Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month is an annual designation observed in October. It was first celebrated in 1989 as a tribute to all Italian-Americans. During this time, we recognize the many achievements and contributions that Italian immigrants and their descendants have made to benefit the United States.
Italian immigrants began migrating to the United States in 1880. The early Italian immigrants come to the United States to escape the rural poverty in Southern Italy and Sicily. Today, Italian-Americans represent the fifth-largest ethnic group.
The Italian immigrants, however, initially found a nightmare instead of the American Dream. Discrimination against Italians was rampant; hurtful words were used to describe the Italians. Members of the Italian community have been – and, still continue to be – stereotyped as gangsters and “Mafiosi.”
The lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans on March 14, 1891 represents one of the most violent attacks against the Italian community. Coincidentally, the murders in New Orleans became the catalyst for the first nationwide celebration of Columbus Day in 1892. The senseless executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti on August 23, 1927 for crimes they didn’t commit and the restrictions placed on the Italian people during World War II – to include the seizure of property – are further examples of the bigotry faced by the Italian community.
Today, Italian-Americans in their respective areas of expertise continue to work for a better America. Indeed, we have come a long way since the 19th and early 20th centuries. But, we still have much to do.
John Di Genio