A Short History of Italian Immigration to America – Part 2

In the early 20th century there was a great demand for workers and, despite the New Orleans incident, Italians were willing to come to America to fill those positions. Between 1900 and 1920, three million immigrants came to America from southern Italy. Many of them considered the move to be temporary as they did not want to leave their families. Many of the men made multiple trips which resulted in them being known as “birds of passage.” Their wives were known as “white widows.”

Some went to work in the mines of Pennsylvania. Many went to Carbondale, Pennsylvania or Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to work in the steel industry.

The Black Hand

The Italian government pressured many criminals to go to America. They continued to function as criminals in New York City. Like other immigrant groups, they victimized their own and began extorting from  immigrant-owned businesses. If the business owner didn’t pay, their stores were bombed and their children were kidnapped. The criminals called themselves “The Black Hand.” The police, who were almost entirely Irish, had no interest in the plight of the Italian immigrants. They didn’t speak Italian and had no interest in going into Little Italy.

However, a police detective by the name of Giuseppe Petrosino, himself an immigrant, put together a squad of policemen to deal with the Black Hand. He won some victories which resulted in many Black Hand members being deported back to Italy. In 1909 he went to Italy to check out some leads where he was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily. Thousands of immigrants came out to show their respect at his funeral.

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Written by Gary J Sibio

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  1. I don’t know much about Italian immigration, it’s been a very interesting read so far.
    It’s good criminals targeted their fellow countrymen. I mean, crime is never good, but at least they didn’t bother the ‘natives’. That’s how it still works nowadays, most contemporary foreign criminals tend to commit crimes against other immigrants.

    • There are a lot of non-Italian mafias in the USA as well, mostly people from eastern Europe. The term mafia was originally coined to refer to Italians gangsters and, when used by itself, generally means the Italians. However, they have been in decline for a while now. One mafia leader was recently killed and it turned out that it was unrelated to his being in the mafia.

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