The Early Italian Immigrants and Their Impact on American Culture


Early Italian immigrants , like so many other cultural groups, came to America looking for new opportunities. They endured many hardships before, during, and after their travels to the U.S. However, despite the challenges these immigrants faced, their culture not only endured, but made a lasting impact on American culture as well. This article gives facts about the early Italian immigrants, and what life was like for them in the New World.

Italian Immigration

Between 1821 and 1930, vast amounts of Italian immigrants came to America from regions all over Italy. The greatest number came between 1880 and 1914, when about four million Italian immigrants settled in cities throughout the northeast. The majority of immigrants were from the southern regions of Italy such as Campania, Sicily, and the city of Naples. The most common reasons these italians immigrated were lack of economic opportunities, disease, poverty, and starvation. There were already immigrants from other parts of Europe in America, and Italians wanted to share in the new opportunities that America offered.

 Italian Immigration To The United States: This gives a history of when Italians Immigrated, and where they settled

 Early Italian Immigrants in California: This offers a timeline of early Italian immigrants in California, and their culture.

 Italian Communities In Wisconsin: This article gives the history of Italian settlement in Wisconsin, especially in the city of Madison.

Early Immigrant Life

Life for Italian immigrants was not easy. Most of them were poor, and lived in lower-class communities in large cities that came to be known as "Little Italy's." These "Little Italy" communities were known as such because of the large number of Italian immigrants and the Italian culture that they continued to carry on with full force. Everyone in the community spoke the same language, practiced the same religion, cooked similar food, and shared similar ways of life. Very often the immigrants in these communities would help new immigrants adjust to life in America. At the time Italians immigrants were viewed as the bottom of society, and so they often had to take on menial work such as garbage collectors, sewing in factories, and other difficult job that were deemed as undesirable. 

 Jobs For Early Italian Immigrants: This article includes pictures, and talks about the types of work the early Italians performed.

 The Early Years of the Zancanella Family: This is an interview about the Zancanella Family, when the first member of the family immigrated to the U.S., and the types of industries the family members worked in.

 Italians In The Coalmines: This is a PDF report about early Italian experiences working the coal mines.

 Early Italian Culture

Early Italian culture revolved almost exclusively around the extended family. Families pulled together to earn income, raise children, and offer moral support. Italians brought with them wonderful foods that are now part of American culture. The foods that Italian immigrants are most noted for is pizza and pasta. However, many cheeses, breads, olive oils, wines, and meats were imported to the United States, as well as the abundant use of tomatoes, particularly for sauces. Italians families were, and are a very religious people. The almost exclusive religion of early immigrants was Catholicism, and Catholicism is still the predominant cultural religion to this day. Roman Catholic parishes were established in the States to preserve this aspect of Italian culture.

 Italian Assimilation Into American Culture: This article looks at the desire for Italians to assimilate, especially during the Great Depression years.

 Giving Voice To An Immigrant Story: This is a book review about the history of Boston’s Italian community.

 How Mass Market Italian Food Falls Short: This is a USA Today article that gives a humorous look at the misguided attempts at Italian, mass marketed food, compared to traditional, regional Italian food. The point is that over time, the recipes have assimilated to American taste.

 Rosa: The Life Of An Italian Immigrant: This is a moving autobiography about Rosa Cavalleri’s immigration from Italy in 1884. The book details her personal trials, how she adapted to a forced migration to the U.S. , and her eventual settlement in Chicago.

Italian Americans have most certainly staked their claim in the American Dream. They have risen up the social ranks from the disadvantaged and impoverished, to wealth, and opportunity providers. Some of the most notable, and beloved entertainers are of Italian decent.  However, as time has changed, the basic values of family, unity, and hard work prevail. These values are a source of pride and dignity that link Italian Americans of today to their ancestors that first came to this country so many years ago.