Italian American facts for kids
Americans with Italian ancestry by state according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey in 2019
|17,767,630 (4.8%) alone or in combination
5,953,262 (1.8%) Italian alone
|Regions with significant populations
|Northeastern United States (parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island);
Illinois (especially Chicago); also, parts of Baltimore–Washington, Ohio, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Detroit; parts of California (such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego), Florida (particularly the southern part of the state) and the Atlantic coast, Louisiana (especially New Orleans), with growing populations in Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque
|Predominantly Catholicism with small minorities practicing Protestantism and Judaism
|Related ethnic groups
|Italian Argentines, Italian Brazilians, Italian Chileans, Italian Venezuelans, Italian Uruguayans, Italian Peruvians, Italian Canadians, Italian Mexicans, Italian Australians, Italian South Africans, Italian Britons, Italian New Zealanders, Sicilian Americans, Corsican Americans, Corsican-Puerto Ricans, Maltese Americans, and other Italians
An Italian American is a U.S. citizen of Italian descent. It may mean someone born in the United States with Italian parents or grandparents or someone born in Italy who moved to the United States. The largest group of Italians moved to the United States in the early 1900s; two million moved between 1900 to 1914. Only Irish and Germans moved to the United States in bigger numbers. In 2000 the government counted 15.6 million Italian Americans in the United States. This means that in the year 2000, for every 1000 Americans, 56 of them were Italian Americans.
Italian Americans have been an important part in building the United States. Many great politicians, inventors, scientists, soldiers, musicians and film makers (actors and directors) have been Italian Americans. The Mafia in the United States was made by some Italian Americans but nearly all Italian Americans have nothing to do with it.
New York City has more Italian Americans than any other city in the United States. More than 3 million Italians live in or near New York. The states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Florida and Massachusetts also have large Italian American populations. There are large Italian-American populations in the cities of Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Ohio, which each have over a half million Italians.
Between 1820 and 2004 approximately 5.5 million Italians migrated from Italy to the United States during the Italian diaspora, in several distinct waves, with the greatest number arriving in the 20th century from Southern Italy. Initially, many Italian immigrants (usually single men), so-called "birds of passage", sent remittance back to their families in Italy and, eventually, returned to Italy; however, many other immigrants eventually stayed in the United States, creating the large Italian American communities that exist today.
In 1870, prior to the large wave of Italian immigrants to the United States, there were fewer than 25,000 Italian immigrants in America, many of them Northern Italian refugees from the wars that accompanied the Risorgimento—the struggle for Italian reunification and independence from foreign rule which ended in 1870.
Immigration began to increase during the 1870s, when more than twice as many Italians immigrated than during the five previous decades combined. The 1870s were followed by the greatest surge of immigration, which occurred between 1880 and 1914 and brought more than 4 million Italians to the United States, the largest number coming from the Southern Italian regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily, which were still mainly rural and agricultural and where much of the populace had been impoverished by centuries of foreign rule and the heavy tax burdens levied after unification of Italy in 1861. This period of large-scale immigration ended abruptly with the onset of World War I in 1914 and, except for one year (1922), never fully resumed, though many Italians managed to immigrate despite new quota-based immigration restrictions. Italian immigration was limited by several laws Congress passed in the 1920s, such as the Immigration Act of 1924, which was specifically intended to reduce immigration from Italy and other Southern European countries, as well as immigration from Eastern European countries, by restricting annual immigration per country to a number proportionate to each nationality's existing share of the U.S. population in 1920, as determined by the National Origins Formula (which calculated Italy to be the fifth-largest national origin of the U.S., to be allotted 3.87% of annual quota immigrant spots).
Following Italian unification, the Kingdom of Italy initially encouraged emigration to relieve economic pressures in Southern Italy. After the American Civil War, which resulted in over a half million killed or wounded, immigrant workers were recruited from Italy and elsewhere to fill the labor shortage caused by the war. In the United States, most Italians began their new lives as manual laborers in eastern cities, mining camps and farms. Italians settled mainly in the Northeastern U.S. and other industrial cities in the Midwest where working-class jobs were available. The descendants of the Italian immigrants steadily rose from a lower economic class in the first and second generation to a level comparable to the national average by 1970. The Italian community has often been characterized by strong ties to family, the Catholic Church, fraternal organizations, and political parties.
Italian Americans have played a prominent role in the economy of the United States, and have founded companies of great national importance, such as Bank of America (by Amadeo Giannini in 1904), Qualcomm, Subway, Home Depot and Airbnb among many others. Italian Americans have also made important contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy through their business expertise.
Italian Americans have served as CEO's of numerous major corporations, such as the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation by Lee Iacocca, IBM Corporation by Samuel Palmisano, Lucent Technologies by Patricia Russo, The New York Stock Exchange by Richard Grasso, Honeywell Incorporated by Michael Bonsignore and Intel by Paul Otellini. Economist Franco Modigliani was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics "for his pioneering analyses of saving and of financial markets." Economist Eugene Fama was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2013 for his contribution to the empirical analysis of portfolio theory, asset pricing, and the efficient-market hypothesis.
Italian Americans have been responsible for major breakthroughs in virtually all fields of science, including engineering, medicine and physics. Physicist and Nobel-prize laureate Enrico Fermi was the creator of the world's first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1, and among the leading scientist involved in the Manhattan Project during WW2. One of the main Fermi's collaborators, Franco Rasetti, was awarded the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal by the National Academy of Sciences for his contributions to Cambrian paleontology. Federico Faggin developed the first micro-chip and micro-processor. Robert Gallo led research that identified a cancer-causing virus. Anthony Fauci in 2008 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on the AIDS relief program PEPFAR. Astrophysicist Riccardo Giacconi was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources. Virologist Renato Dulbecco won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on oncoviruses. Pharmacologist Louis Ignarro was co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for demonstrating the signaling properties of nitric oxide. Microbiologist Salvador Luria won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969 for his contribution to major discoveries on the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses. Physicist William Daniel Phillips in 1997 won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to laser cooling. Physicist Emilio Segrè discovered the elements technetium and astatine, and the antiproton, a subatomic antiparticle, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1959. Nine Italian Americans, including a woman, have gone into space as astronauts: Wally Schirra, Dominic Antonelli, Charles Camarda, Mike Massimino, Richard Mastracchio, Ronald Parise, Mario Runco, Albert Sacco and Nicole Marie Passonno Stott. Rocco Petrone was the third director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, from 1973 to 1974.
The works of a number of early Italian American authors and poets, born of immigrant parents, were published in the first half of the 20th century. Pietro Di Donato, born in 1911, was a writer best known for his novel, Christ in Concrete, which was hailed by critics in the United States and abroad as a metaphor for the immigrant experience in America.
Italian Americans have written not only about the Italian American experience but, indeed, the human experience. Some of the most popular inspirational books have been authored by Italian Americans – notably, those of Og Mandino, Leo Buscaglia and Antoinette Bosco. A series of inspirational books for children has been written by Tomie dePaola. Contemporary best-selling fiction writers include David Baldacci, Kate DiCamillo, Richard Russo, Adriana Trigiani, and Lisa Scottoline.
During the era of mass immigration, rural families in Italy did not place a high value on formal education since they needed their children to help with chores as soon as they were old enough. For many, this attitude did not change upon arriving in America, where children were expected to help support the family as soon as possible. This view toward education steadily changed with each successive generation. The 1970 census revealed that those under age 45 had achieved a level of education comparable to the national average, and within six decades of their peak immigration year, Italian Americans as a whole had equaled the national average in educational attainment. Presently, according to Census Bureau data, Italian Americans have an average high school graduation rate, and a higher rate of advanced degrees compared to the national average. Italian Americans throughout the United States are well represented in a wide variety of occupations and professions, from skilled trades, to the arts, to engineering, science, mathematics, law, and medicine, and include a number of Nobel prize winners.
There are two Italian international schools in the United States, La Scuola International in San Francisco, and La Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi in New York City.
Italian American pidgin
Italian American pidgin or Italian American slang is a pidgin language thought to have developed in the early 1900s in American cities with a large Italian population, primarily New York and New Jersey. It soon spread to many Italian communities across cities and metropolitan areas in both the U.S. and Canada. It is not a language in its own right but is a mix of the various Italian dialects and American English.
Italian Americans have profoundly influenced the eating habits of America. An increasing number of Italian dishes are well known and enjoyed. Italian American TV personalities, such as Mario Batali, Giada DeLaurentiis, Rachael Ray, Lidia Bastianich, and Guy Fieri have hosted popular cooking shows featuring Italian cuisine.
While heavily influenced by and sharing common dishes with Italian cuisine, especially the Neapolitan and Sicilian traditions of typical Italian immigrants to the United States, Italian American cuisine differs in several respects. The greater availability of meat in quantity led to new staples such as spaghetti and meatballs, while pizza evolved regionally into styles as diverse as Chicago-style deep dish and New York thin crust.
One of the most characteristic and popular of Italian American cultural contributions has been their feasts. Throughout the United States, wherever one may find an "Italian neighborhood" (often referred to as "Little Italy"), one can find festive celebrations such as the well-known Feast of San Gennaro in New York City, the unique Our Lady of Mount Carmel "Giglio" Feast in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, Italian feasts involve elaborate displays of devotion to Jesus Christ and patron saints.
On the weekend of the last Sunday in August, the residents of Boston's North End celebrate the "Feast of all Feasts" in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, which was started over 300 years ago in Montefalcione, Italy. Perhaps the most widely known is St. Joseph's feast day on March 19. These feasts are much more than simply isolated events within the year. Feast (Festa in Italian) is an umbrella term for the various secular and religious, indoor and outdoor activities surrounding a religious holiday. Typically, Italian feasts consist of festive communal meals, religious services, games of chance and skill and elaborate outdoor processions consisting of statues resplendent in jewels and donations. The celebration usually takes place over the course of several days, and is communally prepared by a church community or a religious organization over the course of several months.
Currently, there are more than 300 Italian feasts celebrated throughout the United States. Notable is Festa Italiana, held in Milwaukee every summer. These feasts are visited each year by millions of Americans from various backgrounds who come together to enjoy Italian music and food delicacies. In the past, as to this day, an important part of Italian American culture centers around music and cuisine.
TV and press
Numerous American television personalities are of Italian descent. Talk-show hosts include Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Kelly Ripa, Maria Bartiromo, Adam Carolla, Neil Cavuto, Kelly Monaco, Jai Rodriguez, Annette Funicello, Victoria Gotti, Tony Danza, Giuliana DePandi, Giuliana Rancic, Bruno Cipriani.
There are several museums in the United States, dedicated to Italian American culture:
- San Francisco, California: Museo ItaloAmericano
- Los Angeles, California: Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
- Chicago, Illinois: Casa Italia Chicago
- New Orleans, Louisiana: American Italian Cultural Center
- Albany, New York: American Italian Heritage Association and Museum
- New York, New York: Italian American Museum
- New York, Staten Island: Garibaldi-Meucci Museum
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: History of Italian Immigration Museum (Filitalia Foundation)
Discrimination and stereotyping
During the period of mass immigration to the United States, Italians suffered widespread discrimination in housing and employment. They were often victims of prejudice, economic exploitation, and sometimes even violence, particularly in the South. Beginning in the late 1880s, anti-ethnic sentiment increased, and Catholic churches were often vandalized and burned and Italians were attacked by mobs. In the 1890s, it is estimated that more than 20 Italians were lynched. Much of the anti-Italian hostility in the United States was directed at Southern Italians and Sicilians, who began immigrating to the United States in large numbers after 1880. Before that, there were relatively few Italians in North America.
From the earliest days of the movie industry, Italians have been portrayed as violent criminals and sociopaths. This trend has continued to the present day. The stereotype of Italian Americans is the standardized mental image which has been fostered by the entertainment industry, especially through commercially successful movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino; and TV programs such as The Sopranos. This follows a known pattern in which it is possible for the mass media to effectively create universally recognized, and sometimes accepted, stereotypes.
The effective stereotyping of Italian Americans as being associated with organized crime was shown by a comprehensive study of Italian American culture on film, conducted from 1996 to 2001 by the Italic Institute of America. The findings showed that over two-thirds of the more than 2,000 films studied portray Italian Americans in a negative light. Further, close to 300 movies featuring Italian Americans as criminals have been produced since The Godfather, an average of nine per year.
In actuality, according to recent FBI statistics, Italian American organized crime members and associates number approximately 3,000; and, given an Italian American population estimated to be approximately 18 million, the study concludes that only one in 6,000 has any involvement with organized crime (0.007% of Italian-Americans).
In the 2000 U.S. census, Italian Americans constituted the fifth largest ancestry group in America with about 15.6 million people, 5.6% of the total U.S. population. Sicilian Americans are the largest subset of numerous Americans of regional Italian ancestries, with 83% of Italian Americans being descended from Sicily. As of 2006, the U.S. census estimated the Italian American population at 17.8 million persons, or 6% of the population, constituting a 14% increase over the six-year period.
In 2010, the American Community Survey enumerated Americans reporting Italian ancestry at nearly 17.6 million, 5.8% of the U.S. population; in 2015, 17.3 million, 5.5% of the population. A decade thereafter, in 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded slightly more than 16.5 million Americans reporting full or partial Italian ancestry, about 5.1% of the U.S. population. As ancestry is self-reported, the decline in Italian identification in the 21st century may merely reflect growing Americanization and cultural assimilation of Italian Americans into the broader identity of White Americans, with younger generations increasingly intermixed with other European Americans: the number of Americans who reported being solely of Italian ancestry alone fell by 928,044—from 7,183,882 in 2010 to 6,652,806 in 2015 to 5,724,762 in 2020. However, by contrast, the number of Americans who reported being of Italian ancestry mixed with another ancestry grew by 436,334—from 10,387,926 in 2010 to 10,632,691 in 2015 to 10,824,260 in 2020.
U.S. states with over 10% people of Italian ancestry
- Rhode Island 18.9%
- Connecticut 18.7%
- New Jersey 16.8%
- New York 15.93%
- Massachusetts 13.9%
- Pennsylvania 12.2%
- New Hampshire 10.7%
- Delaware 10.1%
U.S. communities with the most residents of Italian ancestry
The top 20 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Italian ancestry are:
- Fairfield, New Jersey 50.3%
- Johnston, Rhode Island 49.5%
- North Branford, Connecticut 43.9%
- East Haven, Connecticut 43.6%
- Hammonton, New Jersey 43.2%
- Ocean Gate, New Jersey 42.6%
- East Hanover, New Jersey 41.3%
- North Haven, Connecticut 41.2%
- Cedar Grove, New Jersey 40.8%
- Wood-Ridge, New Jersey 40.6%
- North Providence, Rhode Island 38.9%
- Dunmore, Pennsylvania 38.9%
- Newfield, New Jersey 38.8%
- Saugus, Massachusetts 38.5%
- Jenkins, Pennsylvania 38.4%
- West Pittston, Pennsylvania 37.9%
- Old Forge, Pennsylvania 37.8%
- Lowellville, Ohio 37.5%
- Hughestown, Pennsylvania 37.5%
- Prospect, Connecticut 37.5%
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