Holy Cannoli! These Cities Have the Most Italian Americans
In fact, New Haven, CT, home to Yale University, has the highest percentage of Italian Americans, making up 21.2% of the metro’s population. To put that into perspective, nationally there were about 5.1% (nearly 16.7 million) Italian Americans in 2017, according to Census data.
Many of New Haven’s original Italian community members were from Naples, giving rise to a distinctive pizza culture that reached its apex with the local specialty, white clam pizza. (Tip: Try it at Pepe’s—delicious!) The thin-crust pizza—or “apizza,” as it’s called, a reflection of the Neapolitan dialect—is baked in coal-fired ovens until charred, and cheese is entirely optional.
The hub of the city’s Italian community, Wooster Square hosts various festivals and feasts with roots in the home villages of the city’s original immigrants. The annual Feast of St. Andrew, featuring food, music, and then more food, runs for three days every June.
But this lively exhibition of cultural heritage belies the fact that many members of the community have moved away from the city center.
“There’s pastry shops, there’s restaurants that have been there for a while. Some of the old apartment houses are still there,” says Anthony Riccio, author of “The Italian-American Experience in New Haven.” “[But] the people who lived there are long gone. … The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Italian immigrants are in the surrounding towns and suburbs.”
The Rest of the Story
The other metros that cracked the top 10 were Ocean City, NJ, at 18.8%; Scranton, PA, at 18.8%; Kingston, NY, at 18.6%; Atlantic City, NJ, at 17.9%; Albany, NY, at 17%; Bridgeport, CT, at 16.5%; Pittsfield, MA, at 16.5%; Pittsburgh, PA, at 16.1%; and Youngstown, OH, at 15%.
“Most of the people came through New York in general. [And] they didn’t wander too far,” says Stanislao Pugliese, director of the Italian American studies program at Hofstra University and one of the editors of “The Routledge History of Italian Americans.”
That explains why the majority of metros are in the Northeast. “They were always in search of work and that precious plot of land where they could plant their fig trees, their tomatoes, and their grapevines,” he explains.
There was a surge in Italians immigrating to the U.S. from around 1880 to 1920 when widespread poverty and starvation plagued Southern Italy. Folks were desperate to build better lives for themselves and their children. So they followed the jobs, to work as miners in Pennsylvania, as tailors and stonemasons in Connecticut, as construction workers in New York and New Jersey, and as railroad workers. Many of the Italians who arrived in the Youngstown area toiled in the steel industry.
“Once a group got established in an area that was affiliated with an industry, they would call for people back in their town” in Italy, says Carla Simonini, director of Italian American Studies at Loyola University Chicago. “It would have made it easy for others to come and join them.”
As for the metros with the most sheer numbers of Italian Americans, New York City asserts itself at last. It topped the list with 2.5 million residents claiming of some Italian descent.
It was followed by Philadelphia, with more than 800,000; Boston, with more than 650,000; Chicago, with just under 650,000; and Los Angeles—the City of Angels has nearly 400,000 Italians.
By the way "Do not forget the Cannoli".
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