Becoming Italian-American

So I decided to take my research waaaaay back and look more into why the Italians began immigrating to the US in the latter part of the 19th century. I was actually wondering this for awhile and thought it would be useful to look into. For this I had to step out of American history and research a bit of Italian history. I started by looking more into the period where there was a large influx of Italian immigrants into America, between 1890-1920. 1 What I found was that most of the immigrants came from southern Italy because they were escaping an incomplete revolution, more or less. The second Italian Revolution, which took place in 1859 was largely a response to the “defects in Italian Constitutionalism.” 2

The second revolution formed largely in Southern Italy because of the oppression the peasants faced under the Bourbon Regime. The leader of the second revolution was Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian military figure. The revolution succeeded, the Bourbons were overthrown, and Garibaldi put a new government in place. However this new government turned out to be even more oppressive because it completely ignored the needs of the peasants. Taxes skyrocketed and their was a loss of industrial protection, which in turn led to the closure of many factories. 3 Tariffs were raised which helped northern Italy but actually hurt the South. In turn the peasants lost faith in this new government and began supporting others. This lead to a period of violence where, “the government sent some 60 battalions of crack combat soldiers to teach a lesson  to the Southerners.” 4 Here an agricultural Depression set in and southern Italy began losing more faith in their own government.

This is only a condensed version of why many of the immigrants who immigrated to the US were from southern Italy. I think that it is interesting to note that the origins of the Mafia are believed to be in Southern Italy. So I think from here I will research more about the origin of organized crime in Italy. Maybe it will help answer why the Mafia became a popular culture phenomenon in the US and not in it’s country of origin, Italy. But here is a quote to end with, which I found interesting.

“If the legitimacy of the new Italian government was now to be assessed in terms of the degree to which the new government (in contrast to the old) secured respect for the basic rights of human dignity and harnessed political power to justice and the common good, it was fundamentally defective.” 5

  1. David A. J. Richards, Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 98.
  2. Ibid., 98.
  3. Ibid., 99.
  4. Ibid., 100.
  5. Ibid., 104.

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