go a mass of illiterate and extremely poor people who constituted an element of continuous social unrest as a result of food and political riots.

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