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An Italian American ( singular, plural) is an Americanmarker of Italian ancestry, and/or may also refer to someone possessing Italian/American dual citizenship. Italian Americans are the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United Statesmarker.


The Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European explorer to pass New York Harbor. The first Italian to live in what is now the United States was Pietro Cesare Alberti, a Venetian sailor, who settled in New York on June 2, 1635. Other Italians played an important role in early United States history, such as Filippo Mazzei, an important Italian physician and a promoter of liberty, and a close friend of Thomas Jefferson . He acted as an agent to purchase arms for Virginia during the American Revolutionary War. Throughout the 1800s, Italians arrived in the US in small numbers. Most immigration from Italy occurred in the late 19th and 20th centuries between 1880 and 1924, but more specifically, 1900 and 1914. The Johnson Reed act which had been established in 1924 had put heavy limitations on southern and eastern European immigrants. Most Italian Americans came from Southern Italy, including Sicily. Most were from rural places and had little education. Smaller but significant numbers came from the northern regions of Liguria and Veneto.
From 1890 to 1900, 655,888 immigrants arrived in the United States, of which two-thirds were men. The main reasons for Italian immigration were the poor economic conditions in Italy during this period, particularly in the southern regions. In the United States, Italians settled in and dominated specific neighborhoods (often called "Little Italy"), where they could interact with one another, establish a familiar cultural presence, and find favorite foods. Many Italian immigrants arrived with little cash or cultural capital (that is, they were not educated) since most had been peasant farmers in Italy, they lacked craft skills and, therefore, generally performed manual labor. Civic and social life flourished in Italian-American neighborhoods, with many people belonging to hometown societies. Chain migration that brought many people from a particular town or region to the same American neighborhood meant that even new immigrants had extensive social networks which helped in the adjustment to America. Many Italians arrived in the United States hoping to earn enough money to return home and set themselves up in a business or with a farm. Among immigrant groups to America, Italians had the highest rate of returning to the old country. Their neighborhoods were typically older areas with overcrowded tenements and poor sanitation. Tuberculosis was rampant. Italian immigration peaked from 1900 until 1914, when World War I made such intercontinental movement impossible. In some areas, Italian immigrants met anti-Roman Catholic and anti-immigrant discrimination, and even violence such as lynching.

The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Italians and Slavs, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. In the ten years following 1900, about 200,000 Italians immigrated annually. With the imposition of the 1924 quota, 4,000 per year were allowed.

It's estimated that two million Italian immigrants arrived between 1900 and 1914. About a third of these immigrants intended to stay only briefly, in order to make money and return to Italy. They were commonly referred to as "Birds of Passage." While one in four did return home, the rest either decided to stay or were prevented from returning by the war.

Internment during World War II

The internment of Italian Americans during World War II was often overshadowed by the more severe Japanese American experience. Recently, however, books such as Una storia segreta (ISBN 1-890771-40-6) by Lawrence DiStasi and Uncivil Libertiesllll (ISBN 1-58112-754-5) by Stephen Fox have been published, and movies, such as Prisoners Among Us have been made. They showed that during World War II, roughly 600,000 Italians were required to carry identity cards that labeled them "resident aliens." Some 10,000 people in war zones on the West Coast of the United States were required to move inland, while hundreds of others were held in military camps for up to two years. Lawrence DiStasi claims that these wartime restrictions and internments contributed more than anything else to the loss of spoken Italian in the United States. After Italy declared war on the U.S., the U.S. government forced many Italian-language papers and schools to close because of their past support for what was then an enemy government.



In the 2000 U.S. Census, Italian Americans constituted the fifth largest ancestry group in America with about 15.6 million people (5.6% of the total U.S. population). Sicilian Americans are a subset of numerous Americans of regional Italian ancestries. As of 2006, the Italian-American population climbed to 17.8 million persons constituting 6 percent of the population.

According to the 2000 Census, 5.6% of the U.S. was Italian-American. The Census accounted for 15.6 million Italian-Americans out of 281 million Americans. However, the 2006 Census estimate has claimed there to be 17.8 million of approximately 299.4 million persons. Therefore, the Census has claimed that the 12.2% of U.S. population growth in between 2000 and 2006 was Italian-American, which is more than double what the population was in 2000. The U.S. Census has provided no explanation for this sudden increase.


In the 1930s, Italian Americans voted heavily Democratic; since the 1960s, they have split about evenly between the Democratic (37%) and the Republican (36%) parties. The U.S. Congress includes Italian Americans who are regarded as leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The highest ranking Italian American politician is currently Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who became the first woman and Italian American Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and former Republican New York Citymarker mayor Rudy Giuliani was a candidate for the U.S. presidency in the 2008 election, as was Coloradomarker Congressman Tom Tancredo. Geraldine Ferraro was also a vice-presidential candidate in 1984. Two of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices—Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito—are Italian-Americans, appointed by Republican Presidents. Both Italian-American Justices are considered to be key members of the conservative wing of the court, along with Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts. Justice Alito was also mentioned in President George W. Bush's farewell address on January 15, 2009, in which Bush described him as being a very wise jurist. The new Second Lady, Dr Jill Jacobs Biden's father's family name was originally Giacoppa [18952].

Business and Economy

Italian-Americans have served an important role in the economy of the United States, and have founded companies of great national importance, such as Bank of America (by Amadeo Giannini in 1904), and companies that have contributed to the local culture and character of U.S. cities, such as Petrini's Markets (founded by Frank Petrini in 1935), among many others. Italian-Americans have also made important contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy through their business expertise, such as the management of the Chrysler Corporation by Lee Iacocca, and the creative innovations of Martin Scorsese for film companies such as Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers.


Similarly to Italian descendants in other nations such as Brazil and Argentina, Italian Americans have assimilated into the mainstream American cultural identity. Italian-Americans trace several generations back in this country. Many have intermixed with other ethnic groups. They are well represented in all lines of work. Many Italian Americans still retain aspects of their culture. This includes Italian food, drink, art, annual Italian American feasts, and a strong commitment to extended family. Italian Americans influenced popular music in the 1940s and as recently in the 1970s, one of their major contributions to American culture.

Among the most characteristic and popular of Italian American cultural contributions has been their feasts. Throughout the United States, wherever one may find an "Italian neighborhood" (often referred to as 'Little Italy'), one can find festive celebrations such as the well known Feast of San Gennaro in New York Citymarker, the unique Our Lady of Mount Carmel "Giglio" Feast in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, Italian feasts involve elaborate displays of devotion to God and patron saints. On the weekend of the last Sunday in August, the residents of Boston's North End celebrate the "Feast of all Feasts" in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, which was started over 300 years ago in Montefalcione, Italy. Perhaps the most widely known is St. Joseph's feast day on March 19. These feasts are much more than simply isolated events within the year. Feast (Festa in Italian) is an umbrella term for the various secular and religious, indoor and outdoor activities surrounding a religious holiday. Typically, Italian feasts consist of festive communal meals, religious services, games of chance and skill and elaborate outdoor processions consisting of statues resplendent in jewels and donations. This merriment usually takes place over the course of several days, and is communally prepared by a church community or a religious organization over the course of several months.

Currently, there are more than 300 Italian feasts celebrated throughout the United States. These feasts are visited each year by millions of Americans from various backgrounds who come together to enjoy Italian delicacies such as Zeppole and sausage sandwiches. Though in past, and still unto this day, much of Italian American culture is centered around music and food, in recent years, a large and growing group of Italian American authors are having success publishing and selling books in America.

Some of the authors who have written about everyday, hardworking Italians are Pietro DiDonato [18953], Lawrence Ferlinghetti [18954], Dana Gioia [18955], Executive Director of the National Endowment for the Arts; Daniela Gioseffi [18956], Winner of the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, and Helen Barolini, author of The Dream Book, a collection of Italian American women's writings. Both women are American Book Award winners [18957] and pioneers of Italian American writing, as is poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan [18958]. These women have authored many books depicting Italian American women in a new light. They, along with several other poets and writers, can be found at Italian American Writers [18959].

Among the scholars who have led the Renaissance in Italian American literature are professors Richard Gambino, Anthony Julian Tamburri, Paolo Giordano, and Fred Gardaphe. The latter three founded Bordighera Press, Inc. and edited From the Margin, An Anthology of Italian American Writing, Purdue University Press. These men along with professors like novelist and accomplished critic, Dr. Josephine Gattuso-Hendin of New York Universitymarker, have taught Italian American studies far and wide, at such institutions as The City University of New York, John D. Calandra Institute [18960], Queens College , and Stony Brook Universitymarker, as well as Brooklyn Collegemarker, where Dr. Robert Viscusi, founded the Italian American Writers Association [18961], and is an author and American Book Award winner, himself.

As a result of the efforts of magazines like VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, and Italian Americana, and many authors old and young, too numerous to mention, as well as early immigrant, pioneer writers like poet, Emanuel Carnevali, "Furnished Rooms," and novelist, Pietro DiDonato, author of "Christ in Concrete " --Italian Americans are beginning to read more of their own writers. A growing number of books featuring ordinary, hardworking Italians—having nothing to do with criminality—are published yearly to confront the perceived television and Hollywood stereotyping of this ethnic group. (See "Stereotypes," below.) Famed authors like Don DeLillo, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gay Talese, John Fante Tina DeRosa, Kim Addonizio, Daniela Gioseffi, Dana Gioia, to name a few who have broken through to main stream American literature and publishing, are changing the image of Italians in America with their books, stories, poems and essays far too numerous to cite. Many of these authors' books and writings are easily found on the internet and on Italian American Writers [18962] as well as in bibliographies online at Stonybrook University's Italian American Studies Dept. in New York [18963] or at The Italian American Writers Association website [18964]. The cultural face of Italian Americana is widening and changing daily to combat stereotyping by American movies and television.


Most immigrants had been Catholics in Italy. In spite of the Catholic dominance among the immigrants, it can be noted that Italian religious minorities—such as Waldensians, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Italian Jews—also took part in the Italian immigration to America.

In some Italian American communities, Saint Joseph's Day (March 19) is marked by celebrations and parades. Columbus Day is also widely celebrated, as are the feasts of some regional Italian patron saints, most notably St. Januarius (September 19) (especially by those claiming Neapolitanmarker heritage), and Santa Rosalia (September 4) by immigrants from Sicily. The immigrants from Potenza, Italymarker celebrate the Saint Rocco's day (August 16) feast at the Potenza Lodge in Denver, Coloradomarker the 3rd weekend of August. San Rocco is the patron saint of Potenzamarker as is San Gerardo. Many still celebrate the Christmas season with a Feast of the seven fishes. In Cleveland, Ohiomarker, the Feast of Assumption is celebrated in Cleveland's Little Italy on August 15. On this feast day, people will pin money on Blessed Virgin Mary statue as symbol of prosperity. The statue is paraded through Little Italy to Holy Rosary Parish. For almost 25 years, Cleveland Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla would join in the parade and mass due to his Italian heritage. Pilla resigned in April 2006, but he still celebrates.

While most Italian-American families have a Catholic background, there are various groups of Italian-American Christians who have chosen to practice Protestant Christianity for various reasons. One reason why Italian-Americans have become more apart of Protestant faiths is due to intermarriage with other ethnic groups that were traditionally Protestant. In some cases, similarly to other ethnic groups, there are individuals and families who have become resentful of, or disenchanted with, the Catholic religion, and completely leave the church, no longer considering themselves as being a part of the Catholic traditions in any way. Many joined the Episcopal Church because of disagreement with local Catholic Church leadership while still retaining much of the liturgical form. Many converted to Evangelical Christianity because they did not agree with the ritualistic nature of the Catholic religion, as well as their belief that Catholics have an incorrect interpretation of certain doctrines concerning the Magisterium, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

There are many ex-Catholic Italian-American members of mainline liberal Protestant churches, such as the United Church of Christ, most of whom left the Catholic Church because they thought it to be too doctrinally conservative. There are also a significant number of ex-Catholic Italian-American converts to the Unitarian Universalist Church. Fiorello La Guardia was an Episcopalian (on his father's side; his mother was from the small but significant community of Italian Jews). Frank Santora is an ex-Catholic Italian-American pastor of Faith Church, a large Evangelical megachurch in New Milford, Connecticutmarker. There is a small charismatic denomination, called the Christian Church of North America, which is rooted in the Italian Pentecostal Movement that came out of Chicago in the early 1900s. It should also be noted that the first group of Italian immigrants to Trentonmarker converted to the Baptist denomination. In the early 1900s, a number of Protestant denominations and missionaries worked in urban Italian American neighborhoods of the Northeastern United States. Max Lucado—bestselling author, alumnus of Abilene Christian University, and preacher in Churches of Christ—is a prominent example of an Italian-American in non-Catholic ministry. The Church of Jesus Christ , headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, is a denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement that counts significant numbers of Italian-Americans in its leadership and membership.


According to Census Bureau data, Italian Americans have an average high school graduation rate, and a higher rate of advanced degrees compared to the national average. Italian Americans throughout the United States are well represented in a wide variety of occupations and professions, from skilled trades, to the arts, to engineering, science, mathematics, law, and medicine, and include numerous Nobel prize winners. [18965]

Italian language in the United States

According to the , from 1998 to 2002 the enrollment in college Italian language courses grew by 30%, faster than the enrollment rates for French and German. Italian is the fourth most commonly taught foreign language in U.S. colleges and universities behind Spanish, French, and German. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, Italian is the fifth (seventh overall) most spoken language in the United States (tied with Vietnamese) with over 1 million speakers.

As a result of the large wave of Italian immigration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Italian language was once widely spoken in much of the U.S., especially in northeastern and Great Lakes area cities like Rochestermarker, Chicagomarker, Clevelandmarker, and Milwaukeemarker, as well as San Franciscomarker, Saint Louis and New Orleansmarker. Italian-language newspapers exist in many American cities, especially New York Citymarker, and Italian-language movie theatres existed in the U.S. as late as the 1950s.

Today, Prizes like The Bordighera Annual Poetry Prize [18966] founded by Daniela Gioseffi, Pietro Mastrandrea and Alfredo di Palchi with support from the Sonia Rraiziss-Giop Foundation, and Bordighera Press, [18967] which publishes the winners in bilingual editions, have helped to encourage writers of the diaspora to write and read in Italian. Chelsea Books in New York City and Gradiva Press on Long Island have published many bilingual books also due to the efforts of bilingual writers of the diaspora like Paolo Valesio [18968], Alfredo de Palchi [18969], Luigi Fontanella. Dr. Luigi Bonaffini [18970] of The City University of New York, publisher of The Journal of Italian Translation at Brooklyn College, has fostered Italian dialectic poetry throughout his homeland and the USA. Joseph Tusiani of New York and New York University [18971], a highly distinguised linguist and prize winning poet born in Italy, paved the way for Italian works of literature in English and has published many bilingual books and Italian classics for the American audience, among them the first complete works of Michaelangelo's poems in English to be published in the United States. All of this literary endeavor has helped to foster the Italian language, along with the Italian opera, of course, in the United States. Many of these authors and their bilingual books are located throughout the internet.

This sign appeared in post offices and in government buildings during World War II.
The sign designates Japanese, German, and Italian, the languages of the Axis powers, as enemy languages.

Author Lawrence Distasi [18972] argues that the loss of spoken Italian among the Italian American population can be tied to U.S. government pressures during World War II. During World War II, in various parts of the country, the U.S. government displayed signs that read, Don't Speak the Enemy's Language. Such signs designated the languages of the Axis powers, German, Japanese, and Italian, as "enemy languages". Shortly after the Axis powers declared war on the U.S., many Italian, Japanese and German citizens were interned. Among the Italian Americans, those who spoke Italian, who had never taken out citizenship papers, and who belonged to groups that praised Benito Mussolini, were most likely to become candidates for internment. Distasi claims that many Italian language schools closed down in the San Francisco Bay Areamarker within a week of the U.S. declaration of war on the Axis powers. Such closures were inevitable since most of the teachers in Italian languages were interned.

The Italian language is still spoken and studied by those of Italian American descent, and it can be heard in various American communities, especially among older Italian Americans. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, interest in Italian language and culture has surged among Italian Americans.

The formal "Italian" that is taught in colleges and universities is generally not the "Italian" with which Italian Americans are acquainted. Because the Italian of Italian Americans comes from a time just after the unification of the state, their language is in many ways anachronistic and demonstrates what the dialects of Southern Italy used to be at the time. Because of this, Italian Americans studying Italian are often learning a language that does not include all of the words and phrases they may have learned from family.


Rampant anti-immigrant sentiment brought about The Immigration Act of 1924 and the nation's Italian Americans moved to defeat it. The small percentage of criminal elements active in the Italian American community, Black Hand practitioners and those who came up during the Prohibition Era, only lodged prejudices more firmly in the public’s mind. The most publicized protest from the community came in 2001 when the Chicago-based American Italian Defamation Association (AIDA) sued Time Warner for distributing HBO’s hit series The Sopranos because of its negative portrayal of Italian Americans.. The results are still inconclusive.


In the 1890-1920 period Italian Americans were often stereotyped as being "violent" and "controlled by the Mafia". [18973] In the 1920s, many Americans used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, in which two Italian anarchists were sentenced to death, to denounce Italian immigrants as anarchists and criminals. During the 19th and early 20th century, Italian Americans were one of the most likely groups to be lynched. In 1891, eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleansmarker were lynched due to their ethnicity and suspicion of being involved in the Mafia (see: David Hennessy). This was the largest mass lynching in US history.


Italian-Americans work in all lines of work. They're well representative of the average group in mainstream American society.

The National Italian American Foundation, the National American Italian Association and other Italian American organizations have asserted that the American Mafia in the United States have never numbered more than a few thousand individuals, and that it is unfair to associate such a small minority with the general population of Italian Americans.

Contrary to public belief, organized crime existed in America long before the migration of Italians from southern Italy. The Italian-American contingent of organized crime, although late in arriving, dominated the already flourishing crime families of the various ethnic groups. Taylor Street Archives


States known for their high concentrations of Italian Americans include Rhode Islandmarker, Connecticutmarker, New Jerseymarker, New Yorkmarker,Massachusettsmarker and Pennsylvaniamarker. Among major cities across the country, New York Citymarker, Philadelphiamarker, Bostonmarker, Chicagomarker, Miamimarker, and Providencemarker have America's six largest Italian communities. New Havenmarker and its surrounding suburbs also exhibit a high Italian concentration (New Haven's mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Congressional Representative Rosa DeLauro are both Italian-Americans).

State totals


  1. New Yorkmarker 3,254,298
  2. New Jerseymarker 1,590,225
  3. Pennsylvaniamarker 1,547,470
  4. Massachusettsmarker 1,518,838
  5. Californiamarker 1,149,351
  6. Floridamarker 1,147,946
  7. Illinoismarker 739,284
  8. Ohiomarker 720,847
  9. Connecticutmarker 652,016
  10. Michiganmarker 484,486
  11. Texasmarker approx. 363,354
  12. Rhode Islandmarker approx. 201,134
  13. Louisianamarker approx. 195,561


  1. Rhode Islandmarker 19.1%
  2. Connecticutmarker 18.6%
  3. New Jerseymarker 17.9%
  4. Massachusettsmarker 16.5%
  5. New Yorkmarker 14.4%
  6. Pennsylvaniamarker 12.8%

Communities by concentration of Italian ancestry

The top 25 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Italian ancestry are:

  1. Hammonton, New Jerseymarker 47%
  2. Johnston, Rhode Islandmarker 46%
  3. Frankfort, New Yorkmarker (village) 44.70%
  4. North Providence, Rhode Islandmarker 44%
  5. East Haven, Connecticutmarker 43%

  1. Staten Island, New Yorkmarker, Buena, New Jerseymarker and Old Forge, Pennsylvania 33%

See also

References and notes

  1. U S Constitution - The Immigration Act of 1924
  2. Old fears over new faces, The Seattle Times, September 21, 2006
  3. Who Was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925–1927, Statistical Abstract of the United States (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1929), 100.
  4. NIAF. Two Days of Italian/American Affairs
  5. Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan; Alito, by George W. Bush.
  6. [1]
  7. And They Came To Chicago: The Italian American Legacy
  8. National Great Blacks in Wax Museaum - Italian Lynching
  9. See, e.g., Independence, Louisiana. In 2008 Italian-American Steve Scalise was elected to represent the surrounding First Congressional District of Louisiana.

External links

Useful links for Italians in USA

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