ItalianImmigration in USA in the 20th century
Fromthe colonization era to present days, Italians have migrated into theUnited States of America, though their movement has been sporadic andirregular. All through modern history Italians have accounted for asignificant proportion of immigrants in the US. In recent times,Italian immigration into the US has dramatically declined as Italycontinues to make significant economic and political improvementsthat have facilitated prosperity and stability (Molnar 1). Throughouthistory, more Italians immigrants have moved into the US than anyother nation in the globe. In the 20th century Italian immigrationinto the United States was propelled by natural disasters, povertyand population pressure (Kraut 1). This paper will discuss theimmigration process of Italian into the United States.
Pushfactors for Italian Immigration
Inthe years that marked the end of the 19th century, Italianpopulation rose tremendously due to increased birthrate and reductionin death rates. Population increase surpassed the rate of economicgrowth leading to unemployment and poverty. Population pressurebecame a nagging problem particularly in Mezzogiorno, which hithertowas the poorest province in Italy (Cavaioli 214). At the beginning ofthe 20th century, there were very few Italians who had settled in theUnited States. Italian who had immigrated in the US before the turnof 20th century represented the influential classes of artists,missionaries, teachers, traveler and other professionals. Thesegroups of individuals had moved into the United States to teach,spread the gospel and fill other posts within the American societies.Majority of Italian who moved into the US from the beginning of 20thcentury were solely propelled by poverty and lack in employment ofopportunities in Italy. The democracy and solid institutions of theUS had transformed it into a prosperous nation (Burgan 6). The totalnumber of Italian at the turn of the 20th century was 81,249. Aftertwo decades, the number had risen to more than 4 million (Cavaioli213). The massive influx of Italian in America had tremendous impactson both the social and economic sphere. Surprisingly by the end ofthe first 25 years into the 20th century, the total population ofItaly was approximately 14 million (Cavaioli 214). This wasapproximately a third of the total Italian population. Majority ofthese immigrants were unable to secure employment in Italy. Therising population had a tremendous toll on the weak economy. Many ofItalian immigrants were, therefore, coerced by hard economicenvironment to become migratory laborers in the United States.
Approximately78 percent of Italian immigrants into the US were young men in theirtwenties, who sought to secure employment save money and return toItaly (Parker 3-4). A significant proportion of these young men,about 30 percent, returned to Italy after the second war. Asaforementioned, the birth rate in Italy had significantly increasedin by the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the rise inpopulation was not accompanied by improvement in standards of livingand economic prosperity. Illiteracy in Italy was substantially highercompared to other European nations. By 1900 more than 70 percent ofItalians in the Southern part were illiterate this was 10 times morethan that in Germany and Britain. The situation was compounded bylack of adequate land for agriculture, increased deforestation thatcaused soil erosion and lack of enough iron and coal required forheavy industries (Parker3-4). Additionally, Italians in the northernregion dominated the political landscape of the country owing to thehigher level of literacy in the Northern provinces of Italy. Thismeant that Italian in the Southern region were heavily hurt by hightaxes and protective tariffs imposed to shielded industrialcommodities from the Northern part.
Naturaldisasters and vagaries of nature had a devastating blow on theeconomy of Southerners that heavily relied on agriculture. At thebeginning of the century, Mount Vesuvius erupted violently andcompletely covered the whole town near Naples. A few years laterMount Etna exploded causing colossal damage both to the inhabitantsof the areas near the mountain. One decade into the 20th century araging tidal wave stormed through the channel of Messina causingcolossal loss of life. More than 100,000 Italians living in the cityof Messina lost their life (Todd, 4-5). The earliest group of Italianto immigrate into the United States originated from the Northern partof Italy. These became well-known merchants in cities such asCalifornia and New York. In the20th century, most the immigrants intothe US from Italy came from the Southern region. Unlike Italianimmigrants in the 19th century who had little education and as suchcould only secure manual jobs, those that immigrated into US in the20th century moved to big cities such as California to seek for wagelabor which was comparatively higher than what laborers in farmlandreceived. In the city, they were employed in construction industriesand building firms. They built roads, dug tunnels and erected hightowering building in most of the cities in the US (Burgan 11-12).
Aftersix decades the number of Italians in United States had reached arecord high, 5 million. The main cause of this exodus from Italy waslack of employment. Agricultural prospects had significantly reduced.The loyalty and nationalism of civilians especially those who livedin the Southern part to Italy was slowly fading away. The sense ofnationalism that had glued the nation together was weakening andslowly crumbling under the pressure of overpopulation and poverty(Rapczynski 1). The hostile social, economic and political climatedrove them to American which was considered a land of opportunity(Burgan 12).
ItalianImmigrants in the US
ForItalians immigrants who settled in large cities such as New York andCalifornia entertainment, sport, micro and small enterprises formedthe basis for their upward climb in the economic ladder. Theprospects of politician of Italian origin were significantlycurtailed by absence of ethnic cohesiveness and education.Nonetheless, many attained substantial success in classical music andsport. By the last part of the first decade of 20th century, about 99percent of all street workers in California were of Italian origin.Many Italian immigrants attained considerable success in fields thatdid not require higher education requirement (Mintz & McNeil 1).Once they settled in American these immigrants built villages andestablished numerous mutual aid groups.
By1976 more than 26, million Italians had moved out their motherlandinto oversea nation, and most of them ended up in America (Cavaioli216). Many city streets in the United States became flooded byimmigrants from Italy and many of these were transplanted intoItalian provinces where Italian could thrive. After the first worldItalian economy was left in tatters, and many of the civilians weredisoriented and tired after many years of war. Incompetency of BenitoMussolini had left the country trailing other European nation.Italian government formulated measure to prevent the massive exodusof Italian from the country but achieved little success.
Worldwar two significantly curtailed the movement of Italian out of theircountry. The nation required many young men to serve in the army. Inthe New World immigrants from countries that were allied to axispower were singled out for fear that they could stir a localinsurgence to compel the nation to join the Axis. These fears wereconfirmed when Germany secret telegram was discovered. Additionally,as was begun to take shape, Americans of German origin had begun tosabotage American industries. Many immigrants were confined after theUS government passed the Alien Registration Act. An Act passed in1965 required all American residents that were not –citizens toregister. Most of the Italians who had resided along the coastalparts of the country were forced to shift inland (Cavaioli 216).
TheItalian immigrants continued to settle down into the U.S society asthe 20th century moved forward. By 1920s to 1930s, thepeople who migrated had started seen their children adopting andgrowing up like the Americans living in American society. Theeducation system in the US offered the children of the immigrantswith new set of patriotic symbols, new language, U.S culture andeven some children were given new Anglicized name. The process ofimmigration brought a cultural gap between the parents who in partbelonged to the old generation and partly to the second, Americanizedgeneration (Burgan & Robert 30-34).
Overtime,the immigrants engaged in the U.S workforce and joined major unions.The Italians were now able to increase their career opportunity, someeven managed to own businesses and become managers of their own insmall firms (Kraut 1). At the time World War II begun, the Italianimmigrants had completely adopted the U.S way of life. Approximatelyone million Italian immigrants served in the army while another onemillion served in war industries. The national service broughtgreater social mobility and access to education to the Italianimmigrants (Colella 1).
By1940s, the children of the Italian migrant could be seen in all theregions of the U.S, especially in large cities such as New York City.Italian culture became a major component city’s personality. Everyaspect of show business, science, politics, and art had prominentItalian at the forefront. For instance, Marlon Brando an ItalianAmerican introduced the school of naturalistic acting. Italianimmigrants have had considerable influence on American culture andimmense contribution towards the creation a strong entrepreneurialspirit. After Germany and Japan were trounced by the Allies led byUnited States of America immigrants soldiers from Italy number 1million, were given opportunity to buy homes, attend college andapply for American citizenship. This space provided by the G.I.Billallowed many Italian, who had college education to secure whitecollar job in the US job market (Parker 216-217).
Today,the number of Italian immigrants amount to 16 million based on therecent US population census (Cavaioli 217). Arguably, the numberwould be substantially higher if the number of Americans with asingle Italian parents and grandparent is considered. Together withthose who have been integrated through marriage, the number ofItalians in the United Sates would amount to 26 million. Americans ofItalian origin constitute the fifth largest ethnic group, majority ofthem serving in different fields.
In1960s, the high influx of immigrant especially from European nationsdid not augur well with many Americans who felt that these aliengroups were interfering with their social and economic life.Additionally the country did not have an efficient strategy thatwould facilitate the absorption process of these new migrant groups.As said above most of the Italian immigrant and so is the othergroups settled in urban centers and cities after moving in the UnitedStates of America. The impact of the high influx of people into townsand cities was increased congestion, overpopulation and overcrowding.Unlike life in the rural areas where agriculture was the maineconomic activity, many urban dwellers were absorbed in serviceindustries. Urban centers were regarded as moral cesspit,characterized by commercialism, corruption and materialism. Dominantcivil organization, religious groups and drive by capitalism soughtto shield the American system from adulteration by immigrant groups.This coerced Congress to pass Acts to restrict immigration ofEuropeans into America. From 1920s to 1960 a number of crucial Actswere passed that sought to limit the influx of new immigrants intothe US. Key among these Acts includes the literacy Act and theNational Origins Quota (Cavaioli 216). The period between world warone and world war two the number of immigrant in US weresignificantly reduced by such Acts. Some of the Acts such theliteracy Acts affected many of Italian especially from the Southernpart of the Country, who wanted to move to American but had littleeducation.
From1965, the doors were opened again after President Johnson Lyndonsigned the Immigration and Nationality Reform Act into Law. Many ofthe Italian immigrants had played a huge role in lobbying for reformsin the immigration policies of the United States. Before the approvalof the Act, the number of Italian immigrants into the United Stateshad been reduced to about 6,000 annually. The new reforms removed therestriction imposed by past regimes and this created room for moreItalian to move to the US. In the following years, the annual numberof Italian immigrant in US ranged between 22,000 and 27,000, until1974 when it started to reduce, as the restrictive laws took effect.The downward trend continued for the remaining decades in the century(Cavaioli 217).
Thispaper has examined the immigration of Italians into the Unites Statesin the 2oth century. As aforementioned in the first three decades,there was a mounting trend in the number of Italian immigrants whomoved to the US. This research has show that number of Italianimmigrants rose significantly because of political, economic andsocial difficulties in the home country. From 1930 to 1970 Italy wasthe leading nation of foreign-born in the US. After 1980, the numberItalian, who moved to the US, significantly reduced owing to theimproved economic environment and political stability. In 1980s and1990s only one percent of the total Italian population (67,500)immigrated into the US (Cavaioli 217).
Itis has been established that Italy has supplied an even pattern ofimmigration to the US. High influx of Italian immigrant to the UnitedStates took place during the first two decades of the 20th century.It reached a peak during the in 1910 where more than 2 millionItalians had moved to the US within a span of ten years (1900-1910).In the century that followed more than one million Italian immigratedto the US. After the crumple of Wall Street in late 1920s and thedebilitating effects of world war two the number of Italian immigrantreduced considerably. From 1950 up to 1970 Italian immigrationcontinued to increase but at a decreasing rate. By the end of 1970,the number had significantly reduced and continued to decrease up todate. (Cavaioli, 223). It is clear that, from 1920s to 1960 a numberof crucial Acts were passed that sought to limit the influx of newimmigrants into the US. Key among these Acts includes the literacyAct and the National Origins Quota
Asaforementioned, the birth rate in Italy had significantly risen in bythe end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the rise in populationwas not accompanied by improved standards of living and economicprosperity. Illiteracy in Italy was substantially higher compared toother European nations (Library of the Congress 1). The situation wascompounded by lack of adequate land for agriculture, increaseddeforestation that caused soil erosion and lack of enough iron andcoal required for heavy industries. Additionally, Italians in thenorthern region dominated the political landscape of the countryowing to the higher level of literacy in the Northern provinces ofItaly. This meant that Italian in the provinces in the Southernregion were heavily hurt by high taxes and protective tariffs imposedto shielded industrial commodities from the Northern part.
Theearliest group of Italian to immigrate into the United Statesoriginated from the Northern part of Italy. These became well-knownmerchants in cities such as California and New York. In the 20thcentury, most the immigrants into the US from Italy came from theSouthern region. Unlike Italian immigrants in the 19th century whohad little education and as such could only secure manual jobs, thosethat immigrated into US in the 2oth century moved to big cities suchas New York to search for wage labor. After six decades the number ofItalians in United States had reached a record high, 5 million. Themain cause of this exodus from Italy was lack of employment.Agricultural prospects had significantly reduced and were neverlucrative. The loyalty of civilians especially those who lived in theSouthern part to Italy was slowly fading away. The sense ofnationalism that had glued the nation together was weakening andslowly crumbling under the pressure of overpopulation and poverty.The hostile social, economic and political climate drove them toAmerican which was considered a land of opportunity.
Theimpact of the high influx of people into towns and cities wasincreased congestion, overpopulation and overcrowding, and thissparked enactment of laws to counteract immigration in the US. Today,the number of Italian immigrants amount to 16 million based on therecent US population census.
Burgan,Michael, and Robert Asher. Italian Immigrants. New York: FactsOn File, 2005. Web.
Cavaioli,J.Frank.Patterns of Italian Immigration to the United States.Farmingdale Sate College,SUNY.2008.
ColellaNicola, Southern Italian Immigration, 2014, Web. Available at
Kraut,Alan.Immigration in the early 1900s," EyeWitnessto History,www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000)
Libraryof the Congress. The Great Arrival. 2014, Web. Available at
Mintz,S., & McNeil, S. (2013). Italian Immigration. DigitalHistory. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014, fromhttp://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu
MolnarAlexandra, History of Italian Immigration, 2010, Web.Available at
Parker,Lewis K. Why Italian Immigrants Came to America. New York:PowerKids Press, 2003. Print.pg 3-4 reasons, problem.
Rapczynski,Joan. The Italian Immigrant Experience in America (1870-1920).2014, Web. Available at
Todd,Anne M. Italian Immigrants, 1880-1920. Mankato, Minn: BlueEarth Books, 2002. Print. One millionpg4-5