An Man on the Move: The Italian Ethnic Group

The Italian has always been a people on the move all over the world since ancient times. During the Classical Era the Roman Empire, which came to dominate much of what is Mediterranean, migrated all over the known world and settled as far away as Britannia(England), and Jerusalem(Israel). The great explorer Marco Polo, who was Italian, ventured eastward making it as far as Persia and China. The Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, gave America its native name. In recent centuries Italians have ventured outside of Europe to South America and North Africa; many moving to Argentina or Brazil (Daniels 188-9). Thus Italians have already established a, “…strong migratory tradition… (Daniels 189),” before coming to the America. In this paper we will cover the migration of Italians to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century and how they effected American culture overall.

     The period of immigration for many Italians coming to America falls roughly between 1880 and 1924. Before the 1850’s few made the perilous passage across the Atlantic Ocean to the America, mainly because travel by boat was dangerous with much risk involved. Thus Italian immigration the U.S was small, and barely noticeable with roughly a few thousand coming every year; many of who moved out West as America developed its borders further. As the United States nation reached an industrial peak, and as the invention of Steam power came to make transportation cheap, many Italians found themselves leaving their small poor farmers for the city in search of work (Daniels). In the post-Civil War period and through World War I well over 4 million Italians ended up coming to America’s shores (Daniels). In the 1880’s alone a little over 300,000 men and women came to this country, and this was later topped by roughly 2 million Italians between 1901-1910(Daniels, Table 7.3 189).

Many Italians came to America in search of work and a better standard of living. Unlike other European ethnic groups the Italian man was exploited by his fellow national; mainly the upper class and landlords. The country was runned on old feudalistic society with hereditary title determining who once belonged too and what political faction we was affiliated with. This left little to no room for social advancement for the working class, and thus the society had developed, “…a reliance on family, kin, and village ties (Digital History 1),” with “la famiglia (Digital History 1)” become the center of all things. Much of Italy was rural, with peasants living in small villages working on farms for the local landlord or estate owner. It was natural to want to seek a better life in a land that was famously described then as the land of Milk and Honey; where a man could make his mark. With the development of railroads, steam ships, and the companies surrounding them the poor Italians now found it affordable to be able to migrate to America in search of jobs.  As they entered into the wildness of the American landscape many Italian immigrants found themselves settling into the urban cities like New York City, New Orleans, Boston and even San Francisco (Daniels 182)

Italian immigrants found multiple ways in which to fit into American society. Most moved to the great American metropolis, namely due to the fact that they had little skills besides agriculture, because they lacked the capital to start ventures of their own. They were more often than not unskilled wage laborers who utilized the unique “Padrone” system in order to find work to fend for themselves. “A padrone (from the Italian padroni for “patrons” or “bosses”) was middlemen in the labor trade, helping poor immigrants obtain transportation to North America, jobs upon arrival, and basic needs in an alien society (EOI 1).” While this helped many newcomers who had little to no idea of where to begin, it often lead to many of them being taken advantage of or indebted for a very long time. Italians also held a strong presence in the fishing market, and the wine industry as well (mainly in California and the Great Lakes region. Later on they would take on political offices and expand into the insurance agencies that would help them climb the social ladder to eventually running some of the worlds largest companies.

     As time has worn on the Italian ethnic group has almost completely blended into the American Melting Pot to become part of the general society as a whole. Many people today claim Italian ancestry all throughout the country with the East Coast holding the largest concentrations of descendants. Italians today hold offices, are involved in major business like Bank of America (discussed above), as well as trade skills and manual labor. In effect they have become part of America and have paved the way for the immigrant groups that have followed. However, one cannot but wonder why they and many other “Americans” have made a fight against immigration; mainly by Mexicans and Spanish speak peoples.