By Marge Bitetti
Starting in the late 1870s and for the following hundred years, over 27 million people left Italy to settle across the sea in other countries and continents. California is home to over 1.4 million people with Italian ancestry. Other areas with large Italian populations include: New York, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans and Philadelphia.
Between 1880 and 1924 more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States. The majority of the immigrants were escaping the poverty of Southern Italy and Sicily. The immigrants were trained laborers and craftsmen who worked as: brick layers, masons, tailors, and barbers. Some artisans also fled the dire conditions in Italy for opportunities in the United States. These brave people left behind family friends, and security for the promise of a better life with opportunities in America. They brought with them their love of family, culture and fine Italian food and wine. Many were devoted to the Catholic religion which they continued to practice in their new land. They shared a zest for life and a willingness to make America their home. Many came to America with the hope of earning enough money to be able to repatriate back to Italy.
Wars throughout history have brought opportunities for valor and service to country. Immigrants transplanted in America shared mixed sentiments for the two lands; their native land and the new county that they cared enough to sacrifice their lives in battle to defend. Italians assisted in fighting for America’s freedom since its inception. This included over 1,000 men that fought in the Revolutionary War. Italians joined forces in both the North and the South during the Civil War.
During World War II even an estimated 1.2 million Italian Americans served in the U.S. military. Meanwhile on the home front especially in the coastal cities many first generation Italians were looked upon with suspicion and labeled as resident aliens; this was especially true in the in California and other coastal cities. Stringent restrictions were placed on roughly 600,000 Italians who had not become citizens.
Posters issued by the U.S. government during World War II were displayed in post offices. Illustrating the restrictions that were placed on speaking Japanese, German and Italian in public. This was done because these were the native language of the enemies during World War II and it possible that anti-American information could easily be shared in a foreign language, because of this most Italian language schools were closed during the war years. That is also way many Italian in America quickly adapted to an American life style instead of seeming too Italian.
Giuseppe DiMaggio father of famous Yankee baseball player Joe DiMaggio lived in San Francisco with his wife Rosalie. He made his livelihood by fishing. During World War II Giuseppe was a victim of the xenophobic sentiments that were rampant during the War. To protect Americans from foreign spies many non-citizen fisherman had their fishing boats confiscated; DiMaggio was one of these fisherman. He was not able to earn money as a fisherman during the war because Italian were not allowed to go to the ocean for fear that they would send secret messages to enemies of the United States. Giuseppe was also forbidden to attend his son’s baseball games because the baseball park was located too close to the Pacific Ocean.
Executive Order 9066
On February 19, 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order authorized the Secretary of War to designate certain coastal areas of the US as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans and Italian-Americans to internment camps. To further enforce this Executive Order on March 9, 1942 Roosevelt signed Public Law 503 which provided for the enforcement of the Executive Order. People who violated this Order were subject to up to $5,000 in fines and one year in prison.
As a result, approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were evicted from the West Coast of the United States and held in internment camps across the country.
Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment. 11,000 people of German ancestry were interned, as were 3,000 people of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees. Some of the internees of European descent were interned only briefly, while others were held for several years beyond the end of the war. Like the Japanese internees, these smaller groups had American-born citizens in their numbers, especially among the children.
There was a World War II Internment camp in Ft. Missoula, Montana. Where about 1,600 Italian were sent for internment. In addition approximately 10,000 Italian Americans were forced to leave their homes in California coastal cities and move inland, and nearly 600,000 legal Italian immigrant had travel restrictions imposed on them.
Curfew rules were enforced and there were restrictions on Italian American’s owning cameras, short-wave radios and other devises that could alert the enemy.
Read More About It
Today Italians compose the fifth largest ethnic population in America. Throughout entertainment history in America there have been popular Italian singers, actors and actresses and movie directors. Italian food and culture and the currently popular Mediterranean diet which emphasizes using olive oil and eating fish, fruits, vegetables is based in the regional cuisine that is common in Italy. Two sources for more information about the history of Italians in America include: Una Storia Segreta, edited by Lawrence DiStasi and Italians in Los Angeles, Arcadia Publishing by Marge Bitetti.