Celebrating Italian-American Heritage Month
HISTORY OF ITALIAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE AND CULTURE MONTH
To escape poverty and violence in Southern Italy and the Sicily islands, over four million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1924. It is said that during World War I, Italian Americans constituted about 12% of the total armed forces of the U.S. During World War II, Italy had joined the Axis powers and had declared war on the U.S. The Italian-American community in the U.S., however, showed unswerving loyalty to the U.S.
St. John Basilone and 13 other Italian Americans received the Medal of Honor. Enrico Fermi, a nuclear physicist, contributed to the development of the first atom bomb.
In the post-war period, many Italian Americans got involved in politics. The U.S. boasted several well-known Italian American singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Madonna. The cartoon “Donald Duck” was made by Al Taliaferro, and “Tom and Jerry” was co-created by Joseph Barbera. Award-winning actors and directors like Frank Capra and Martin Scorsese rose to stardom.
Italian Americans were subjected to widespread discrimination and racial profiling. One of the largest lynchings in U.S. history happened in 1890 when 11 immigrants were killed due to their alleged role in the murder of David Hennessy. The movies and mainstream media portrayed Italian Americans as violent criminals. Movies like “The Godfather” and T.V. shows such as “The Sopranos” further made these stereotypes all the more concrete.
To show appreciation towards Italian Americans for their remarkable achievements and contributions in arts, science, and sports, President Ronald Reagan and Congress proclaimed October to be celebrated as Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month.