The great European migration to the United States between 1880 and 1920 brought millions of immigrants to this nation’s shores. Many of them quietly assimilated into American society, while others created their own neighborhoods within the nation’s cities—enclaves in which they could continue the language and traditions of the “Old Country.”
An estimated 4 million Italians entered the country during this period– fleeing political, social and economic strife in Italy– and heading west in search of a better life. Most entered through New York’s Ellis Island and settled in New York City, New Jersey and the Northeast. Others sought work in the industrial cities of Pennsylvania and Ohio; many traveled further to settle in Chicago and the central states; and a mass migration chose California and the Northwest, with its fishing and wine-growing industries, as their new home. Some even entered the country in ports such as New Orleans, resulting in a significant Italian population in Louisiana to this day.
Creating their own neighborhoods was definitely a priority among Italian immigrants, and these original families and their descendants left their mark through traditions which remain alive today in vibrant Italian-American communities across the nation. Visitors to these areas discover a rich heritage that remains remarkably intact to this day.
Author Joanne DiBona grew up in one of Pittsburgh’s Italian neighborhoods and remembers shopping with her grandmother in Italian grocery stores and watching Italian bands parade down the streets on Saint’s days. True to her Italian heritage, Joanne went on to form an Italian band, the Roman Holiday Italian Ensemble, which has performed in each of the neighborhoods represented in this photo show over the past decade.