BY:   TOM FRASCELLA                                                                                                                                  OCT.   2011

                                                                                                            PART  A


The first thing that we must recognize is that although the scope of the 1880-1930 southern Italian migration was on an unprecedented scale. The Italian peninsula has been an exporter of Human talent throughout its history. There is no period in Italian recorded history where an example of Italians leaving their native shores does not exist. Italian intellect, expertise, skill and craftsmanship has been respected and in demand for thousands of years.

 Looking specifically at Italian migration over the last several centuries confirms however that the scope and destination of Italians has dramatically increased over traditional historic patterns. Immigration from Italy to the shores of what would become the continental United States in turn represents only a fraction of the total 15 million people that took part in the Italian Diaspora worldwide. In all it is estimated that some 5.1 million Italians, 80% southern Italian, immigrated to our shores between 1492 and the present. The flow of immigrants from the Italian peninsula to our shores has taken on different characteristics at different times. Generally, most analysis projects the flow in terms of waves and in keeping with that I will use that descriptive method.

 The first wave of Italian immigration to what would become the continental U.S. is during our colonial period roughly 1492-1792. Over this period of three hundred years it is estimated that 10,000 Italians arrived. Most of those who ventured were professionals among the very best in their fields. Among them were sea captains, navigators, chart makers, explorers, artisans, engineers, physicians, and missionaries etc. 80% of these individuals were from central or northern Italy, only about half settled into American colonial life. Because of their advanced skills they often made contributions to the colonial infrastructure far in excess of what their numbers would suggest. Since their numbers were so few over such a long period there was no identifiable “Italian” colonial community as such. In addition, since the vast majority of these individuals were men, those that settled down and married tended to marry within the colonial society that existed. As a result, they blended in very quickly and their descendants are often hard to identify.

 The second wave occurred between 1792 and 1852. It shared three characteristics with the first wave. First, again about 10,000 Italians were involved in the immigration. However, it occurred in 60 years instead of 300. Once again about 80% of the Italians were from central and northern Italy with about half their numbers ultimately returning to Europe. What was different was that these immigrants were primarily middle- class Italians, many of whom were involved in the Italian anti colonial/ independence movement. As a result the U.S. government classified these immigrants as “political refugees”. Although these immigrants did not cluster in neighborhoods they tended to be in contact and network to keep current on Italian conditions and even established Italian publications in the U.S.

 It is here that I depart from the traditional view and believe that a third transitional wave occurred between the years 1852-1882. According to Catholic census records during this thirty year period approximately 75,000 Italians immigrated to the U.S. This is the first substantial Immigration period and far out-sized the previous examples in number and relatively short duration. Of those immigrating during that period about 20,000 arrived in the first twenty years, 50% from central and northern Italy and 50% southern Italian. This represents the first time large numbers of southern Italians are entering the U.S. Those coming out of southern Italy were primarily from rural Lucania and extremely poor. The unprecedented poverty associated with Italian immigrants was something that the U.S. had not previously experienced. As a result the public perception of Italians and Italy as presented in the media began to change during this period. It is this 1852-1872 period that we begin to see the clustering of poor southern Italians in American slum neighborhoods like the Five Points in New York City. Statistics on the Five Points indicate that in 1860 3% of the Five Point population was Italian and by 1870 the Italian presence had risen to 6% of the total. While only a small minority within the greater Five Points neighborhood, the clustering of Italians in tenement houses was by 1870 already being publicly called a “Little Italy”. The remaining 55,000 Italian immigrants from this period arrived in the final ten years 1872-1882. In the 1872-1882 ten year period southern Italians, primarily from Lucania, became the dominate regional contributor to Italian immigration to the U.S. For the first time approximately 80%, of the total number of Italians arriving from Italy originated in southern Italy. These arrivals continued to need to seek out the most modest of living conditions such as the Five Points slum.

  This serge in poor rural Italian immigration is reflected in the statistic that by 1880 25% of the population of the Five Points neighborhood was Italian. In a mere twenty year period the ethnic composition of the Five Points had gone from 3% to 25%. Manhattan’s Little Italy was beginning to form and take shape.

 Some writers consider the next twenty year span a separate wave while others join this period to the 1902-1930 period as one massive wave of immigration1882-1930. However, I think it is better to work with the numbers as two distinct periods. The years 1882-1902 saw approximately 900,000 Italians arrive in the U.S. In the decade 1882-1892 approximately 310,000 and in the decade 1892-1902 approximately 652,000 arrived. Again these were primarily poor rural southern Italians. By 1890 approximately 50% of the population of the Five Points was Italian. After 1890 the neighborhood rapidly became almost exclusively Italian. Later Italian immigration occurred in such massive numbers that hundreds of Little Italies began to develop in many areas of New York City and in many other U.S. industrial centers where jobs could be found. In Trenton’s Chambersburg section, for example the “Italian” presence began to be noticed as early as the mid 1880’s but did not begin to be the majority population until the early 1900’s.

 The years 1902-1930 are the years most talked about and get the most press by those who examine Italian immigration and Italian American issues. Although a million Italians had arrived prior to this time period 90% of what is written about Italian immigration focuses solely on the 1902-1930 time frame. This is because approximately three and a half million Italians arrived during this time. 75% of the total Italian immigration up to 1930 occurred during this last thirty year segment of time. Probably about 95% of all Americans who are of Italian descent have at least one ancestor that arrived within this thirty year period. For those interested in the statistics about 1,600,000 Italians arrived in the decade 1902-1912. In the following period 1912-1930 about 1,900,000 Italians arrived. 

 The U. S. severely limited immigration by law in 1924. After that immigration to the U.S. was limited to just 8,000 a year. In 1930 Italy cut off emigration as part of its pre-war national strategy. Immigration to the U. S. from Italy at the 8,000-10,000 person a year level renewed after the war around 1950. It should be noted that between 1950 and the present approximately 500,000-600,000 Italians have immigrated to the U.S since 1950.

To make the above statistical information a little more accessible I will break it down as follows:


           Five Points or Lower Manhattan’s Little Italy


     Year                                                            Percentage Italian


1860                                                                                                                                                3%

1870                                                                                                                                                6%

1880                                                                                                                                            25%

1890                                                                                                                                            50%

      Post 1890                                                            Majority Italian


                       Italian Immigration to the U.S


                         Early Immigration to U.S>


 Year                                                          Number Arriving Continental U.S.

1492-1792                                                                                                                                10,000

1792-1852                                                                                                                                10,000

               Mass Italian Immigration to U.S by Decade


1852-1862                                                                                                                                    9,000

1862-1872                                                                                                                                  12,000

1872-1882                                                                                                                                  55,000

1882-1892                                                                                                                              310,000

1892-1902                                                                                                                              650,000

1902-1912                                                            1,600,000

1912-1930                                                            1,900,000

1930-1940                                                                          0

1940-1950                                                                          0


1950-1960                                                                 90,000

1960-1970                                                                 90,000

1970-1980                                                                 90,000

1980-1990                                                                 90,000

1990-2000                                                                 90,000

2000-2010                                                                 90,000                                                     




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