The Italian Migration to the United States in the End of the 19th Century

The transoceanic migratory phenomenon of the second half of the 19th century contributed to marking a specific form of ethnic settlement in the United States. During that historical period, the migratory process took on mass characteristics starting in the 1870s when more than 2.8 million immigrants arrived in the country, 90% of whom came from Northern Europe. However, by the end of the century, the situation had turned around as the next nine million immigrants who landed at Ellis Island around 1900 mostly came from Southern Europe.

Among these, the Italians were considered a very poor, illiterate, irregular, and disorganized population compared to those coming from other areas of Europe. Unfortunately, this was the general perception, inserted in an institutional and social context that saw strong opposition between those who considered immigrants a development resource and those who tended to continuously reject them, stopping their arrival at Ellis Island and rigidly selecting those who tried to enter the United States.

The formation of housing settlements, often of a segregative nature, represents an emblematic example of this context. In American Little Italies, as well as in Chinatowns, the cultural traditions of the areas of origin survived unchanged and often gave rise to vertical sub-communities such as Little Sicilies built by immigrants from small villages in Sicily. Here, communities were cemented around the traditions of origin.

In 1860, only 1,400 Italians lived in the city of New York working as dockworkers, fruit vendors, or millers. Between 1900 and 1914, of the approximately two million Italians arriving in America, most settled in New York. By 1930, Italians constituted 17% of the city's population, with one million people. Many of these were Sicilians, and the first communities were centered on Mulberry Street, now Little Italy.

Elizabeth Street was strictly a Sicilian "colony," while Mulberry Street was largely inhabited by Neapolitans and Mott Street by Calabrians and Apulians. Within Elizabeth Street, each block or apartment was occupied by people from a specific Sicilian city. To give an idea of the level of clear separation of each group within these communities, it is enough to think that the marriage between Sicilians from one block and another was considered an exceptional event.

Between 1880 and 1950, the Italian presence in the United States had its ups and downs. During this period, data on the quality and social origin of the elites often did not confirm the presence of Italian descent in the American ruling class.

However, several Italian immigrants, such as Antonio Meucci, Joe Petrosino, Arturo Toscanini, Enrico Caruso, Rodolfo Guglielmi (who later changed his name to Rodolfo Valentino), and many others, significantly contributed to improving the reputation of the Italian community in the United States between the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century.


Il Centro Studi sull'Internazionalizzazione si dedica a promuovere la consapevolezza sull'importanza dell'Internazionalizzazione a livello nazionale e regionale.

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