The Italian Diaspora

The Italian Diaspora

The Italian diaspora is one with a long and extensive history and provides one of the definitive immigration narratives in the world. It can be divided into three major stages. The first of which occurred during the unification of Italy, between 1861 and 1900. The second stage occurred in the first half of the 20th Century, bookended by the two World Wars.

The third stage occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War. This was caused by a wealth of factors, mainly economic. The country was plagued by widespread poverty, which caused millions to seek a better life elsewhere.

The onset of industrialisation in the latter half of the 19th Century also caused problems among a traditionally agricultural and rural country. In the latter waves, political instability caused by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of the Second World War left many disillusioned and seek new lives elsewhere. Most uniquely was the rise of organised crime, an issue which plagued Southern Italy in particular and caused droves of Italians to leave.

The Italian diaspora scattered around the globe in an extended period of mass immigration. The Americas were overwhelmingly favoured with the United States being a significant hub. 17 million consider themselves Italian Americans and they are amongst the most prevalent immigrant populations in the country. Other major centres in the Americas include Argentina, wherein over 60% of the population claims Italian ancestry. Brazil’s statistical information is notably ambiguous, but is believed to boast a considerable Italian population, particularly in the city of Sao Paolo.

Northern European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France also boast major Italian populations, as does Australia, particularly the city of Melbourne. As one of the largest and most widespread diasporas in the world, the Italian population’s story is long and complex, differing from country to country. It is important to break it down generally before delving into each individual country.

The first wave of Italian immigration was triggered by the unification of Italy, a long and arduous process which took much of the 20th Century to complete. Even once the country had reunified, the ramifications were significant. At the time of its eventual unification, the population was a total of 24 million. Over the course of the first wave of immigration, 7 million of the country’s population fled abroad, over 25% of the total. The majority of these immigrants hailed from the country’s North (2/3), while a sizeable minority hailed from the South (1/3). Prior to Italy’s Unification, the countries were ruled by the feudal land system. This ensured a significant undertaking of the redistribution of land, which was poorly executed and left millions with insufficient allotments or none at all. Cities such as Naples were significantly weakened as it lost almost all of its political power, which encouraged many of its inhabitants to leave. The majority settled in nearby European countries although a significant minority sought out new opportunities in the Americas and Australia.

The second wave of Italian immigration occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century and lasted up until the 1940’s. This is arguably the most significant of the three waves, peaking in the 1910’s. 9 million Italians in total, the majority of which hailed from the more rural, agricultural South, left for the Americas, settling primarily in the United States, Argentina and Brazil. Emigration reached a high point in 1913, during which 873,000 left the country for a new start abroad. Factors behind this immense mass migration were varied, and included political, social and economic reasons. The rise of fascism under dictator Benito Mussolini was a clear trigger. This alienated considerable swathes of the country’s population, already disillusioned by the economic distress that had gripped the country in the wake of the First World War. As the fascist government consolidated control, 1.5 million fled abroad. As it tightened its grip, emigration was effectively halted due to restrictions in policy. To put in perspective the scale of Italian immigration during these two periods, it is believed that a total of 40 million Europeans fled for abroad, 16 million (40%) of which were Italian.

The third major wave, as was the case with many countries around the world, occurred in the wake of the Second World War. With fascism toppled with the ousting and execution of Mussolini, the scars of years of war, poverty and oppression were too much to bare for many, who instead opted to start again overseas. Large parts of Italy were left devastated by the conflict in the Second World War, prompting many to relocate overseas out of necessity.

The Italian diaspora in the United States is one of the latter countries most prevalent and ubiquitous immigrant populations. It has spread throughout the country, with most urban centres claiming a large Italian population. Italian-American is very much a singular cultural identity of its own, with unique customs. Italian mass immigration occurred during the first two phases of Italian emigration, peaking around the late 19th Century/early 20th Century. New York City, a metropolis very much symbolic of the American Dream, was the most significant destination for Italian immigrants to the United States, with a ‘Little Italy’ neighbourhood quickly popping up in Lower Manhattan. Despite the implementation of restrictive immigration policies in the 1920’s, the Italian community of New York continued to grow and assimilate well into the city life, throughout the working and upper classes. Other cities with significant Italian populations include Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, Providence, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. While the Northeastern United States boasts the largest community, it is ubiquitous throughout the country and has left a massive cultural imprint.

Argentina

The Italian community of Argentina is equally massive albeit slightly well-known outside the country. Italian communities in Argentina date back to as early as the late 18th Century. It exploded, as was the case with all Italian immigration to the Americas at the turn of the 20th Century. Between 1880 and 1920 it is estimated that 2 million Italians settled in the country due to domestic discord at home. Buenos Aires, the country’s capital city, quickly became a major Italian hub, with a quarter of the population being of Italian birth by 1914. The population skewed heavily male and generally hailed from agricultural backgrounds.

In the wake of the First World War, immigration halted, particularly as fascism took root and froze emigration. It was not until the aftermath of the Second World War when Italian immigration to Argentina began again in large numbers due to the devastation wrought upon the country. Due to the pre-existing community in Argentina, the country proved to be major draw for Italians looking for a new start abroad. It is believed that nearly 400,000 Italians arrived in Argentina in the decade after the war. Immigration to Argentina gradually lowered as Italy underwent a major economic revival in the 1950’s and 1960’s but the community remains intact today and a major part of the country’s multicultural identity.

Brazil

Brazil is another major hub of Italian immigration, but the specific numbers are notably difficult to estimate and change from source to source. The Italian government believes that there are over 30 million Brazilians of Italian descent today. As Italy sank deep into crisis following the difficult unification process, Brazil became a popular destination. Having banned transatlantic slavery following external pressure from the British, Brazil struggled to adapt to the new labour shortage. Despite a large racist, eugenicist lobby in the higher echelons of Brazilian government, they conceded the need to rely on immigration to stimulate the flagging economy.

These two events coincided and facilitated a large wave of Italian immigration to Brazil towards the end of the 19th Century. Italian colonies were established, with the first wave of immigrants mainly hailing from the North. They were initially mistreated, which caused a brief halt of immigration rates. Between 1902 and 1920, over 300,000 Italians settled in Brazil, far less than in the United States and Argentina. The removal of subsidies was a factor as was the publication of Italians’ mistreatment in Brazil. Immigrants suffered under the lack of labour laws and were effectively slaves working in large-scale farms known as latifundias.

Despite this, the population gradually assimilated over time and overcame mistreatment. Italians became well-known for achieving considerable success throughout the country. The population is widely dispersed throughout the city, with Sao Paolo being the major hub. The city is home to the second-largest Italian population outside of Rome. Belo Horizonte is also a major hub, with 30% of its population being of Italian descent. Italian immigrants played a hugely significant role in the industrialisation of Brazilian cities and remain one of the most prevalent yet well-assimilated minorities in the country.

The Italian diaspora has a lengthy and sometimes confusing narrative, which is a testament to just how widespread it is. Throughout the Americas and elsewhere, the Italian immigrant story is one of the most successful in history, an example of finding a new life elsewhere whilst retaining your roots. The community is widely scattered around the world and its culture has been readily embraced over time throughout. Its immensely popular cuisine and the variants of it which exist throughout the world, are symbolic of its success.

Main image: Mulberry Street, along which New York City’s Little Italy is centered. Lower East Side, circa 1900. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division.

The Italian Diaspora

Study Guides

A Short History Of Convict Australia

Who Were The Convicts? The late 18th century was a period of immense social and political change. France was reeling from revolution and America had just gained her independence. In…

The French Revolution

The French Revolution is one of the most important instances of political upheaval in history, marking France’s transition from Empire to Republic after centuries of monarchy. Lasting a period of…

The Nazis & The Holocaust

Who Were The Nazis? The Nazis, abbreviated from the National Socialist Germany Worker’s Party, rose from the civil unrest in the interwar years in Germany. Spearheaded by Adolf Hitler for…

The Crusades

The Crusades were military campaigns endorsed by the Latin Roman Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages. Pope Urban II declared the First Crusades with the…

The Russian Diaspora

The Russian diaspora is one of the most considerable in the world. Due to the country’s former dominance of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there are an exceptional number of…

Chinatowns Of The World

Chinatowns are located all around the world, from the Americas to Europe as well as Africa, Australia and Asia. These areas are historically known as any ethnic enclave of expatriate…

The Lost World Of Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks, naturalist, explorer, collector, patron and President of the Royal Society for more than 40 years was one of Australia’s founding fathers.  As a young botanist, he accompanied…

A Short History Of Beer

Many anthropologists and archaeologists now believe that it was a taste for beer, not bread that started people farming barley around 9000 BC. Known as the agricultural revolution, it ended…

The Spanish Empire

Lasting nearly five centuries, The Spanish Empire was, at its peak during the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, the world’s most prominent global power, earning the nickname ‘The empire on…

Latin American Independence Movements

The political chaos in Spain predictably resonated throughout its empire, most significantly in Spanish America, which became a battleground for several independence movements during the early 19th Century, marking the…

Planet Of The Apes

The primate family, most closely related to humans, is in danger of becoming extinct. This is largely due to the activities of the nearly seven billion humans inhabiting the earth.…

The English Civil War

 One of the most important and violent periods in British history, the English Civil War was a series of closely related conflicts during the 17th Century, which saw the monarchy…

Volcanoes

Volcanoes have fascinated mankind for generations – their enormous beauty and destructive power revered in awe. They have been worshiped, immortalized in folklore and voraciously studied by geologist throughout the…

The Mongol Empire

One of the most imposing military and imperial forces in history, the Mongol Empire cemented itself as a power to be reckoned with over a very quick period of time.…

The Story Of Cheese

Cheese is one of the most ubiquitous foods in the world, ever-present across the world. Its many different variants reflect the cultural and culinary identity of each corresponding country. History…

Colonial Australia: The Gold Rush And...

The Gold Rush The Victorian gold rush was quite a significant part of Australia’s history, which began in 1851 when one of the earlier discoveries by Thomas Peters, a hut-keeper…

Native Americans

Given their near-genocidal treatment at the hands of European colonialism, the current population of Native Americans in the United States remains staggeringly low at over 5 million, just over 1.6%…

Galleons, Pirates And Treasure

Christopher Columbus put the Americas on the map in 1492. Shortly after, this ignited over 250 years of treasure hunting and vicious competition with the English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese,…

A Short History Of The Moors

Granada – the word in Spanish means pomegranate – a fruit brought to Spain by Moslem tribes from North Africa in the 8th century. They were known as the Moors…

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade (1501-1867), sold at least 12.5 million black Africans as slaves to work for white land-owners on the other side of the ocean. Of these 1.8 million…

A Brief History Of Japan

 The early periods of Japanese history can be divided into four distinct periods. Firstly, the Japanese Paleolithic Period, which lasted several millennia between 40,000 BC to 14,000 BC. Human presence…

A Short History Of Tea

Food Facts: Where: Began in China, now consumed throughout the world, most notably in Japan, England, America, Russia and India. Serving Suggestion: Green Tea - serve without milk and honey to sweeten. Black teas -…

A Global Guide To Coffee Tasting

Coffee primarily grows within a belt thirty degrees north and south of the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Within this belt, more than eighty countries…

Route 66

Route 66 is commonly known as few different names, from Will Rogers Highway, The Main Street of America to the Mother Road, each identifies the famous stretch of highway that…

Who Were The Vikings?

Often misconstrued in contemporary times as a culture of bloodthirsty yet noble savages, the Vikings’ historical legacy is in fact far more complex and important. A race originating from modern day…

Wellington Vs Napoleon

In 1814, it seemed that twenty five years of war in Europe was finally coming to an end with the surrender of the Emperor Napoleon and his banishment to the…

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire occupies a special place in the collective consciousness of the West, at once a dark star on the eastern horizon, threatening the very existence of Western civilisation,…

What Caused World War I?

World War I, the Great War, the War to End all Wars, no matter what you call it, it was a game changer. Lasting from 1914 to 1918, this war…

The American Civil War

A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure  permanently half-slave and half-free. — Abraham Lincoln, 1858 What Was The American Civil War? A war fought…

The American War Of Independence

British Rule [caption id="attachment_23753" align="alignright" width="300"] The Stamp Act Protest, 1765 by Granger[/caption] The brutal and bloody eight-year struggle between the British Empire and the newly-declared United States of America, which…

The Journey of Spices

Spices conjure images of tempting culinary art, fascinating travels and bitter struggles for supremacy. Expressions like variety are the spice of life and sugar and spice and all that is…

The Spanish Inquisition

One of the darker periods of Spanish history is the Spanish Inquisition, which entrenched Spain for over 350 years. Also known as The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the…

The Story Of Chocolate

Our love affair with chocolate began at least 4,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, in present-day southern Mexico and Central America, where cacao grew wild. When the Olmecs unlocked the secret…

Global Cities: Melbourne

No Australian city better personifies the country’s multiculturalism than Melbourne, one of the most diverse melting pots on the planet. The city is one of the most ethnically and culturally…

The Korean Diaspora

Overall, the Korean diaspora is comprised of around 7 million people. This includes Korean-born emigrants as well as the descendants of emigrants. This total includes people from all parts of…

The British Diaspora

Given the supremacy of the British Empire for much of the Age of Discovery, the British diaspora is widely dispersed throughout the world. The United Kingdom retains some control of…

The Mexican Diaspora

Mexican immigration is one of the more contemporary and urgent strands of global mass movement. The Mexican diaspora population is overwhelmingly based in the United States due to geographical proximity.…

The German Diaspora

The German diaspora, like many European populations, is difficult to quantify and is best divided into two separate groups. Countries with large populations of German descent and large countries with…

The Scandinavian Diaspora

The Scandinavian diaspora encompasses the foreign populations of five different countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Despite the distinction between the countries, they bear a number of cultural and…

The Persian Diaspora

The Persian diaspora currently numbers at around 4.5 million people around the world. A significant portion of this population lives in the United States, numbering around 1.5 million (most of…

The Jewish Diaspora

The history of the Jewish diaspora stretches back thousands of years. It remains a contentious and culturally significant issue. The Jewish Homeland of Israel remains a hotbed of political and…

The Thai Diaspora

The Thai diaspora is estimated to account for around 1.1 million people across the world. The most significant Thai populations around the world are based in the United States (247,000),…

The Filipino Diaspora

The Filipino diaspora is one of the largest and most spread-out in the world. Indeed,it is estimated to consist of over 10 million people, 10% of the country’s population. Countries…

The Armenian Diaspora

The Armenian diaspora has a long and extensive history stretching back nearly two millennia. Armenia has been a country which has long been contested by a number of larger powers…

The Japanese Diaspora

The Japanese diaspora has a very rich and unique history despite being a very recent phenomenon. Japan was notably one of the most isolated countries on the planet up until…

The Chinese Diaspora

As the most populous country in the world, it is of little surprise that China has one of the largest diasporas on the planet. It is estimated that there are…

The Vietnamese Diaspora

The Vietnamese diaspora has a population of 4 million people, over half of whom live in the United States. Other countries with significant Vietnamese populations include Cambodia (600,000), France (350,000),…

The Ethiopian Diaspora

The Ethiopian diaspora, despite the long and extensive history of the country, is relatively small and confined to certain countries. With a total population of 107 million, less than 1…

The Cambodian Diaspora

The Cambodian diaspora, as is the case with many other Southeast Asian countries, does not have a relatively long history. The Cambodian Civil War of the 1960’s and 1970’s was…

The Puerto Rican Diaspora

The Puerto Rican diaspora is overwhelmingly centralised in the United States due to the former essentially being a part of the latter. Puerto Ricans comprise 10% of the United States’…

Global Cities: Paris

As one of Europe’s most important major cities, Paris is known for its distinct cultural identity, something which makes it one of the most appealing cities for visitors. With centuries…

The Italian Diaspora

The Italian diaspora is one with a long and extensive history and provides one of the definitive immigration narratives in the world. It can be divided into three major stages.…

The Indian Diaspora

The Indian diaspora is the largest in the world, numbering 31.2 million. It is widely dispersed throughout the world, with sizeable populations across each continent. The United States is home…

The Bangladeshi Diaspora

The Bangladeshi diaspora is one of the largest in the world, with a population of over 7.5 million people. It is fairly evenly distributed around the world, with no country…

The Pakistani Diaspora

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, numbering around 9 million. The large majority are based in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab…

The Sri Lankan Diaspora

The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large in comparison to the country’s overall population. 3 million Sri Lankans live overseas, with Western Europe, the Arab Gulf States and North America…

The Arab Diaspora

The Arab diaspora is one of the most widespread immigrant populations around the world, as well as one of the trickiest to define. Unlike most diaspora populations, Arabs are not…

The Irish Diaspora

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Ireland itself has a very small population of 4.8 million. More than double this number has emigrated from Ireland…

The Polish Diaspora

The Polish diaspora is widespread and has been notably oppressed for centuries by a number of different external forces. This has caused it to become dispersed throughout the world, with…

The Nigerian Diaspora

The Nigerian diaspora is one of the largest African immigrant populations in the world, but its actual size is very difficult to estimate. The advent of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic…

The Jamaican Diaspora

The Jamaican diaspora is a very large one in proportion to its overall population. The Caribbean island nation has a population of 4.4 million. Its diaspora population is over 2…

Showing study guides -