EMIGRATION & IMMIGRATION
using excerpts from the Bancroft Library http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/italianamericans/index.html
Isola della Lacrime
Island of Tears was what the Italians coming to America termed
At the turn of the 20th century, between 1876 to 1924, over
four and a half million Italians arrived in the United States,
out of a population of only approximately 14 million in Italy.
Unable to earn a livelihood in their home country, they became
migratory laborers. Figures show that, for the period leading
up to 1900, an estimated 78 percent of Italian immigrants were
men in their teens and twenties, who planned to work, save money
and eventually return home to Italy. Ultimately, 20 to 30 percent
of these Italian immigrants returned to Italy permanently.
Italian immigrants established hundreds of mutual aid societies,
based mainly on kinship and place of birth. As large numbers
of Italians began to settle in America they began to establish
enclaves where they felt they would be safe from the prejudice
and fears of the largely Irish and German communities that surrounded
them. These communities are often referred to as Little Italy's
and would be a mix of small business, bakeries, taverns and
men and women selling breads and fruits from push-carts.
Many of these communities would publish their own Italian-language
newspapers, which contained news from Italy, promoted Italian
culture and provided an outlet for frustrated new immigrants
who could not yet fully understand English. L'Eco d'Italia
in New York, L'Italia in Chicago and L'Eco della
Colonia in Los Angeles were some of the main papers that
A vast majority of Italian immigrants were Catholics, but as
they arrived in America they were dismayed to discover that
the Catholic Church in America was dominated by an Irish hierarchy.
This led to further tensions between the Italians and the Irish,
Portuguese and Polish, many of whom found the Italian devotion
to the Virgin Mary and the Holy Saints as distasteful.
It was only in 1893, when the Pope became aware of the situation,
that progress was made through the establishment of the San
Raffaele Society, otherwise known as the Italian Immigration
Society. The Society helped strengthen families and unite the
Italian community by giving its members places to worship freely,
educate their children and take care of the poor. A positive
addition in both social and religious life, the Society was
headed by the Reverend Father Gaspare Moretto for over 30 years,
and it played a large part in easing the religious tensions
between the Italians and other Catholics in America. Various
other aid societies began coming to the forefront.
Sons of Italy was founded in New York around 1905,
and by 1921 its membership had reached 125,000. Societa
Italiana di Mutua Beneficenza in San Francisco,
the Italian Welfare League in New York,
and the Societa di Mututo Soccorso in Chicago
Through these organizations, Italian-Americans presented
programs which attempted to acknowledge the cultural traditions
of their "patria," or fatherland, yet glorified
their achievements here in America. In addition, these larger
organizations promoted a strong defense against intolerance
and character assassination directed towards them by the
often anti-immigration American media.
La Familiga (the family) was
at the core of Italian immigrant life, and often seen as
the root of survival. As the immigrants settled in America,
however, certain traditions pertaining to the family began
to change. The condition of life in America was not conducive
to the patriarchal culture of Italy and the language barriers
served to give the children unprecedented control over the
decisions of the families. Although the following generation
maintained certain ways of life from Italy, they incorporated
American values into their Italian culture by marrying out
of their communities and moving away from the Little Italy
After Mussolini's capture of power in Rome, he made a concerted
effort to win the loyalties of Italy's expatriate population,
especially in the United States. He found a receptive audience
in California. With memories of extreme poverty still in
their heads, Italians in California found an expression
of their pride in Italian heritage and culture in Italian
organizations and Italian schools funded by Mussolini's
new Italian government. Mussolini hoped to capitalize on
these newfound feelings of cultural pride by trying to recruit
Italian-American men to the Italian military when they visited
their relatives in the home country, and by maintaining
strong diplomatic ties to the United States.
likely to join the organizations set up by Mussolini were
those Italians who had immigrated to California in the 1880’s
and 1890’s. Their memories of extreme poverty and
illiteracy led them to admire Mussolini’s emphasis
on a vibrant nationalism.
WWII Internment of Italian Immigrants and Forced Relocation
In February of 1942, early in U.S. involvement in WWII,
President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, calling
for the internment of "enemy aliens." Interpretations
of those words varied widely throughout the country. The
officer in charge of the Pacific Coast, Lt. Gen. John Dewitt,
had a liberal definition which meant that Germans and Italians
who did not naturalize, especially those who were still
illiterate and therefore "lacking evidence of integration
into American society," were at risk for internment.
While the Italian-American population of California had
a long history of community business involvement and integrating
with the larger California population, those who had not
sought naturalization, which meant taking an oath of loyalty
to the United States, became the target of suspicion and
Executive Order 9066. They were forced to register, and
about 300 were actually interned in California. Due to pressure
from political and business leaders, all of the interned
Italians were released by Columbus Day of 1942.
The Italian-Americans accused of participating in Fascist
activities were called in front of the California State
Legislature’s Committee on Un-American Activities
in 1943, including prominent Italian-Americans such as San
Francisco Mayor Rossi. None were convicted. However, a number
of non-citizens were forced to leave their homes if they
lived in one of the 86 zones the government determined were
critical to national security.
many of the non-naturalized Italian immigrants in California
lived near the coast, this meant they were in a designated
zone and that they had to relocate, scrambling to find housing
farther inland. Of course, during that period the Italian
fishing industry in San Francisco and other California coastal
communities came to a standstill.
One million Italian immigrants went to fight for the Allies
in the war. When the war ended young Italian G.I.'s returned
to the United States to find that things had changed, and
for the better. The introduction of the G.I. Bill provided
veterans the opportunity to attend college or receive vocational
training and buy a home. Consequently, many of those who
served in the war, including a significant number of young
Italians, moved out of blue collar work and into white collar
jobs. Many began opening their own business and enterprises.
Today, the descendants of those early Italian immigrants
number nearly 16 million, according to the U.S. census of
2000; although through intermarriage, the number of people
in the United States with at least one Italian grandparent
is estimated to be about 26 million. The U.S. Census Bureau
also reports that Italian Americans are the nation's fifth
largest ethnic group, with two-thirds in white-collar positions
in business, medicine, law, education and other professions.
Immigration to the U.S.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
with the Highest Italian Population
(1990 US census)
Between 1821 and 1892,
Italians immigrated to the U.S.
1893 to 1899:
in the Spanish
and Mexican Eras
were some of the first explorers of California.
From 1687 to 1711. Father Eusebio Chino (
pronouncrf: Kee–no) traveled to northern
Mexico and Lower California. He proved that that Lower California
was a peninsula, not an island.
Early Italian visitors to the shores of California were
sailors and fishermen. Most of them had already emigrated
to Peru or other South American
ports. After Mexico gained its independence, ships
were needed to provide the settlements with provisions,
and these ships often included captains and sailors of Italian
Some would argue that the first Italian politician
in California was Pietro Bandini, who came from Peru to
San Diego in 1800. He and his family became involved
in local politics in the early part of the 19th century,
and they sided with the American attempt to annex California.
In fact, the Bandini's house served as the headquarters
for Commodore Stockton, and Bandini's granddaughters made
the first U.S. Flag in California to present to the visiting
As early as the 1840s, settlers from Genoa began
to arrive in the valleys of northern and central California
after hearing their Ligurian (the region that includes
Genoa) sailing relatives talk about how ideal the valleys
were for vinting. Despite the fact that Liguria is not a
major wine producing region in Italy, the wine industry
in California was mostly built by Genoese.
The first significant wave of Italian immigrants
came to California during the Gold Rush. Those who came
quickly moved to buy land or work in service industries,
rather than stay in the mines.
In 1850, there were 229 Italians in San Francisco. By
1860, California had the largest number of Italian immigrants
in the U.S. As late as 1890, there were more Italian
immigrants in the Pacific coast states than in New England
these numbers, Italians began building communities in California.
They introduced Italian Opera to California
in 1851, and founded an Italian language newspaper in San
Francisco as early as 1859. Mutual aid societies,
based on the model of the French immigrant community in
San Francisco, were formed. Italian priests founded the
University of San Francisco in 1856. The first Columbus
Day celebration in San Francisco occurred in 1869,
as a celebration of "the first Italian-American."
That Columbus was from Genoa was a particular source of
pride for Italians in San Francisco.
The aftermath of the Gold Rush brought more northern Italians
to California. The ostentatious wealth of those who succeeded
during the Gold Rush years brought with it a demand
for stone and marble cutters from Italy to work
on the mansions of the newly rich.
fishing grounds and warm climate began to attract Sicilian
fishermen for the first time. At the same time, northern
Italian immigrants who were able to save a little began
to buy real estate in the valleys for agriculture. Wine
wasn’t the only agricultural product developed
by Italians in California. Table grapes and citrus fruits
were also grown in the rich California soil. Small truck
gardens, stored on the outskirts of San Francisco became
a popular way for new immigrants to make a living. Other
immigrants, such as Domenico Ghirardelli, began to specialize
in grocery items, such as chocolate.
Were They and Why Did They Come?
The majority of early Italian immigrants
to California came from northern Italy. This differed from
New York and other eastern cities, which received a southern
Italian immigrant majority.
Many of the early settlers were fishermen, who had sailed
up the coast from Italian enclaves in South America,
most significantly from Peru. New immigrants
from Italy often came after hearing their relatives and
friends talk about their experiences in California. Initially,
almost all of the immigrants were men, who intended to return
to Italy after making some money. At the same time, there
were families that were settling and buying real estate
in California, showing that some intended to move permanently.
Things that we associate with Italian-American culture,
like community and extended family, seem to be products
of the immigration experience rather than imports. Italian
families that moved to California only did so in the nuclear
sense of the term. Italians at the time were more likely
to put themselves in regional terms, such as "Ligurian,"
"Lombardian," or "Sicilian," rather
than the umbrella term "Italian." U.S.
Immigration statistics reflected this regionalism, by differentiating
northern and southern Italians.
Unlike other major immigrant groups, there was not an extreme
push factor for northern Italians until the 1880s. There
was not a famine, war, or religious persecution. Instead,
the early immigrants came initially on the recommendations
of their friends and family and as a natural migration from
other Italian immigrant enclaves. The more urgent
factors causing Italians to leave their homeland were just
around the corner.
PERIOD OF DEPRESSION
From Italy to San Francisco - The Immigrant Experience by
Dino Cinel, Stanford University Press 1982, ISBN 0-8047-1117-8
1875 the following was published in the
Milan newspaper L’Opinione:
The social and economic conditions of millions of Italian
peasants are incredibly poor and totally unknown to our
government. Our peasants live lives unfit for humans.
Even in the more prosperous regions of the north, peasants
work from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Regardless
of how hard they try, they will never be able to improve
their condition as long as they stay where they are. The
odds against them are too great.
In the south, our peasants there are in worse conditions
than the serfs of the Middle Ages. They have two equally
hard choices before them - - submission and work until an
untimely death, or rebellion and a violent death - unless
they are willing to escape to somewhere else.
life expectancy of a fieldworker in the province of Cosenza
was only 29 years. The average southern Italian
family spent almost all of its income on food, existing
on a diet of mostly bread. During the winter of 1893-94
the people of several communes survived by eating roots.
1888 and 1893 cholera epidemics were breaking out, wages
were decreasing, and foodstuffs were unavailable in many
of the communes. In 1895 the mayor of Santa Flavia (Trabia’s
neighbor) reported: The fishermen are forced to leave
because they cannot sell their catch. There is simply no
cash in the region, and commerce has come to a standstill.
1881 census of showed that, of the 1,400 dwellings in Cosenza,
400 housed more than six people per room. In the
Province of Palermo, peasants and mechanics lived in one-room
dwellings, ten or fifteen sharing the same room and using
the same bed, described as “visible from the street
day and night.” Those who could afford such conditions
were the more fortunate as many were homeless and living
in the streets.
addition to letters from America and stories told by returnees,
the work of emigration agents made possible
mass movement even from remote villages. Numerous factors
in the U.S. and South America created demands for cheap
immigrant labor, some of which were: the need to
replace slave labor on southern plantations, the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1883, and industrialization requiring factory
workers. Emigration agents were hired by Italian,
U.S., and South American shipping companies and immigration
agencies to promote the idea of emigration in the poorest
villages and arrange for the departure of those compelled
to leave in order to survive.
1884 there were 34 agencies in the city of Genoa, employing
several hundred agents throughout the province. Promoters
of emigration to California were active in Fontanabuona,
Sestri Levante, and Lorsica. The southern communes of Genoa
province, such as Varese Ligure and Lignano were only twenty
miles north of the northernmost communes of Lucca where
information about emigration to California was spread by
word of mouth.
the southern provinces where literacy was rarer and outsiders
not readily accepted, emigration was promoted by other means.
Local leaders were paid by the agents to provide lists of
families in great poverty and to help the agents promote
Until the 1880's most Italian emigrants set sail for South
America, but during the 1880's an increasing number went
to the United States.
1879, for instance, 120,000 Italians left
the country; 37,000 of them for overseas destinations. Of
those departing for overseas, 13% went to the U.S.,
32% to Argentina, and 16% to Brazil.
contrast, in 1890, of the 215,000 Italians
who emigrated, 113,000 went overseas. Of those going overseas,
44% went to the U.S.,
31% to Argentina, and 14% to Brazil.
1906, 787,999 Italians left Italy, of whom
512,000 were bound for overseas countries. Of those going
overseas, 67% went to the U.S.,
20% to Argentina, and 6% to Brazil.
World War I, Italian emigration to Argentina exceeded that
to the U.S. In 1823, of the 184,000
Italian emigrants, 57% went to Argentina and
only 28% to the U.S.
TIMELINE relative to Italian immigration
I gathered this information from six or more reliable sources.
became Emperor and King of Italy
Bandini, who came from Peru to San Diego,
first Italian politician in California,
siding with the U.S. attempt to annex California.
1814 - Napoleon was defeated
1848 - The
California Gold Rush began
1848 - My
great grandfather Mariano
was born in Sicily.
1851 - In
San Francisco there were 229 Italians, and the Italian
Italian, Basque, Spanish, French and Mexican immigrants
working in California gold mines were forced out by Americans;
they took refuge in San Francisco, settling in an area south
of Broadway between Pacific and Clay Streets, known as
immigrants arriving in San Francisco settled north of Broadway
in area called Little
which was later
- San Francisco's Little
Italy, had a population of 400.
1860 - Garibaldi
Sicily was annexed to
1861 - My
great grandmother, Santa
Palermo Province of Sicily.
1869 - The
first Columbus Day
parade was held
by Italians in San Francisco.
1870 - Italy
was politically unified with
1870 - The
government removed restrictions on
emigration in every region.
1878 - The
majority of Italians immigrating to the U.S. from the Palermo
port arrived at the New Orleans port; many
worked as indentured
servants on Louisiana plantations,
where they took the place of slaves. After the Federal Government
forced the release of indentured Sicilians in Louisiana,
some of them migrated
by train to
1882 - The
Oriental Exclusion Act
demand for Italian agricultural labor in the U.S..
1883 - Anthony
Caminetti became the first Italian-American to be elected
to the California State Assembly.
1885 - The
Italian Chamber of Commerce and the Italian-Swiss Colony
Vineyard (Pietro Rossi) were
founded in California.
1885-1900 - A
great depression in Italy,
affecting agriculture and fishing in Sicily, forced many
to emigrate or starve.
1888-1893 - Frequent
Sicily worsened the depressed economy, especially
in the Santa
1889 - San
Francisco began receiving increased numbers of Italian immigrants.
1889 - My
great grandfather Mariano
from TRABIA to San Francisco.
1891 - Since
entered the tri-state area of California, Oregon & Washington,
and 11,000 had
or for some period of time).
1891 - Anthony
Caminetti is the first American-born Italian elected to
the U.S. House of Representatives.
1891 - Immigration
inspection stations were established along the Canadian
of passengers arriving
in Canada were U.S. bound.
1891-1900 - A
total of 2,370 left Trabia
(40% of Trabia's
population) for other areas in Europe or overseas countries.
1892 - My
great grandmother Santa
Cancilla Tortorici left
TRABIA with 5-year old Tomy (Tomasso) to join Mariano in
1900 - Mariano
(and their 5 children already born) were listed
in the U.S. Census as residents of San
Italy at 13
1900s - Sicilian
begin arriving in California in large numbers.
1901-1910 - A
total of 3810 people left Trabia
(68% of Trabia's
pop), but its net population loss for the period was 953.
Trabia would have been wiped off the map if it were not
for its birth rate, settlers from other areas in Italy,
and its many returning emigrants.
1892 - Cholera
broke out in Italian and other European ports.
1893 - Required
information on passenger
manifests was expanded to include: last
residence, marital status, if ever in the U.S. before, if
going to join a relative, the relative's name, address,
and relationship (from
5-columns to 21-columns of info).
1893-1897 - There
was an economic depression in the U.S. which slowed down
1901 - Italy
established a law prescribing that Italians passports expired
after 3 years.
1904 - Amadeo
(A.P.) Giannini opened the Bank
of Italy, now known as Bank of America,
with neighborhood branches throughout San Francisco, to
help Italian immigrants start businesses and buy homes by
providing loans and encouraging Italians to open a savings
account and make regular deposits.
1906 - The
San Francisco Earthquake
struck; San Francisco's
population of Italian immigrants was 15,000. During the
sick or destitute Italians were sent
back to Italy with
Comitato di Soccorso e Patronato.
1906 - World
War I began,
and a considerable number of Italian immigrant men in the
U.S. returned to Italy to join the Italian army.
1908 - Palermo
laborers were earning an average of 1.5
per day, whereas those who were working
in the U.S. were earning the equivalent of 11.0
- 15.0 lire for a day's work.
1908 - The
mayor of Verbicaro (in the Province of Cosenza) wrote that
half of those who left for California had
returned, and that the movement back and forth showed no
signs of abating.
1910 - San
Francisco had 16,918
Italian immigrants, mostly
from northern Italy. The annual crop production
of Italian truck farms in California was worth approximately
$19 million dollars.
1911 - Anarchists,
socialists, and members of IWW (Industrial Workers of the
World), many of whom were Italian immigrants,
fought police in what became known as the San
Francisco Free Speech Fight.
1913 - Anthony
Caminetti was appointed by President Wilson to serve as
Commissioner of Immigration.
1913 - Italian
emigration (not all to the U.S.) reached an all-time
record of 872,000.
1914 - Millions
attended the Panama
Exposition, held in San Francisco, celebrating
completion of the Panama Canal, and no doubt, booming business
for Italian peddlers and shop keepers..
1918 - The
flu epidemic killed __##
people in the
U.S. and _##_
1919 - Italian
leader Benito Mussolini's
to maintain ties and court the loyalty of those who had
emigrated from Italy brought about the establishment of
1920 - Palermo
City's population was 400,000, double its population in
1920 - San
Francisco's Italian immigrant population was 24,000, representing
16% of all immigrants in the city and second only to New
York City with Italians representing 20% of its immigrants.
1920's - A
new wave of immigrants from Italy included World War I veterans
and political opponents of Mussolini.
1920 - Prohibition
enacted, forcing California Italian vintners to market their
products as "sacramental" wine or medicinal elixirs.
1921 - The
Emergency Quota Act
(May 19, 1921
to June 30, 1924) caused many
Italian emigrants to set sail from
Liverpool, LeHavre (France),
and Bremen (Germany).
1924 - The
was passed, setting
quotas for admission and limiting Italian immigration more
than other countries.
Italian population of Los Angeles reached 16,851, nearly
doubled from 9,650 in 1920, a surge due in part to the Italian
film industry which encouraged many Italian film technicians
and filmset designers to move to Los Angeles.
### - The
U.S. entered World
Italian immigrant men registered with the
U.S. Army and many were drafted to serve in the war.
1942 - San
Francisco Italian immigrants were interrogated and some
of those who had not applied for and taken the loyalty oath
for U.S. naturalization (citizenship) were detained in internment
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