Some people think they know about Italians and Italy just by eating a pizza from Pizza Hut. Not the case. Sadly, many people have no idea how hard many Italians worked to come and share their delicious food (no, not Pizza Hut), music, and culture with the United States. If you were living in Italy between 1876 and 1976, then either you or someone close to you was most likely moving to the United States. It was during this time period that the largest amount of Italians immigrated to the United States. It was not that the Italians did not love their home.
In fact, Italy has with good cause claimed to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places to visit. In the late 1800’s, however, beautiful land did not put bread on the table. With low wages and high taxes, it was hard for a man to provide for his family. At the time, the country was beginning to get overpopulated and with very little education opportunities. Organized crime, such as the mafia, was also beginning to cause problems. Many people had no choice but to immigrate. This split up some families and separated many lovers.
The trip to Ellis Island in New York, was often referred to as “Isola della Lacrime,” or, the island of tears. To the Italian immigrants, America looked like it does to many people – the land of opportunity and prosperity for those who were willing to work hard. Some, however, did not come to America with the thoughts of staying permanently. Some dreamed that once they built up capitol, they would be able to take their earnings home to Italy and survive and also help the economy there. According to www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAEitaly.
htm, from 1890 to 1900, 655,888 arrived in the United States. The Italians generally gravitated to the larger cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit. In 1900 to 1910 over 2,100,00 arrived. Of this amount, about 40 per cent eventually went home to Italy permanently. They were willing to work long hours for low amounts of money. They began to prosper over the Irish and were even taking over jobs that some of the Jews worked in factories. This made them unpopular with the Irish. They began to have prejudices between the two groups. According to www. ailf.
org, the Italians, who were mostly Catholic, were disappointed when they came to the United States and saw that the Catholic churches were dominated by the Irish. This certainly did not help bond the Italians and the Irish. As the number of Italians increased in the big cities, they began to group together to avoid prejudices and hate acts. The groups that they formed were called “Little Italy’s” and are still prevalent today. They were able to form their own schools, their own forms of worship, and their own businesses, such as bakeries, pizzerias, and even the clothing industry.
In an interview on memory. loc. gov, with Italian immigrant “Rosa R,” she said that she came to America when she was only fifteen years old in 1969. She said that her overall feeling about coming to America was “sad … I missed my family and friends. ” Her family, who came for better income opportunity, settled in Blue Island, IL. Her hopes and dreams for coming to America were that of many girls, “I always wanted to become a hairdresser and have the opportunity to have a job. I wanted to raise a family. ”
Rosa said that it was very difficult to communicate with people when she arrived to Blue Island. Rosa said that there are still traditions that she and her family keep alive while away from their Italy. “St. Donato’s Day, first week of August, getting together with my family on Sundays, eating pasta every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. We still celebrate every holiday. ” Though the Italians loved their communities, their home-style traditions began to waver as some of them picked up American traditions and perhaps married outside of the community.
This both angered and pleased older, more traditional Italians. Some of them were angered that their traditions were being lost and that their children’s children would forget Italy, but some were happy that their people were finally intermingling with other Americans and were getting experiences that they might not have had. The growth of Italians in the U. S. was not only positive. They began to gain a reputation for being criminals because of a few notorious mafia members. High profile criminals such as Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Lucky Luciando did not help improve the Italian image.
One classic movie that most people associate with the mafia is “The God Father. ” Again, it does not necessarily help the Italian image. The accusations of being criminal were not fair. The number of Italians that were involved in the mafia and the number that were not were vastly different. While there were some who opted the mafia lifestyle, there were many who quietly lived their life contributing to society and not looking for any trouble with the law. By the time World War I hit the United States, the Italians replaced many Jews in the sweated trades of making clothing for the soldiers.
The hard working mentality that they had in Italy followed them to the United States and made them some of the most successful immigrants in history. In another interview from memory. loc. gov, immigrant Donnatella B, came to America when she was twenty-one in 1987. “Stepping off the plane, I entered a state of culture shock; nothing looked familiar and she felt so distant from the people around her. I walked in amazement trying to fathom the extraordinary change that I had undergone. When I finally arrived at my new home, I felt that my adventure had commenced,” Donnatella said.
“I began searching for occupations that wouldn’t require much speaking; I was not afraid to work hard, for I had done so my whole life. I soon found a job in a cafeteria, working long hours, six days a week. My hardest obstacle was the language barrier. I hadn’t realized what an important part of who I was relied on my ability to communicate with others. I felt like people were underestimating my intelligence and labeling me as ‘just another foreigner. ’” Donatella goes on to say that she a very hard time learning the language as an adult.
To help her adjust to the language and culture, she signed up in night school. The more she studied, the less intimidated she became about this strange new world. The ships from Italy to America have many stories to tell. Some of them are full of hope and happiness while others were tragic. Some husbands had to leave their families in Italy while they came to build a home and career in America and then send for their family later. Not all families were reunited. Not everyone in the 1800’s survived sickness that occurred while traveling to the United States. “My perseverance and hard work paid off.
I was smiling, meeting new people, and most of all, happy to be in America. My struggles were overcome by hard work and determination. I made the most out of what I was given and am thankful for all America has offered,” said Donatella B. Currently, Italy’s economy is booming. Still considered one of the most desirable places to go for those in love, or even just as a vacation, Italy has beautiful lands such as Rome, Sicily, Florence, and Venice. From magical gondola rides to places full of thousands of years of history, Italy has more to offer her people than she did in the earlier days.
Some famous Italian-Americans are crooner, Tony Bennett, entertainer, Dean Martin, the lovable Frank Sinatra, and sports fans will appreciate a couple of Italian Americans who have brought home some medals, Mario Andretti and Joe DiMaggio, to name a few. Though the Italian immigrants feared that their culture would be lost in the United States, there are many who are dedicated more than ever to keep the traditions alive. Italian communities are very inviting so that people can learn more about their culture.
The oh-so-delicious Italian recipes are still handed down to daughters and granddaughters and families still hold strong to the pride of their country. As they should be. Italy will always thrive and live through the blood of those who have brought Italy to America. Ciao!
Works Cited “Immigration: the Italians. ” University of California. 19 Nov. 2006 <http://library. thinkquest. org/20619/Italian. html>. “Interviews with Todays Immigrants. ” The Learning Page. 15 Aug. 2006. The Library of Congress. 19 Nov. 2006 <memory. loc. gov>.