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Italian Immigration

Most Italian immigrants came from the south of Italy


Ellis Island

Italian immigrants on a ship at Ellis Island Only immigrants who rode in steerage on ships had to stop at Ellis Island for inspection. The rest of the passengers in first and second class had their immigration papers processed while on the ship. The passengers that travelled to Ellis Island transfered from their ships to smaller ferryboats which took them to the island for inspection.

Inspection consisted of examination by a doctor and an interview with an inspector. If a doctor saw you as sick, you would have to stay at Ellis Island until you were well again. While with an inspector, immigrants were expected to answer questions like where they were from, whether they had relatives in America or not, how much money they had, could they read or write in any language, and if they had jobs waiting for them in America or not. Most Italian immigrants had to speak to the inspector through a translator because they did not know any english.

Some Italians refered to the island as L'Isola delle Lacrime: "The Island of Tears." This was because so many of them were not allowed to enter the United States, or they had to wait for approval days on end in uncomfortable conditions at the island.


Italians Help Each Other

Italian family Many Italians had a hard time finding a home and earning money when they first arrived in the United States. Paesoni, Padroni, and social workers helped out the new Italian immigrants who were just starting their new life.

Paesoni were people who originally came from the same villages as the new immigrants. Paesoni helped their old neighbors find homes and jobs and helped protect them from con artists who would rob new immigrants.

Padroni were mostly Italian agents that helped new immigrants find places to live and work. However, some Padroni often charged high prices for their services. Others sometimes tricked Italian workers into signing contracts which made them work under the agents for a certain amount of time and under terrible working conditions and low wages.

Social workers also helped to better Italian communites. These workers opened schools, orphanages, and hospitals for immigrants. A famous Italian woman who bettered Italian communities in Chicago and New York was Maria Francesca Cabrini. In reward for Maria Cabrini's hard work, she was named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 1946; the first United States citizen yet to be honored with the title.


Italians vs. Irish

Italian workers on a railroad Italian immigrants unknowingly took replacement jobs of Irish workers on strike in the factories. They just saw it as work, not knowing they were breaking a strike by doing so. It is because of this that the Irish began to hate the Italians.

In 1874, striking Irish workers attacked a group of Italians for taking their jobs during the strike. This peaked to anti-Italian riots and mob violence. This violence killed many Italians and forced many more from their homes.

Another reason why the Irish disliked the Italian is because of their religious beliefs. The Irish were a Roman Catholic people, but Italian customs dated back centuries and were brought together with modern day Roman Catholicism. While Irish families were in church in silent masses, Italian families gathered together in celebration and festival of their beliefs.


Discrimination

Italian immigrant family Americans discriminated against Italians mainly because they were the biggest Immigrant group coming to America at the time. Because they didn't have very much money, most Italian immigrants chose to live in poor conditions and because most of them didn't understand much English, most of them worked for very low wages, seemingly taking the jobs themselves from Americans. Americans seemed to think that Italian immigrants were not strong enough or smart enough to get good jobs because most of them worked construction jobs and other manual jobs which required no intellect.

Newspapers critizied them in editorials, schoolboys taunted them, calling them ethnic slurs such as "Guinea" and "Dago", and threw things at them, and politicians complained and called for restrictions on the amount of immigrants being let into the country. These attitudes led to the Immigration Act of 1924, which expecially prejudiced against Southern Europeans (Italians). Part of this act called for 5,645 Italian immigrants to be allowed into the United States per year. This number was ten percent of the amount of Italian immigrants who came into the country the year before the act.

One of the worst moments in Italian American history occured in 1891 when a police chief was murdered in ______. Rumors soon spread that Italians were involved in the crime, and more than 100 Italians were arrested. 19 Italians were charged in connection to the crime, but were found not guilty by the judge. Soon after, an angry mob broke into the prison where the Italian prisoners were being held and killed 11 of the men. Although this was not the end of discrimination towards Italian Americans, it was the peak of the violence that occured.

One of the most famous criminal cases involving Italian Americans was that of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the 1920s. These boys were charged with the murder of _____ with little evidence against them. They were electrocuted in 1927 after 7 years of denied appeals. The men's names were not cleared until Massachusette's governor Michael Dukakis signed a proclaimation declaring a memorial day for Sacco and Vanzetti in 1978.