Wikipedia lists approximately 50 American neighborhoods that are known, officially or unofficially, as “Little Italy”. A couple of weeks ago I walked around the Italian neighborhood in San Diego, and delighted in hearing Italian conversation around me!
Where did all these Italian immigrants come from? Between 1880 and 1920, more than 4,000,000 Italians immigrated to the USA, and most of them came from southern Italy. Like immigrants from other countries, they often formed neighborhoods of like ethnicity.
Among them were my great-grandparents, Francesco Arcuri, who came from Calabria in 1887 and found work as a lace-maker in New York, and Josephine Gualtieri, daughter of a shoemaker in the Calabrian village of Scigliano. Francesco lived in America for about ten years before returning to Italy to find a wife. He was about 50 when he married the 21-year-old ‘spinster’. They came to America in 1900, and lived in Patchogue, Suffolk County, New York on Long Island.
In his book Long Island Italians, author Salvatore John LaGumina says, “Patchogue was Suffolk’s most thriving [Italian] community in the early 20th century.” LaGumina mentions a large lace-making mill there which employed hundreds of Italian-Americans.
Poverty in the Italian south fueled the mass exodus of residents, and opportunity in America gave them direction.
Is there a “Little Italy” near you, or one you have enjoyed visiting? Please comment!