Italian emigrants in America

In 1924, the USA passed a law to reduce the emigrant numbers. Up until then there were no restrictions. About 78 % of all emigrants were men. They predominantly came from Sicily, Apulia and Calabria. Generally, the Italian emigrants had little or no work qualifications. Approximately 80% entered the country through Ellis Island, respectively the port of New York. 80 % stayed in the Northeast of the USA, about two thirds stayed in New York State.

Most of the emigrants had the intention to return back home to Italy after they had made enough money to have a decent life in the hills of Sicily or the fields of the Piemont. Between 1908 and 1914, about a quarter of the Italian immigrants actually returned to their homeland.

Those who stayed initially worked in craft shops, factories, mines or the textile business. Only the second or even third generations began owning their own businesses, opened their own small shops, restaurants or hair salons.

Italian immigrants were discriminated against as they did not show any signs of integration. They stayed amongst themselves in areas such as “Little Italy” in New York City and Chicago, only few even bothered to learn English as all of their co-workers, friends and family members would speak Italian.

Between 1890 and 1930, 97.5 % of all Italian immigrants to the US were illiterate. Today Italian is still in fifth place of the most spoken languages in the US, with more than 16 million native speakers.

Where did they go to?

List of the US-States with the number of residents with Italian origin (in 1990):

  1. New York 2,790,408
  2. New Jersey 1,547,470
  3. California 1,533,599
  4. Pennsylvania 1,528,225
  5. Florida 1,147,946
  6. Massachusetts 918,838
  7. Illinois 739,284
  8. Ohio 720,847
  9. Connecticut 652,016
  10. Michigan 484,486
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