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Italian American

An Italian American ( singular, plural) is an American of Italian ancestry, and/or may also refer to someone possessing Italian/American dual citizenship. Italian Americans are the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United States.



The term "America" is derived from the Italian first name Amerigo, after the Italian cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci is credited with proving that Columbus' islands of the New World were in fact a new continent. In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller created a map naming the new continent after Amerigo Vespucci.

The Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European explorer to pass New York Harbor. The first Italian to live in what is now the United States was Pietro Cesare Alberti, A Venetian sailor, who settled in New York on June 2, 1635. Other Italians played an important role in early United States history, as Filippo Mazzei, an important Italian physician and a promoter of liberty, close friend of Thomas Jefferson. He acted as an agent to purchase arms for Virginia during the American Revolutionary War. Throughout the 1800s, Italians arrived in the US in small numbers. Most immigration from Italy occurred in the late 19th and 20th centuries between 1880 and 1924, but more specifically, 1900 and 1914. The Johnson Reed act which had been established in 1924 had put heavy limitations on southern and eastern European immigrants. Most Italian Americans came from Southern Italy, including Sicily. Most were from rural places and had little education. Smaller but significant numbers came from the northern regions of Liguria and Veneto.

Mulberry Street, along which New York City's Little Italy is centered. Lower East Side, circa 1900.
Mulberry Street, along which New York City's Little Italy is centered. Lower East Side, circa 1900.
From 1890 to 1900, 655,888 immigrants arrived in the United States, of which two-thirds were men. The main reasons for Italian immigration were the poor economic conditions in Italy during this period, particularly in the southern regions. In the United States, Italians settled in and dominated specific neighborhoods (often called "Little Italy"), where they could interact with one another, establish a familiar cultural presence, and find favorite foods. Many Italian immigrants arrived with little cash or cultural capital (that is, they were not educated) since most had been peasant farmers in Italy, they lacked craft skills and, therefore, generally performed manual labor. Civic and social life flourished in Italian-American neighborhoods, with many people belonging to hometown societies. Chain migration that brought many people from a particular town or region to the same American neighborhood meant that even new immigrants had extensive social networks which helped in the adjustment to America. Many Italians arrived in the United States hoping to earn enough money to return home and set themselves up in a business or with a farm. Among immigrant groups to America, Italians had the highest rate of returning to the old country. Their neighborhoods were typically older areas with overcrowded tenements and poor sanitation. Tuberculosis was rampant. Italian immigration peaked from 1900 until 1914, when World War I made such intercontinental movement impossible. In some areas, Italian immigrants met anti-Roman Catholic and anti-immigrant discrimination, and even violence such as lynching.[1]

The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924.[2] The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Italians and Slavs, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.[3] In the ten years following 1900, about 200,000 Italians immigrated annually. With the imposition of the 1924 quota, 4,000 per year were allowed.[4]

It's estimated that two million Italian immigrants arrived between 1900 and 1914. About a third of these immigrants intended to stay only briefly, in order to make money and return to Italy. They were commonly referred to as "Birds of Passage." While one in four did return home, the rest either decided to stay or were prevented from returning by the war.

Internment during World War II

The internment of Italian Americans during World War II was often overshadowed by the more severe Japanese American experience. Recently, however, books such as Una storia segreta (ISBN 1-890771-40-6) by Lawrence DiStasi and Uncivil Liberties (ISBN 1-58112-754-5) by Stephen Fox have been published, and movies, such as Prisoners Among Us have been made. They showed that during World War II, roughly 600,000 Italians were required to carry identity cards that labeled them "resident aliens." Some 10,000 people in war zones on the West Coast of the United States were required to move inland, while hundreds of others were held in military camps for up to two years. Lawrence DiStasi claims that these wartime restrictions and internments contributed more than anything else to the loss of spoken Italian in the United States. After Italy declared war on the U.S., the U.S. government forced many Italian-language papers and schools to close because of their past support for what was then an enemy government.

Involvement in World War II

During World War II, likewise to Japanese Americans and German Americans, despite some Italian Americans being mistreated, many Italian-Americans served in the U.S. armed forces to fight the Axis Powers.



In the 2000 U.S. Census, Italian Americans constituted the fifth largest ancestry group in America with about 15.6 million people (5.6% of the total U.S. population).[5] Sicilian Americans are a subset of numerous Americans of regional Italian ancestries. As of 2006, the Italian-American population climbed to 17.8 million persons constituting 6 percent of the population.

According to the 2000 Census, 5.6% of the U.S. was Italian-American. The Census accounted for 15.6 million Italian-Americans out of 281 million Americans. However, the 2006 Census estimate has claimed there to be 17.8 million of approximately 299.4 million persons. Therefore, the Census has claimed that the 12.2% of U.S. population growth in between 2000 and 2006 was Italian-American, which is more than double what the population was in 2000. The U.S. Census has provided no explanation for this sudden increase.

This seems peculiarly questionable because there has been little to virtually no Italian immigration to the U.S. in recent years. To add to the questionability of the integrity of the U.S. Census, they've claimed the European-American population to continually be declining in percentage. The places where most Italian-Americans live (especially in the Northeast) are some of the most liberal and expensive parts of the country where the fertility rate is below national average.


Logo of Sons of Italy, which is the largest Italian American fraternal organization in the United States.

Logo of Sons of Italy, which is the largest Italian American fraternal organization in the United States.
In the 1930s, Italian Americans voted heavily Democratic; since the 1960s, they have split about evenly between the Democratic (37%) and the Republican (36%) parties[6]. The U.S. Congress includes Italian Americans who are regarded as leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The highest ranking Italian American politician is currently Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who became the first woman and Italian American Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was a candidate for the U.S. presidency in the 2008 election, as was Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Geraldine Ferraro was also a vice-presidential candidate in 1984. Two of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices—Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito—are Italian-Americans, appointed by Republican Presidents.[7] Both Italian-American Justices are considered to be key members of the conservative wing of the court, along with Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts. Justice Alito was also mentioned in President George W. Bush's farewell address on January 15, 2009, in which Bush described him as being a very wise jurist. The new Second Lady, Dr Jill Jacobs Biden's father's family name was originally Giacoppa

Business and Economy

Italian-Americans have served an important role in the economy of the United States, and have founded companies of great national importance, such as Bank of America (by Amadeo Giannini in 1904), and companies that have contributed to the local culture and character of U.S. cities, such as Petrini's Markets (founded by Frank Petrini in 1935), among many others. Italian-Americans have also made important contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy through their business expertise, such as the management of the Chrysler Corporation by Lee Iacocca, and the creative innovations of Martin Scorsese for film companies such as Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers.


Madonna, American singer of half Italian descent

Madonna, American singer of half Italian descent

Similarly to Italian descendants in other nations such as Brazil and Argentina, Italian Americans have assimilated into the mainstream American cultural identity. Italian-Americans trace several generations back in this country. Many have intermixed with other ethnic groups. They are well represented in all lines of work. Many Italian Americans still retain aspects of their culture. This includes Italian food, drink, art, annual Italian American feasts, and a strong commitment to extended family. Italian Americans influenced popular music in the 1940s and as recently in the 1970s, one of their major contributions to American culture.

Among the most characteristic and popular of Italian American cultural contributions has been their feasts. Throughout the United States, wherever one may find an "Italian neighborhood" (often referred to as 'Little Italy'), one can find festive celebrations such as the well known Feast of San Gennaro in New York City, the unique Our Lady of Mount Carmel "Giglio" Feast in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, Italian feasts involve elaborate displays of devotion to God and patron saints. On the weekend of the last Sunday in August, the residents of Boston's North End celebrate the "Feast of all Feasts" in honor of St. Anthony of Padua, which was started over 300 years ago in Montefalcione, Italy. Perhaps the most widely known is St. Joseph's feast day on March 19. These feasts are much more than simply isolated events within the year. Feast (Festa in Italian) is an umbrella term for the various secular and religious, indoor and outdoor activities surrounding a religious holiday. Typically, Italian feasts consist of festive communal meals, religious services, games of chance and skill and elaborate outdoor processions consisting of statues resplendent in jewels and donations. This merriment usually takes place over the course of several days, and is communally prepared by a church community or a religious organization over the course of several months.

Former First Lady Laura Bush meets the Secretary General of Italy-USA Foundation, Corrado Maria Daclon.

Former First Lady Laura Bush meets the Secretary General of Italy-USA Foundation, Corrado Maria Daclon.

Currently, there are more than 300 Italian feasts celebrated throughout the United States. These feasts are visited each year by millions of Americans from various backgrounds who come together to enjoy Italian delicacies such as Zeppole and sausage sandwiches. Though in past, and still unto this day, much of Italian American culture is centered around music and food, in recent years, a large and growing group of Italian American authors are having success publishing and selling books in America.

Some of the authors who have written about everyday, hardworking Italians are Pietro DiDonato, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dana Gioia, Executive Director of the National Endowment for the Arts; Daniela Gioseffi, Winner of the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry, and Helen Barolini, author of The Dream Book, a collection of Italian American women's writings. Both women are American Book Award winners and pioneers of Italian American writing, as is poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan These women have authored many books depicting Italian American women in a new light. They, along with several other poets and writers, can be found at Italian American Writers

Among the scholars who have led the Renaissance in Italian American literature are professors Richard Gambino, Anthony Julian Tamburri, Paolo Giordano, and Fred Gardaphe. The latter three founded Bordighera Press, Inc. and edited From the Margin, An Anthology of Italian American Writing, Purdue University Press. These men along with professors like novelist and accomplished critic, Dr. Josephine Gattuso-Hendin of New York University, have taught Italian American studies far and wide, at such institutions as The City University of New York, John D. Calandra Institute, Queens College (CUNY), and Stony Brook University, as well as Brooklyn College, where Dr. Robert Viscusi, founded the Italian American Writers Association, and is an author and American Book Award winner, himself.

As a result of the efforts of magazines like VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, and Italian Americana, and many authors old and young, too numerous to mention, as well as early immigrant, pioneer writers like poet, Emanuel Carnevali, "Furnished Rooms," and novelist, Pietro DiDonato, author of "Christ in Concrete " --Italian Americans are beginning to read more of their own writers. A growing number of books featuring ordinary, hardworking Italians—having nothing to do with criminality—are published yearly to confront the perceived television and Hollywood stereotyping of this ethnic group. (See "Stereotypes," below.) Famed authors like Don DeLillo, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gay Talese, John Fante Tina DeRosa, Kim Addonizio, Daniela Gioseffi, Dana Gioia, to name a few who have broken through to main stream American literature and publishing, are changing the image of Italians in America with their books, stories, poems and essays far too numerous to cite. Many of these authors' books and writings are easily found on the internet and on Italian American Writers as well as in bibliographies online at Stonybrook University's Italian American Studies Dept. in New York or at The Italian American Writers Association website The cultural face of Italian Americana is widening and changing daily to combat stereotyping by American movies and television.


Most immigrants had been Catholics in Italy. In spite of the Catholic dominance among the immigrants, it can be noted that Italian religious minorities—such as Waldensians, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Italian Jews—also took part in the Italian immigration to America.

In some Italian American communities, Saint Joseph's Day (March 19) is marked by celebrations and parades. Columbus Day is also widely celebrated, as are the feasts of some regional Italian patron saints, most notably St. Januarius (San Gennaro) (September 19) (especially by those claiming Neapolitan heritage), and Santa Rosalia (September 4) by immigrants from Sicily. The immigrants from Potenza, Italy celebrate the Saint Rocco's day (August 16) feast at the Potenza Lodge in Denver, Colorado the 3rd weekend of August. San Rocco is the patron saint of Potenza as is San Gerardo. Many still celebrate the Christmas season with a Feast of the seven fishes. In Cleveland, Ohio, the Feast of Assumption is celebrated in Cleveland's Little Italy on August 15. On this feast day, people will pin money on Blessed Virgin Mary statue as symbol of prosperity. The statue is paraded through Little Italy to Holy Rosary Parish. For almost 25 years, Cleveland Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla would join in the parade and mass due to his Italian heritage. Pilla resigned in April 2006, but he still celebrates.

While most Italian-American families have a Catholic background, there are various groups of Italian-American Christians who have chosen to practice Protestant Christianity for various reasons. One reason why Italian-Americans have become more apart of Protestant faiths is due to intermarriage with other ethnic groups that were traditionally Protestant. In some cases, similarly to other ethnic groups, there are individuals and families who have become resentful of, or disenchanted with, the Catholic religion, and completely leave the church, no longer considering themselves as being a part of the Catholic traditions in any way. Many joined the Episcopal Church because of disagreement with local Catholic Church leadership while still retaining much of the liturgical form. Many converted to Evangelical Christianity because they did not agree with the ritualistic nature of the Catholic religion, as well as their belief that Catholics have an incorrect interpretation of certain doctrines concerning the Magisterium, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

There are many ex-Catholic Italian-American members of mainline liberal Protestant churches, such as the United Church of Christ, most of whom left the Catholic Church because they thought it to be too doctrinally conservative. There are also a significant number of ex-Catholic Italian-American converts to the Unitarian Universalist Church.[8] Fiorello La Guardia was an Episcopalian (on his father's side; his mother was from the small but significant community of Italian Jews). Frank Santora is an ex-Catholic Italian-American pastor of Faith Church, a large Evangelical megachurch in New Milford, Connecticut.[9] There is a small charismatic denomination, called the Christian Church of North America, which is rooted in the Italian Pentecostal Movement that came out of Chicago in the early 1900s. It should also be noted that the first group of Italian immigrants to Trenton converted to the Baptist denomination. In the early 1900s, a number of Protestant denominations and missionaries worked in urban Italian American neighborhoods of the Northeastern United States. Max Lucado—bestselling author, alumnus of Abilene Christian University, and preacher in Churches of Christ—is a prominent example of an Italian-American in non-Catholic ministry. The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, is a denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement that counts significant numbers of Italian-Americans in its leadership and membership.


According to Census Bureau data, Italian Americans have an average high school graduation rate, and a higher rate of advanced degrees compared to the national average.[10] Italian Americans throughout the United States are well represented in a wide variety of occupations and professions, from skilled trades, to the arts, to engineering, science, mathematics, law, and medicine, and include numerous Nobel prize winners.

Italian language in the United States

According to the , from 1998 to 2002 the enrollment in college Italian language courses grew by 30%, faster than the enrollment rates for French and German. Italian is the fourth most commonly taught foreign language in U.S. colleges and universities behind Spanish, French, and German. According to the U.S. 2000 Census, Italian is the fifth (seventh overall) most spoken language in the United States (tied with Vietnamese) with over 1 million speakers.[11]

As a result of the large wave of Italian immigration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Italian language was once widely spoken in much of the U.S., especially in northeastern and Great Lakes area cities like Rochester, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, as well as San Francisco, Saint Louis and New Orleans. Italian-language newspapers exist in many American cities, especially New York City, and Italian-language movie theatres existed in the U.S. as late as the 1950s.

Today, Prizes like The Bordighera Annual Poetry Prize founded by Daniela Gioseffi, Pietro Mastrandrea and Alfredo di Palchi with support from the Sonia Rraiziss-Giop Foundation, and Bordighera Press, which publishes the winners in bilingual editions, have helped to encourage writers of the diaspora to write and read in Italian. Chelsea Books in New York City and Gradiva Press on Long Island have published many bilingual books also due to the efforts of bilingual writers of the diaspora like Paolo Valesio, Alfredo de Palchi, Luigi Fontanella. Dr. Luigi Bonaffini of The City University of New York, publisher of The Journal of Italian Translation at Brooklyn College, has fostered Italian dialectic poetry throughout his homeland and the USA. Joseph Tusiani of New York and New York University, a highly distinguised linguist and prize winning poet born in Italy, paved the way for Italian works of literature in English and has published many bilingual books and Italian classics for the American audience, among them the first complete works of Michaelangelo's poems in English to be published in the United States. All of this literary endeavor has helped to foster the Italian language, along with the Italian opera, of course, in the United States. Many of these authors and their bilingual books are located throughout the internet.

This sign appeared in post offices and in government buildings during World War II. The sign designates Japanese, German, and Italian, the languages of the Axis powers, as enemy languages.

Author Lawrence Distasi argues that the loss of spoken Italian among the Italian American population can be tied to U.S. government pressures during World War II. During World War II, in various parts of the country, the U.S. government displayed signs that read, Don't Speak the Enemy's Language. Such signs designated the languages of the Axis powers, German, Japanese, and Italian, as "enemy languages". Shortly after the Axis powers declared war on the U.S., many Italian, Japanese and German citizens were interned. Among the Italian Americans, those who spoke Italian, who had never taken out citizenship papers, and who belonged to groups that praised Benito Mussolini, were most likely to become candidates for internment. Distasi claims that many Italian language schools closed down in the San Francisco Bay Area within a week of the U.S. declaration of war on the Axis powers. Such closures were inevitable since most of the teachers in Italian languages were interned.

The Italian language is still spoken and studied by those of Italian American descent, and it can be heard in various American communities, especially among older Italian Americans. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, interest in Italian language and culture has surged among Italian Americans.

The formal "Italian" that is taught in colleges and universities is generally not the "Italian" with which Italian Americans are acquainted. Because the Italian of Italian Americans comes from a time just after the unification of the state, their language is in many ways anachronistic and demonstrates what the dialects of Southern Italy used to be at the time. Because of this, Italian Americans studying Italian are often learning a language that does not include all of the words and phrases they may have learned from family.


Rampant anti-immigrant sentiment brought about The Immigration Act of 1924 and the nation's Italian Americans moved to defeat it. The small percentage of criminal elements active in the Italian American community, Black Hand practitioners and those who came up during the Prohibition Era, only lodged prejudices more firmly in the public’s mind. The most publicized protest from the community came in 2001 when the Chicago-based American Italian Defamation Association (AIDA) sued Time Warner for distributing HBO’s hit series The Sopranos because of its negative portrayal of Italian Americans.[12]. The results are still inconclusive.


In the 1890-1920 period Italian Americans were often stereotyped as being "violent" and "controlled by the Mafia". In the 1920s, many Americans used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, in which two Italian anarchists were sentenced to death, to denounce Italian immigrants as anarchists and criminals. During the 19th and early 20th century, Italian Americans were one of the most likely groups to be lynched. In 1891, eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans were lynched due to their ethnicity and suspicion of being involved in the Mafia (see: David Hennessy). This was the largest mass lynching in US history.[13]


Italian-Americans work in all lines of work. They're well representative of the average group in mainstream American society.

The National Italian American Foundation, the National American Italian Association and other Italian American organizations have asserted that the American Mafia in the United States have never numbered more than a few thousand individuals, and that it is unfair to associate such a small minority with the general population of Italian Americans.

Contrary to public belief, organized crime existed in America long before the migration of Italians from southern Italy. The Italian-American contingent of organized crime, although late in arriving, dominated the already flourishing crime families of the various ethnic groups. Taylor Street Archives


States known for their high concentrations of Italian Americans include Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York,Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Among major cities across the country, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and Providence have America's six largest Italian communities. New Haven and its surrounding suburbs also exhibit a high Italian concentration (New Haven's mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Congressional Representative Rosa DeLauro are both Italian-Americans).

State totals

Distribution of Italian Americans according to the 2000 census
Distribution of Italian Americans according to the 2000 census


  1. New York 3,254,298
  2. New Jersey 1,590,225
  3. Pennsylvania 1,547,470
  4. Massachusetts 1,518,838
  5. California 1,149,351
  6. Florida 1,147,946
  7. Illinois 739,284
  8. Ohio 720,847
  9. Connecticut 652,016
  10. Michigan 484,486
  11. Texas approx. 363,354
  12. Rhode Island approx. 201,134
  13. Louisiana approx. 195,561[14]


  1. Rhode Island 19.1%
  2. Connecticut 18.6%
  3. New Jersey 17.9%
  4. Massachusetts 16.5%
  5. New York 14.4%
  6. Pennsylvania 12.8%

Communities by concentration of Italian ancestry

The top 25 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Italian ancestry are:[15]

  1. Hammonton, New Jersey 47%
  2. Johnston, Rhode Island 46%
  3. Frankfort, New York (village) 44.70%
  4. North Providence, Rhode Island 44%
  5. East Haven, Connecticut 43%
  6. Roseto, Pennsylvania 42%
  7. Pittston Township, Pennsylvania 41%
  8. Franklin Square, New York 40%
  9. Revere, Massachusetts 39.7%
  10. Saugus, Massachusetts 39.5%
  11. North Massapequa, New York 39%
  12. Frankfort, New York (town) 38%
  13. Totowa, New Jersey 38%
  14. Lowellville, Ohio 37%
  15. Fairfield Township (Essex County), New Jersey 37%
  16. Thornwood, New York 36%
  17. South Hackensack, New Jersey 36%
  18. Hawthorne, New York 36%
  19. Nutley Township, New Jersey 36%
  20. Jessup, Pennsylvania 36%
  21. Pittston, Pennsylvania 36%
  22. East Hanover Township, New Jersey 36%
  23. Harrison, New York (both the town and village) and Deer Park, New York 35%
  24. Woodland Park, New Jersey 34%
  25. Valhalla, New York 34%
  26. Lyndhurst Township, New Jersey 34%
  27. North Haven, Connecticut 34%
  28. Staten Island, New York, Buena, New Jersey and Old Forge, Pennsylvania 33%

See also

References and notes

External links

Useful links for Italians in USA

de:Italo-Amerikaner es:Italoamericano fr:Italo-Américains it:Italoamericani ka:იტალო-ამერიკელები ja:イタリア系アメリカ人 pl:Imigranci włoscy w USA pt:Ítalo-americano ru:Италоамериканцы simple:Italian American fi:Amerikanitalialaiset sv:Italiensk-amerikaner uk:Італоамериканці


Italianamerican is a 1974 film directed by Martin Scorsese. Martin Scorsese's parents, Catherine and Charles Scorsese, feature in this homemade documentary acting as themselves. The Scorseses talk about their experiences as Italian immigrants in New York among other things, while having dinner at their flat on Elizabeth Street. Scorsese's mother also instructs how to cook her meatballs, a recipe later featured in the credits of the film. Among the subjects discussed in the film are family, religion, their origins, Italian ancestors, life in Italy after the war, the hardships of poor Sicilian immigrants in America striving to make ends meet.

External links

it:Italoamericani (film) nl:Italianamerican pt:Italianamerican

Italian-American cuisine

A Chicago-style pizza
A Chicago-style pizza
Italian American cuisine (more simply known as "Italian food" in the United States) is the cuisine of Italian American immigrants and their descendents, who have modified Italian cuisine under the influence of American culture and immigration patterns of Italians to the United States. As immigrants from different regions of Italy settled in different regions of the United States and became “Italian-Americans,” they brought with them diverse traditions of foods and recipes that were particularly identified with their regional origins in Italy and yet infused with the characteristics of their new home locale in America. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for town peoples and then later for Americans nationwide; as, for example, the muffuletta sandwich from New Orleans or the "toasted ravioli" (actually breaded and deep-fried) from St. Louis, Missouri. A measure of the widespread popularity of Italian-American cuisine in the United States is this: In the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area of Minnesota, demographically dominated by Scandinavian and German Americans, the City Pages newspaper identified Italian-American food as the most widespread culinary style in the region, with examples ranging from the ubiquitous spaghetti dinner to fashionable restaurants.

Prominent American chefs and cooks working in the Italian-American style include: Sal Scognamillo, Michael Chiarello, Frank Pellegrino, Laurie Thomas, Rocco DiSpirito, Lidia Bastianich and others. In addition, many other chefs such as Rachael Ray incorporate substantial amounts of Italian influence in their cooking.

Traditional influences and contemporary trends in Italian-American food

Italian-American food is based heavily (though not exclusively) on the traditional food of southern Italian immigrants, most of whom arrived in the United States from the late 19th and early 20th century. During this great wave of immigration into the United States, many of the peoples came particularly from the areas of Naples and Sicily and moved to large American cities, such as New York City and Boston. For many Italian-Americans, who identify their food with their locale and the home areas of their ancestors, the food is based on staples such as dry pasta, tomato sauce, and olive oil; whereas, for others, such as those from Northern Italian families in other parts of the United States, may prefer Northern Italian staples such as rice, fresh pasta and butter.

For many Italian Americans, particularly in traditional Cattle ranching or "cowboy" states like California, Texas, Florida and Hawaii, Italian-American food tends to use a great deal more meat. Reasons for this are not universally agreed upon; some place it simply on the greater availability and higher quality of American meat (particularly beef), while others believe it to be a product of nutritional theories promulgated by early 20th-century social workers to ease integration of Italian immigrants into American society. Beef consumption has also been symbolic of many Italian-Americans' new found prosperity in these particular states (or regions) and within America at large; that is, as opposed life in pre-World War II Italy and Europe), where little beef was afforded or consumed; however, high-quality beef and its production is often seen as symbolically American.

Over time and with the development and appreciation of Italian cuisine in the United States, as well as the increased importation of goods and so on, some trends have seen the cuisine move towards a more “authentic” style that has either greater affinity with techniques and ingredients that are native to Italy, or otherwise a style that interprets the cuisine from the viewpoint of Italian culture as it exists throughout the world. Italian-American food also regularly imports innovations from Italy—if not also try to mimic the production of such goods domestically—and includes relatively recent innovations such as espresso (now ubiquitous in American life), tiramisu, Nutella and so on. All of these introductions have been enthusiastically embraced and every year new products and cultural exchanges are shared between the trade of Italy and the United States, which is growing successful.

Italian-American restaurants and the "Red Sauce" stereotype

Spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese
Spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese
Italian American food is often somewhat pejoratively known as "red sauce" food, because of the significant amounts of tomato sauce that are often characteristic of Italian-American restaurant food for much of the 20th century. Some of this broader perception may be attributed and reinforced by the universal appeal of Italian-style foods in the United States; for example, the common trend in much of American style foodservice is often towards perpetuating these concepts via mass marketing, just as it would for any other ideal type or abstraction, such as “Chinese food” or “Mexican food”.

A popular aesthetic associated with Italian-American food is the old fashioned clichéd image of the mom and pop "red sauce joint", a type of restaurant that specializes in such foods as spaghetti with meatballs and has tables decorated with red checked tablecloths and straw-covered Chianti bottles serving as tabletop candleholders. While the classic image of such a place has in many cases given way to more contemporary, upscale restaurant designs, the concept is common for more traditional Italian-American restaurants, to the point where some chain restaurants such as Papa Gino's, Maggiano's Little Italy and Buca di Beppo have adopted such stereotypical touches as a red checked pattern in laminate tabletops as a stylistic hallmark.

Italian-American cooking has had considerable influence on the steakhouse tradition as well; many steakhouses were started by Italian-American entrepreneurs, including New York City's The Palm chain (named after a mispronunciation of the family name Parma) and the Massachusetts-based Hilltop (founded by local restaurateur Frank Giuffrida).

Top Rated Restaurants

Within the United States there is a long standing heritage of institutions with top restaurant ratings that serve Italian or Italian-American food. Many of these restaurants contribute to the ideals and standards of contemporary, fine-dining Italian or Italian American cuisine. Some of the more significant rating services that have made an impact include: the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA Award), Michelin series of guides, Slow Food guide, Zagat Survey, and others.

• As of the year 2008, the Distinguished Restaurants of America, lists 109 Italian-style restaurants on its website, under that category and nationwide. Other regional ratings by examples include:

Slow Food, based originally in Italy, lists several restaurants in regional guides (in printed book form only), such the San Francisco and the Bay Area guide. In that 2005 version of the guide, it lists 22 recommended restaurants that adhere to its standards of "authentic" Italian cuisine.

• Michelin names 4 Italian-style restaurants with a one star rating in its 2007 San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country version of its guide (printed book form only).

Zagat Survey lists 3 Italian or Italian-American restaurants with "Top Rating" in its "2007 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants" guide.

Of these regional restaurant ratings, it should be noted that these services are not available for all metropolitan areas of the United States; hence the popular perception of "top rated restaurants" is primarily associated with certain large cities in a few states in America. The DiRoNA award is one of the few programs that is both organized and recognized nationwide and also recognizes many Italian-American culinary personalities in its "Hall of Fame."

Italian-American food and convenience food

Take out spaghetti in a Japanese convenience store in Los Angeles
Take out spaghetti in a Japanese convenience store in Los Angeles
Italian-derived food has become remarkably common in convenience cooking, especially with canned foods such as Franco-American's SpaghettiOs as well as the popularity of Italian-American specialties from take-out counters in supermarkets and restaurants. In particular, the pizza parlor is one of the most ubiquitous of American eateries, with businesses ranging in size from single proprietorships all the way up to large chains such as Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut. In a cross-cultural variation of the theme, refrigerated, ready-to-heat-and-eat spaghetti has become a popular convenience item in Asian convenience stores in the U.S.

Chef Ettore Boiardi was probably one of the first "Italian" celebrity chefs within the United States, so much so that he is credited with popularizing the cuisine to many non-Italian-Americans and the public at large. Chef Boiardi is more commonly known by his commercialized, eponymous brand name, "Chef Boyardee."

Social & political influences on Italian food in the United States

In recent years, Italian style food, if not all food in the United States, has been influenced by the likes of social and/or political movements like Slow Food. Despite criticism by some individuals, the organization has grown and has had much made an impact in Italy (as well as Europe overall), most notably in its reactionary stance towards American style consumerism and fast food lifestyle. On its website,, The Slow Food organization claims that it was founded in 1989 "to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." Today, many Americans and Italian-American restaurants have embraced Slow Food principles and created their own Slow Food USA organization with local chapters. It is becoming a new trend and influence in the perception of Italian-American cuisine itself. Many restaurants advertise Slow Food affiliation, as do consumers who look for recommended products and support the movement’s general philosophy.

Popularity of "Italian-American" and "Italian" cuisine

Italian-American food (and Mediterranean cuisine influence in general) has been highly influential in the American diet. It is one of the top three ethnic cuisines in the United States, according to the National Restaurant Association (known by industry professionals as the NRA). The NRA has stated:

"Italian, Mexican and Chinese (Cantonese) cuisines have indeed joined the mainstream. These three cuisines have become so ingrained in the American culture that they are no longer foreign to the American palate. According to the study, more than nine out of 10 consumers are familiar with and have tried these foods, and about half report eating them frequently. The research also indicates that Italian, Mexican and Chinese (Cantonese) have become so adapted to such an extent that "authenticity" is no longer a concern to customers."[1]

Surveys have also shown that an overall trend towards the inclusion of so-called "alternate-source ingredients," as well as the "incorporation of ethnic cuisines, flavors and ingredients into restaurant menus" is now very commonplace. Rated high on the list of popular or "hot" items in the survey include "[Mediterranean style] flatbreads, [Italian style] “ciabatta bread,” Mediterranean cuisine, espresso/ specialty coffee..." and so on.[2] Of course, pizza and spaghetti in particular have been almost completely naturalized (the former in particular is a standard part of many American diets, often in forms almost completely unrecognizable to Italian cuisine).

Italian-American cuisine and wine

There is a strong association of Italian-American cuisine with the history of winemaking in the United States. Broadly speaking, the tradition among many Italian-Americans is to enjoy their food with the pairing of any wine to make the meal complete and sociable; hence, on most any table could be found a cheap "table wine" and often (especially during Prohibition) a homemade wine that is sometimes pejoratively known as "dago red." Such wines are still embraced as a symbol of Italian-Americans keeping their culinary traditions alive during Prohibition, and as well as until the extensive importing of higher-quality Italian wines in the 1970s and the appreciation of the new "finer" wines of California. The traditional straw-wrapped Chianti bottles still remain as emblematic fixtures on many of the habitual style Italian-American restaurant tables, both because of the wine itself and for the use of the empty bottle as a candleholder thereafter; however, this custom is seeming becoming passé, as the fiasco is no longer universal for Chianti packaging.

The influence of Italian-Americans on American wine and winemaking has been profound as well, and has been recognized since the founding of the United States as a nation. Indeed, Italian vintners were brought to the state of Florida as early as the year 1766 by Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a British Consul at Smyrna. More significantly, perhaps, was the contributions of Filippo Mazzei (often spelled "Philip Mazzei"), an Italian physician, a promoter of liberty and friend of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Mazzei led a group of Italians in Virginia with the cultivation of vineyards, olives, and other Mediterranean fruit.

In later years, American viticulture was more influenced by the diaspora of Italians during the transatlantic migrations that began in the 1870s and reaching greater proportions from 1880 to 1920. Most of these Italians entered at the east coast of the United States at Ellis Island, whereas many of those quickly passed through to the American West Coast, where California still had the lure and aura of its famous “Gold Rush” and new prosperity. In that state, Italian-Americans were inspired by expanses of rolling hills and fertile fields. Prior to Prohibition starting in 1919, many wineries had already made their start: Seghesio, Simi, and Foppiano all began in the late 1800s and are still in operation today. Others included Giuseppe Magliavacca’s Napa winery, Secondo Guasti’s Italian Vineyard Company and Andrea Sbarbaro’s Italian-Swiss Colony.

From 1919 to Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, many Italian-Americans struggled to keep their vines in the ground and their vineyards going; yet they persisted, often providing sacramental wine to the Catholic Church or grape juice to the general market. These few holdouts can be credited with salvaging America’s viticulture heritage, in an industry that values the longevity and tradition of the vine and its produce.

Beyond Prohibition and into today’s wine producing economy, Italian-American wineries maintain a powerful contribution to the domestic and world market. Some of these companies include: Atlas Peak (also known as Antinori), Cosentino, Dalla Valle, Delicato, Ferrari-Carano, E & J Gallo Winery, Geyser Peak (also known as Trione family), Louis M. Martini, Mazzocco, Robert Mondavi, Monte Bello Ridge, Corrado Parducci, Pedroncelli Winery, Robert Pepi, Picchetti Brothers Winery, Rochioli, Rafanelli, Rubicon Estate Winery (also known as Francis Ford Coppola Presents), Sebastiani Vineyards, Signorello, Sattui, Trinchero (most often under the Sutter Home brand), Valley of the Moon, Viansa, etc.

On the Italian-American table today, there is an appreciation of California wine, American wine (other domestic), imported Italian wine; and, of course, the old standby Chianti (from Tuscany, Italy) or "generic" red or white table wine (often called vino da tavola) to high end "Super Tuscan" style wines such as Tignanello. Some of the first Chianti wine to arrive in the United States was standard, cheap wines; however, after a slide in the overall quality of Chianti production during the mid-20th century, improvements in the recipes and techniques used to make the wines have led to the creation of Chiantis ranging from simple table wines up to high-end Chianti Classicos. All of these and more are widely popular with Italian-American cuisine in the United States.


Specialties of Italian-American cuisine consist of both Americanizations of Italian classics and dishes specifically invented in the United States. Some of the names given below are derived from Italian dialects (particularly southern dialects such as Neapolitan and Sicilian) and are spelled as they are sounded out among English speakers.

Pastas and grains

Italian pasta is eaten widely in the United States, and reviewers have found American-made brands such as Ronzoni to be equivalent to or better than Italian-made pasta in quality.[3] In addition, some Italian-American cooks have adopted Chinese egg roll wrappers for convenience cooking use, since it is very close to fresh pasta in composition.

Vegetable dishes

Meats and eggs


Seafood dishes

Soups and stews

Breads, sandwiches, and savory baked goods


References and further reading

There are many styles of cookbooks available in English, both on the subjects of traditional and authentic "Italian cuisine" and "Italian-American" food.

On Italian-American Winemaking

On Related topics of migration, immigration and diaspora

See also


  1. Hensley, Sue, National Restaurant Association. Article/ News Release, "International Cuisine Reaches America's Main Street," 10 August 2000.
  2. Stensson, Anita, National Restaurant Association. Article/ News Release, "Small is Big on Restaurant Menus..." 29 November 2007.
  3. Several reviews by Cook's Illustrated magazine; see The Best Recipe: Italian Classics for details.