By Amanda Fugel
Wagner College ’16
Italian Immigration to America Post 1924
On March 14, 1950, Carmela Martines started off her new life with her voyage to “the Great” USA. At 18 years old my grandma, also known as Nonna, made the journey to what she and her family considered to be the “Land Of Opportunity.” Coming to America was more than just an opportunity for my Nonna. She came here for work and to be reunited with her family again. Little did she know, that thanks to her brave move, our family would have something to carry on and support us from generation to generation.
How Sicilian Ideals Got in The Way:
“The peasants in the primarily poor, mostly rural south of Italy and on the island of Sicily had little hope of improving their lot. Diseases and natural disasters swept through the new nation, but its fledgling government was in no condition to bring aid to the people. As transatlantic transportation became more affordable, and as word of American prosperity came via returning immigrants and U.S. recruiters, Italians found it increasingly difficult to resist the call of “L’America.”1 Immigrants from here came to this country and had to completely start over again. Things in America were completely different than what was “routine” in Sicily. This served as a huge disadvantage for incoming Sicilian Immigrants.
Sicilian Women in the Work Force:
Before 1924, Italian immigrants were one of the largest groups of immigrants making the voyage to America. Once the quota of 1924 was established, it was much harder for Italians to enter into the country. Immigrant women faced a lot of struggle coming into this country.
“The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union was once one of the largest labor unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The union, generally referred to as the “ILGWU” or the “ILG,” merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1995 to form the Union of Needle trades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).”3
Many Italian seamstresses during this time period joined local unions. In New York City specifically, Italians made up 35% of the local 25 Union. Many Italian women came into these job positions because it was an unskilled labor that they were all very accustomed too.
Education for Sicilian/ Italian Immigrants:
“It was more common for Italian parents to discourage schooling when students could be contributing to the family income.”2
Jews were much more likely to complete the minimum education requirements before joining the workforce than Italians of that time period. Jewish and Italian immigrants were all fighting for the same positions, but because of the lack of education that the Italian immigrants had, the Jews got most of the higher earning positions and jobs. Italians a long with many other immigrant groups had this type of disadvantage, and it is disheartening to see because it was not really a part of their culture to go and get a higher education. “Italians only made up 1% of the populations at American Universities in 1908.”4
1: “Italian – The Great Arrival – Immigration.- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.” Library of Congress Home.
2: Nancy, Foner, From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s two great waves of immigration. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), Page 70.
3: “International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
4: Nancy, Foner. From Ellis Island to JFK, Page 196. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Ladies’_Garment_Workers’_Union (accessed April 15, 2013).