Italian Immigration Late 19th to Term Paper

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The biggest reason for this was financial. Farming takes time to sow, grow and harvest, and there was simply not time for that; the Italian immigrant needed to make as much money as he could in the least time possible; farming simply would not work (2008). Farming also implied a certain amount of permanence, which was not the plan for many Italian immigrants (Mintz 2007).

Land in America was also quite expensive. There had been free land in the west that was given out under the Homestead Act, but that was no longer available (2008). The Italians with their agricultural backgrounds became mostly urban people (Oracle 2010). Rapczynski (2008) posits that another reason could have been because farming simply reminded them of the poor conditions that had left behind in Italy and they wanted to do something different. Because of the vastness of the land in America, many Italians considered the farming profession to be much too isolated (2008) and they were probably uncomfortable with not having other Italians nearby. Because many of them did not want to feel isolated in America (at least any more than they were because of the pervasive racism that existed), neighborhoods became where the Italian immigrant would stay permanently (2008).

Italian immigrants never wanted to go too far away from their neighborhood streets as they were not comfortable with meeting non-Italians (many Americans had names for them like "wop," "guinea," and "dago" (2008) and their English, for the most part, was very limited (2008). There were stores that would not sell its items to Italians and landlords who would not rent homes. Because of this, many Italians would all live very close to each other, even if it meant -- and it often did -- living in very dirty city tenements (2008).

There was a definite pervasiveness of racism against Italians. Gjerde (1998) discusses the dissent towards southern Europeans and states that their "inferior" characteristics was believed to have the potential to pollute the American bloodstream. Overall, the general attitude towards immigrants -- and especially southern and eastern European immigrants -- was a racist one (1998).

Many considered the cities "moral cesspools" (Cavaioli 2008) as this was where many immigrants lived.

Organized labor, dominant religious groups, racists, and others motivated by eugenics sought to protect the American system from this invasion of people they considered to be of "low moral character," distinct form the people who came from northern and northwestern Europe.

Yet the city was the most common permanent destination for many Italian immigrants for the chief reason that most simply did not have enough money to move anywhere else once they had arrived to the U.S. (Inglish 2010). In cities, clusters of Italians from the same area in Italy would live together in close communities.

In some cases, the population of a single Italian village ended up living on the same block in New York, or even the same tenement building, and preserved many of the social institutions, habits of worship, grudges, and hierarchies from the old country. In Italy, this spirit of village cohesion was known as campanilismo -- loyalty to those who live within the sound of the village church bells (Library of Congress 2004).

Sowell (1981) notes that this clustering of individuals from certain localities in Italy wasn't peculiar to America. In the large Italian immigrant population of Argentina around the same time, people from one area of Italy clustered together in much the same fashion. However, while there may have been a concentration of certain groups of Italians -- whether Sicilians or Neapolitans, Italians rarely made up the majority of any large neighborhood in American cities (1981). Other immigrant groups like the Germans, Jews, or Irish -- generally shared the same neighborhood.

The Italians immigrants were segregated from the larger society in the same sense that their contemporary immigrants were -- that immigrant neighborhoods seldom contained any Native American families. Italians were, however, far from being randomly distributed. Italians in 1880 and 1910 were more 'segregated' (in the statistical sense of deviation from a theoretically random distribution) than other immigrants and more segregated than blacks in the same years (Sowell 1981).

Unlike other immigrants that came to America, Italians suffered from exploitation by people of the same nationality and religion (Mintz 2007). The new immigrants didn't think of themselves necessarily as "Italians" but rather as "Neapolitans," "Sicilians," "Calabrians," or "Syracuseans" (Library of Congress 2004). This can probably be best understood by the fact that until 1861, Italy was not a consolidated state. The political, social, and economic divisions within the Italian peninsula prevented cooperative development and each area had its own distinct set of problems and separate history, customs, and dialect (Scarpaci & Mormino 2008). Only when Italians got to America did they truly understand what the concept of nation meant. Di Benedetto (2000) states that Italians became Americans before they were ever truly Italians.

With the exception of the Native American, every American is America is an immigrant. The United States is the prime example of the ultimate multiracial and multinational nation -- however, despite this fact, immigration issues are still a major issue in American politics and culture. The Italians who immigrated to the United States in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century endured much strife in order for later Italians to become successful and welcomed people in America.

Italian-Americans have hung on to many of their cultural traits from their homeland, however, unlike Jews who have a strong preoccupation with Israel, Italian-Americans do not have the same identity and nationalistic feeling for Italy (Sowell 1981). Italian-Americans were ready and willing to take part in the invasion of Italy by the U.S. Army in World War II without feeling a total sense of conflict when it came to their loyalties (1981).

America has proved to be the ultimate land of opportunity for the millions of immigrants who have chosen to call it home. For the Italians who came to America, it was opportunity turned into the reality of progress only by hard work and perseverance (Sowell 1981).

Despite America's self-proclaimed status as a "melting pot" alongside the fact that the United States is a nation built by immigrants, the U.S. still struggles with issues concerning immigration and issues that go along with it such as race. This is obvious when one considers the problem of illegal immigrants in the United States and Arizona's new immigration law. Arizona's new immigration law that went into effect in July of 2010 makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and instructs the police to question people about their immigration status and request to see they documents if there is reason to think that they are illegal (Elder 2010). Federal law makes it so that noncitizens carry documents to prove that they are in the country legally. Arizona makes the failure to do so a state crime (2010). The law says: "For any lawful stop, detention or arrest…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien…a reasonable attempt shall be made…to determine the immigration status of the person" (2010). Many believe that the law is unconstitutional and that there are too many gray areas to be morally right or fair. Can a person be stopped because they are darker skinned and may be Mexican? Well, if someone were stopped for a reason that wasn't associated with illegal entry into the United States, can looking a certain way make a police officer suspect that he or she is in the U.S. illegally? What constitutes reasonable suspicion? What is a lawful stop? (2010).

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965. The new law eradicated the national origins quota system (a formulaic device designed and established by Congress in 1924 to ensure stability in the ethnic composition of the U.S.) and banned racial considerations from expressly entering into decisions about immigrant visas (Johnson 2010). Immigration from the Western Hemisphere had previously been restricted not through quotas. With the end of the quota system, the racial demographics of the immigration stream changed dramatically (2010). There were now increasing numbers of immigrants of color coming to the United States. Not surprisingly and certainly not coincidentally, concern with immigration, particularly the race of the immigrants, grew with the years (2010).

Though the elimination of the national quotas systems removed openly expressed discrimination from immigration laws, it did not by any means remove all the leftovers of racism (Johnson 2010). Today, there is no doubt that there is major public concern about undocumented Mexican immigration, and it seemed to have come to a head as the population of people with Mexican ancestors grew in the United States (2010).

Things have changed a lot since the massive influx of Italians immigrants coming into the United States; however, some things simply…

Sources Used in Document:


Cavaioli, Frank J. (2008). Patterns of Italian immigration to the United States. The Catholic social science review,13, 213-229.

Di Benedetto, Alessandra. (2000). Italian immigration to the United States.

Retrieved on September 20, 2010, from

Diner, Hasia R. (1983). Erin's daughters in America: Irish immigrant women in the nineteenth century. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

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