Modern US History

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Category: Conner Clark

Introduction

Immigrants have always been entering the United States since the start of the
country. During the mid to late 1800s, there was a large increase in the amount of immigrants
who were coming from Europe. From 1870-1920, 25 million European immigrants came to the
United States[1] with large number coming from Italy[2]. Italian immigrants would travel as far
south as Texas[5] and as far west as California[3]. The Italian immigrant was viewed as lower than
immigrants from other European countries[4]. The children of Italian immigrants would initially
see the same discrimination but would slowly see the public accept their culture[4]. This exhibit
investigates the transition Italian immigrants made from first coming to the United States to be a
main contributor and member of society from 1870 to 1960. During this time, the views of the
American public saw a shift from viewing Italian immigrants and their children as second class to
viewing them as true members of society. The focus will be on the ethnic prejudice Italians faced,
the living arrangements, occupations, and dedication to helping the war efforts.

Many Italian immigrants who came during the 1870s looked for living in not only the northeast, but also the south. In the south, Italian immigrants face many of the same racial issues that African Americans faced[5]. Sharecropping was a common occupation and lynching were not uncommon[6]. Despite the constant attempts to force out the Italian immigrants, they would continue to stay and work in cheap labor and even their own farms for decades[7].

Up in the northeast, the use of redlining made it difficult for Italian immigrants to climb
the rungs of the social ladder. Redlining was a tactic used by realtors to map out which
neighborhoods the government should loan money to for mortgages[8]. Areas that the government
would strongly consider funding would be listed as green or blue. Neighborhoods listed as
yellow or red would have little to no government help. Italians and African Americans would be
found in large quantities in the yellow and red areas. Despite being forced to live in poor living arrangements, Italians took the opportunity to make their new neighborhoods feel like home. The
neighborhoods would be flooded with many Italians who practiced the same customs and used these to form ethnic enclaves[9].

Unfortunately, Italians could not escape the name-calling and discrimination while at
work. Desperate for work, Italian immigrants would often be hired by companies for very little
while their workers were on strike, hence the names “wage-cutters” and “strikebreakers”[10].
Despite the constant verbal abuse, the majority of Italian immigrants from 1880 to 1914 found
themselves in industrial jobs[11]. Many of these families would also face racial slurs by not only
those around them, but by the mass media. Interviews have detailed the accounts of some
Italian immigrant children hiding their true ethnicity from friends[12]. These children have also even told family members who were visiting to not reveal their true ethnicity. Children of Italian immigrants who did not hide their ethnicity would face bullying for many reasons. Some would have to start school much later than most Americans, and other Italian children would hear the cries of ethnic slurs[13]. Mass media would use these same ethnic slurs and promote Italians as lazy and stupid. Italians would fight back and put an end to this in the 1950s with the help of Generoso Pope Jr[15].

The view of Italians would change once the second generation of Italians in the United
States began to grow up. What once was a clash of cultures in Boston (between Italians and Irish
gangs) became just a clash of neighborhoods[15]. Italians would continue to weave themselves
into the American fabric with the large number of men who joined the military for World War
II. The Italians who were staying at home contributed by buying war bonds and any other civil
duty they could volunteer for[16]. Italians who first came over at the turn of the century noted later on that there was a noticeable hatred at first for Italians that clearly vanished over time[4].

This exhibit will define Italian immigrants as those who left Italy to come to the United
States. The exhibit will highlight the treatment of Italians in various locations in the United
States (North and South), in living arrangements and social situations. The start will be the 1870s because this is considered the beginning of the large surge of European immigration to the United States. The article written by Jessica Jackson titled, “Before the Lynching: Reconsidering the Experience of Italians and Sicilians in Louisiana, 1870s to 1890s.” will be used in the start of the project. This article was chosen to be used first because it starts, chronologically, before any of my other sources. Based on my research, the end of the exhibit will be the article found from 1953 by James G. Fleming about the efforts of Italians to stop the use of racial slurs in mass media.

The exhibit will highlight the treatment of Italian immigrants, and their children, by the American
population. Examples of treatment will come in the form Jessica Jackson’s article on Italian treatment in the South. You will also be able to see how realtors helped to avoid government funding to Italians by viewing the redlining map that depicts Essex County, New Jersey, specifically Belleville and Newark which were very popular place for Italian Americans to live. Stereotypes will also be present in firsthand accounts in Cohen’s, America: The Dream of My Life and Panunzio’s, The
Soul of an Immigrant. The exhibit will also use interviews from Cosma Sullivan and Mary Stracco to detail what life was like as an Italian and how hiding one’s nationality was mandatory and not optional.

The exhibit will then dive into the change of American opinion on Italians. The Daily
Boston Globe news article by Louis Lyons will detail how Italians did everything they could to
help and support the United States during World War II. Lyon’s article will also detail how the
public was satisfied with how the Italian Americans responded to the call to action. There will
also, be a picture used to show how Italians in France during the war.

Sources:
1 Foner, Eric. Give me Liberty! An American History. New York, N: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

2 Schmid, Carol L. 2017. “The Past Is Ever Present: Transnationalism Old and New – Italian and Mexican Immigrants in the US.” International Migration 55 (3): 20–37.

3 Malaspina, Rick. Images of America: Italian Oakland. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

4 Luconi, Stefano. 2016. “Black Dagoes? Italian Immigrants’ Racial Status in the United States: An Ecological View.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies (Routledge) 14 (2): 188–99.

5 Scarpaci, Jean Ann, and Milton Cantor. 1979. “Immigrants in the New South: Italians in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes, 1880-1910.” In American Workingclass Culture: Explorations in American Labor & Social History, 377–96.

6 Jackson, Jessica Barbata. 2017. “Before the Lynching: Reconsidering the Experience of Italians and Sicilians in Louisiana, 1870s-1890s.” Louisiana History 58 (3): 300–338.

7 “Making American Farmers of Italian Immigrants: Successful Experiments in Building Up Colonies to Till the Soil, Though States Give Insufficient Encouragement.” The New York Times, December 4, 1910.

8 Hagstrom’s Street and House Number Map of Essex County New Jersey [map]. New York, N.Y.: Hagstrom Company, Inc., 1939.

9 Cohen, David Steven, America, The Dream of My Life: Selections from the Federal Writers’ Project’s New Jersey Ethnic Survey. New Brunswick: Library of Congress Publication, 1990, page 55-70.

10 Molnar, Alexandra. “History of Italian Immigration.” From Europe to America: Immigration Through Family Tales.

11 Seavoy, Ronald E. An Economic History of the United States: From 1607 to the Present, Taylor & Francis, 2006.

12 Cosma Tangora Sullivan (Ellis Island Oral History Project, Series KECK, no. 118), interviewed by Debby Dane, January 17, 1986, transcript

13 Mary Nazaro Stracco (Ellis Island Oral History Project, Series EI, no. 870), interviewed by Janet Levine, April 30, 1997.

14 Fleming, G James. “Italians Fighting Slurs: Italians Plan Fight Against Racial Slurs.” New York Amsterdam News, April 11, 1953.

15 Whyte, William Foote. 1939. “Race Conflicts in the North End of Boston.” New England Quarterly 12 (4): 623–42.

16 Lyons, Louis. “How Boston Italians Are Aiding in Our War Effort.” Daily Boston Globe, April 26, 1942.

1855-1900

By The Numbers

Center of Immigration Research. Italians to America Files, Manifest Header Data File. Washington DC: 1901.
This file details the number of Italian immigrants that came to the United States prior to the massive surge at the turn of the century. The file mentions that there were 845,000 immigrants reported and 99% were Italian. The files are explicitly from 1855 to 1900 and stick to the eastern border of the United Sates. The file gives a good sense of Italian presence that the United Sates developed prior to the turn of the century. You could also imagine how a United Sates citizen could feel about the rush of Italian immigrants that engulfed much of the eastern United States. This file is important because it gives a number as to how many Italian immigrants were enter the United States prior to the 1900s. The New York Times followed those Italian immigrants who became farmers and sharing where they settled down. They could be found anywhere from Texas to Connecticut (“Making American Farmers of Italian Immigrants: Successful Experiments in Building Up Colonies to Till the Soil, Though States Give Insufficient Encouragement.”).

Example of Text From File

A Visual of Those Who Came
Italian Immigrants Arriving

This picture displays a sea of Italian immigrants crossing the bridge on Ellis Island as they enter the United States. Both the men, and the women are dressed in formal attire which is accompanied by a name tag, indicating that they were new to the Country. The line of Italian immigrants stretches farther than the picture can hold. This photo was not taken during the time period when there was a surge of Italians immigrating to the United States. Years after this surge, you can see just how many would still come. One could only imagine how many Italian immigrants would fill this bridge in a day at its peak. This picture gives a good representation of how many Italian immigrants wanted to start a new life or chase their dream in the United States. The Italians to America Files can help you quantify what years were like not during the peak of Italian immigration (Center of Immigration Research 1901).

What The Papers Told The Public
Article on Italian Immigrant

The article discusses how a young Italian boy kills an “educated father with a wife and children” on a boat that is headed for the United States. The author then describes the two sides of the spectrum as to whether the public like the Italian immigrants or hate them. This article was published during a time where hostility towards Italians was normal. Many Italians were coming in each year through Ellis Island. This source gives a good example of the feelings the public held towards the Italian immigrants who were coming in each year. The article also helps to understand what kind of position Italian immigrants were put in at the time with reference of there ethnicity being common when they would commit a crime. The picture of Ellis Island in the National Photo Collection can also show you how many Italians were located on one boat at a time and how this one incident is most likely an isolated event (National Photo Company Collection, 1909-1932).

The “Typical” Occupation
Italian Farmers

This article discusses the amount of Italian immigrants who chose to be farmers in the United States. Many chose to not move far from where they entered the country. Instead of purchasing land, many immigrants found land and claimed it for themselves. The article also mentions the feeling of comfort many Italian immigrants felt by choosing farming as their occupation and supported this with the amount of Italian immigrant farmers in each state. During the time this article was published, there were many Italian immigrants still entering the United States. The stereotype of Italian immigrants as farmers was still present. The article is also publicizing only one occupation that Italian immigrants would be seen doing. This source is important because it is telling the public (and adding to the stereotype) that most Italian immigrants are farmers and they’re illiterate. This article is also important because it offers an idea of how the Italian immigrants found their farms. Although the article seems to praise the these families, many Italians, such as Panzunio, became frustrated when the only employers he could find were for farming and cheap labor (Panzunio 75-81).

Hard Times Came Often

The author, Panzunio describes how hard it was to be an Italian immigrant at the turn of the century. Panzunio was born in 1884 and came to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. He mentions that he could only find work as a laborer and how he grew frustrated at the lack of opportunities outside of cheap labor and farming. During the turn of the century, many Italian immigrants worked in cheap labor and farming. The lower class was filled with Italian immigrants because of these occupations. This book is important because Panzunio offers the idea that Italians did not chose these jobs, but rather they had no choice. This gives some clarity as to why many Italian immigrants took labor and farming jobs. The article by the New York Times that talks about Italian immigrant farmers may have added to the public perception of what Italians should do for work (The New York Times, December 4, 1910).

“It is a matter of common knowledge, at least among students of immigration, that a very large percentage of Italian immigrants were “contadini” or farm laborers in Italy. American people often ask the question, “Why do they not go to the farms in this country?””

Constantine Panzunio 

Making The Best Of What They Had

The book discusses the the living area of Italian immigrants in the state of New Jersey. Two towns that many immigrants moved to were Bellville and Newark. There is mention of these two towns being very poor and a hot spot for immigrants. The author discusses how the land that made up these towns was once used as a place to dump garbage. When Italians arrived, they would build their homes themselves and create a tight knit community that resembled their home country. During this time, ethnic enclaves were seen throughout the country. New jersey was also a very common place for Italian immigrants to live since it was close to where they entered the country (Ellis Island). This source is important because it gives context to what these neighborhoods were like. The Italian immigrants were trying to make their neighborhood as much like home as possible which gives reason as to why they found these neighborhoods so comforting. This idea can be reinforced by Stracco’s interview when she mentions the bond she had with her neighborhood and the happiness she felt when celebrating the holidays in her neighborhood (Mary Nazaro Stracco April 30, 1997).

“Here there are several blocks of old stone tenements, poorly ventilated, where frequently large families live in flats of three and four rooms. There are no playgrounds in this neighborhood for the children.”

David Cohen Steven

Struggling to Gain Socioeconomic Ground
Map of Belleville and Newark
This is a map of a county in New Jersey during a time when Italians had a strong presence in the location (America, the Dream of My Life). The locations that had high amounts of Italian immigrants (Bellville, Newark, and their surrounding towns) were all given either a red or yellow rating. This meant that the United States government would not give funding for the mortgages in these towns. The grades also meant that these areas were considered poor. This was during a time when most immigrants were working low wage jobs in urban areas. This map is important because it gives an idea of what the socioeconomic status was for many Italians at the time. It also is important to realize that a great amount of the Italian immigrant population was stuck in areas where the government would not provide mortgages, so their expenses were much harsher. In his book, Cohen mentions the specific towns of Bellville and Newark and what it was like for Italian immigrants to call this area home (Cohen 55-70).

The Struggles as a Child

In her interview, Nazaro Stracco describes growing up as an Italian immigrant. Stracco specifically discusses the life of a teenage immigrant. She was forced to work immediately after school because her family was working class poor. She also mentions that she was 16 when she graduated eighth grade which added to the alienation that she felt. There were constant names being called out like “Ginny WOP” and “green horn” as she would pass fellow students. Stracco is describing a time when the public perception of Italians was still negative. She also combines the negative opinion with the mention of the Italian holiday that would occur in her Italian neighborhood. This source is important because there is mention of what a teenager would deal with as an immigrant. This interview also shows that the bullying could not stop immigrants from celebrating their culture. The ethnic enclave is seen as a very valuable source to deal with the bullying by being around one’s culture. The frustration that one felt from the reminder of Italian stereotypes was also being felt by Panzunio as well when he is trying to enter the work force (Panzunio 55-70).

“But then I scrubbed floors to make a little, get a little money. My sister went to a factory where they made coats, and she, we all, then I went to work where they made stockings. After I got out of school I went to the hosiery in Dover. I worked there. And I was only sixteen then. I graduated eighth grade when I was sixteen. Well, I started kindergarten at nine”

Mary Stracco

Hiding One’s Identity Was Commonplace

Cosma is being interviewed about her life in the United States. She mentioned that she entered the United States through Ellis Island. She also mentioned that she would constantly have to hide the fact that she was from Italy. Cosma would tell friends, boyfriends, and peers that her mother was from France. She would even tell her mother to never mention her nationality. Cosma said that the public perception was that immigrants from Italy were seen as being better than those from France. Cosma is speaking of the time when Italian immigrants were still seen as lower than most ethnicities. Her fear of being bullied for being Italian was very common. This interview is important because it shows people how hard some immigrants tried to hide their true identity. The effort put into hiding their culture was fueled by the fear immigrants felt of the public response. Stories like that of Mary Stracco, being bullied every day for her ethnicity and her lack of fluency in English, led to the growth of fear to publicize one’s Italian heritage (Mary Nazaro Stracco April 30, 1997).

“But we, but, well, we wouldn’t let anybody know about it, afterwards, I mean later on. But at first, when we had company or friends would come to visit us we didn’t want them to know that my mother was cooking that way. We just kind of, and lots of times I had dates with boys, I would say to them, “My mother, oh, my mother came from France.” Right away they thought that she could talk French. She would, I would never tell them that she was an Italian.”
Cosma Sullivan

 

No Longer About Ethnicity?

Race Conflicts

Whyte discusses the dynamic and friction between the Italian and Irish groups during the late 1930s in Boston. This friction was due to each group fighting for working class jobs and homes to reside in. Whyte mentions the fighting between these ethnic based gangs that would evolve into gangs based on the street you grew up on. During this time, Italians who immigrated at the turn of the century now had children. These children were growing up in these gangs, but did not learn that it was based on ethnicity. With many having working class jobs, this was also an area that would be very poor and would see a lot of immigrants moving in. This source is important because it shows that the prejudice towards Italian immigrants did eventually wear off. It was no longer about your ethnic background and more about where you grew up. This source shows the living experience for a child of an immigrant. This seems to be when the turning point began considering Stracco’s interview depicted a time where living in these areas led to bullying by the other ethnic groups just years prior (Mary Nazaro Stracco April 30, 1997).

1940-1960

Finally Being Recognized

Aiding in the War

This article discusses the efforts made at home by Italians and Italian Americans in Boston during World War II. Lyons mentions efforts form children enlisting for the war to buying $100,000 worth of war bonds. During the war, many Americans still had a negative view because they did not know of the efforts made by Italians. The Italians in the United States were also under suspicion of being fascist. Italians were looking to show the public that they wanted to help their new country. This source is important because it shows that the American public took notice of the efforts by Italians. This type of publicity could have been part of the reason the public changed their views on the Italians. Combine this type of article with the picture collage seen in Chicago’s newspaper and you have a new wave of positivity and respect paid to the Italian community for their help in World War II (Chicagoans of Italian Heritage Fighting for Freedom July 1945).

From Second Class to a Brother

During the War

This picture shows the 750th Tank Battalion during World War II. The men in the picture have their arms around each other while they smile with a tank in the background. These men are not in formation or any type of military attention position. Instead, they are acting like brothers who are simply having a good time despite being in France. During World War II, many Italian immigrants and the children of immigrants enlisted to help their new country. The United States could use all the help they could get from the public and this wave of enlistees was recognized and greatly appreciated. This source is important because it shows that some Italians developed brotherly relationships with citizens of other ethnicities. This source also shows how one common goal, in this case winning the war, can bring people together no matter what the boundaries are. Back home, pictures of Italian men who served were celebrated by whole communities. This can be seen in Chicago where the local newspaper chose to celebrate the Italians who served with a picture collage (Chicagoans of Italian Heritage Fighting for Freedom July 1945).

Respect From the Public

Chicago newspaper

This picture is actually multiple headshots combined together. The headshots are those of Italian immigrants who reside in Chicago. These Italians (25,000 total) helped their new country by serving in the United States Military during World War II. The picture was published in the Chicago Herald American. Each picture has the name underneath to make sure everyone was recognized properly. The 1940s saw a decrease in the Italian immigrant prejudice. The prejudice took a great dip after many citizens realized how many Italian immigrants served. This source is important because it shows the gratitude and respect the American public paid to the Italians. Instead of being recognized for crime, poverty, or their limitations (such as being illiterate), the Italians were recognized for something positive. This article shows a stark contrast to the Boston Daily Globe article which pointed out a murderer for being Italian (Boston Daily Globe Oct. 17, 1907).

The Final Straw

Italians Fighting Slurs

In this article, the author discusses the actions that certain Italian communities are taking to eliminate slurs from mass media, especially television shows. Generoso Pope Jr. is leading the charge and states that the slurs and false stereotypes should no longer be broadcasted. By the 1950s, there had already been a large shift in the public perspective of Italian immigrants. This flip in opinion was due to the huge turnout for World War II. By this point, the Italians feel that they should no longer be disrespected. I believe this source is important because it shows that Italian immigrants and the children of immigrants were looking for a change for the better. By changing the depiction of the Italians in mainstream media, then the constant prejudice may stop. Many of these people fighting for change grew up with the fear of having to hide their true identity like Cosma Sullivan did during her childhood (Cosma Tangora Sullivan January 17, 1986).

Sources

Primary:

Altamura, Mike.  Men of the Service Company, 750th Tank Battalion. October 18th, 1944.  France.  Italian Americans in World War II.                              Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Chicagoans of Italian Heritage Fighting for Freedom. July 1945.  Italians in Chicago 1945-2005.  Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.   

Center of Immigration Research. Italians to America Files, Manifest Header Data File. Washington DC: 1901.

Cohen, David Steven America, The Dream of My Life: Selections From the Federal Writers’ Project’s New Jersey Ethnic Survey.  New                                          Brunswick: Library of Congress Publication, 1990, page 55-70.

Cosma Tangora Sullivan (Ellis Island Oral History Project, Series KECK, no. 118), interviewed by Debby Dane, January 17, 1986,                                   transcript.

Fleming, G James.  “Italians Fighting Slurs: Italians Plan Fight Against Racial Slurs.”  New York Amsterdam News, April 11, 1953.

Hagstrom’s Street and House Number Map of Essex County New Jersey [map]. One-thousand feet per one inch.  Ln: Division of Research                          and Statistics.  New York, N.Y.: Hagstrom Company, Inc., 1939.

Lyons, Louis.  “How Boston Italians Are Aiding in Our War Effort.”  Daily Boston Globe, April 26, 1942.

“Making American Farmers of Italian Immigrants: Successful Experiments in Building Up Colonies to Till the Soil, Though States                                 Give Insufficient Encouragement.” The New York Times, December 4, 1910.

Mary Nazaro Stracco (Ellis Island Oral History Project, Series EI, no. 870), interviewed by Janet Levine, April 30, 1997.

New York.  Ellis Island.  National Photo Company Collection.  New York, New York: 1909-1932.

Panunzio, Constantine Maria, The Soul of an Immigrant.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922. Page 75-81.

“The Italian as an American”. Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Mass), Oct. 17, 1907, page 10.

Whyte, William Foote. 1939. “Race Conflicts in the North End of Boston.” New England Quarterly 12 (4): 623–42.

Secondary:

Abramson, Samuel, A Case for Case Studies: An Immigrant’s Journal.  SAGE Publication, Inc., 1991.

Foner, Eric.  Give me Liberty!:  An American History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

Luconi, Stefano. 2016. “Black Dagoes? Italian Immigrants’ Racial Status in the United States: An Ecological View.” Journal of                                             Transatlantic Studies (Routledge) 14 (2): 188–99. doi:10.1080/14794012.2016.1169869.

Jackson, Jessica Barbata. 2017. “Before the Lynching: Reconsidering the Experience of Italians and Sicilians in Louisiana, 1870s-                                 1890s.” Louisiana History 58 (3): 300–338.

Malaspina, Rick.  Images of America: Italian Oakland.  Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

Molnar, Alexandra.  “History of Italian Immigration.” From Europe to America: Immigration Through Family Tales.                                                                   https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~molna22a/classweb/politics/Italianhistory.html (November 1, 2018).

Scarpaci, Jean Ann, and Milton Cantor. 1979. “Immigrants in the New South: Italians in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes, 1880-1910.” In                              American Workingclass Culture: Explorations in American Labor & Social History, 377–96.

Schmid, Carol L. 2017. “The Past Is Ever Present: Transnationalism Old and New – Italian and Mexican Immigrants in the US.”                                         International Migration 55 (3): 20–37. doi:10.1111/imig.12317.

Seavoy, Ronald E. An Economic History of the United States: From 1607 to the Present, Taylor & Francis, 2006.

 

 

 

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