Originally published by Bridge Apulia-USA N.2, 1997
Re-published by L'Idea N.67, 1997
There is a conspicuous peculiarity in the flow of Italian immigration in United States,
from the earliest days of colonization of America to the late 1800's. Up to the 1850's its
influx was barely a trickle, and though an appreciable increase appears in the 1880's,
such advance was comparatively of minor relevance. In the 1890 census, only 182,580
Americans were Italian born. By the next census, though, the population of Italian born
residents of USA had skyrocketed to 484,703 (748,855 if the computation includes first
generation Americans having parents born in Italy).
Furthermore, up to the 1890's, 75% of the Italian immigrants were males between the age
of sixteen and forty-five. Only in the latter years of that decade, families started to
meet the head of the household, allowing them to create the proper niche to establish
themselves permanently in this country.
Unfortunately this increase in volume of immigration brought many a burden with it. One
of them is the sharp intensifying of prejudice and often overt discrimination against
people of Italian descent. In 1789 the historian David Ramsey proudly defined the Italians
as one of the ten nationalities from which the original stock of this country originated.
By the early 1900's many newspapers defined the Italian race as inferior and degraded,
insinuating that intermixture with the prevailing Anglo-Saxon population, if practicable,
would be detrimental. It was against this background that the first wave of Apulian
immigrants arrived in this country.
Further obstacles aroused by the absence of kinship within the Italian community.
Unlike other Italians, who found large communities of people from their own region, if not
of their own town, many Apulians struggled in their isolation. Persistent to the point of
stubbornness, these Apulians did not give up on their attempts to integrate, regardless of
the difficulties and impediments they found across the way.
Customary of those early migrations was the ultimate return to the motherland, where
these ex-emigrants kept the dream of "Lamerica" alive for the following
generations. With time, some of these Apulians remained in he United States and formed
small, closely knit communities. This allowed an easier path to the newcomers.
The bulk of the early immigrants remedied either a job within the shovel and pick crews
of the developing Chicago area or a much fancied position in the port of New York as
longshoremen. Hardly any Apulians settled outside these two major metropolitan areas until
There are exceptions to this trend, and they are the one that shine the most, such as
Rodolfo Valentino, the star of the Silent Movies, or Fiorello LaGuardia, whose impressive
handling of the New York City mayoralty is still redeemed as unique and unmatched.
The new surge of immigration that brought the majority of Apulians to these shores
occurred in the early 1960's. Whereas a large percentage of the previous Apulian
immigrants was uneducated, the post-war years brought a new immigrant, reminiscent of the
early years of colonization, when Italians were officers of the Revolutionary Army,
printers, philosophers, teachers, administrators and much more. These new immigrants
merged with the system, integrating without losing their identities, conquering
enviablepositions in the political, social and economic structure of the Nation.
Although most of the Apulians clustered in the two aforementioned metropolitan areas,
substantial Apulian communities may be found in Hoboken, New Jersey, and in Port St.Lucie,
Florida. These communities do not represent all the Apulian towns, since most emigration
to the United States originated from the province of Bari. There are large groups of
people that can trace their roots to towns such as Mola Di Bari, more than 20,000 live in
Brooklyn alone, and Molfetta. In New York City alone people from Mola Di Bari can count on
five social or cultural clubs.
Although you can also encounter an ex-inhabitant of the provinces of Lecce or Foggia,
what is missing for these people is the communal life, since they cannot find any
organization or even neighborhood with any sizable participation of "paesani",
that is, people from the same town.
Activities often are initiated by associations of particular towns, but encompass a
larger community, made of citizens of various Apulian villages. The religious parades,
such as the one of the Santi Medici or of Maria SS.Addolorata, involve a large
participation in the Italian community as a whole. The social gatherings, such as the
Sagra del Polpo or Miss Puglia USA, tend to be more specifically aimed at the Apulian
The strength of the Apulian presence in the United States can be measured by the
magnitude and importance of its representatives in the field of the Arts. Silvester
Stallone and Marco Cristino are universally known in the film industry; Domenico Mazzone
and Vincenzo Palumbo have excelled in the sculpting media; Natale Rotondi and Gino
Caporale have brightened our lives with their painting masterpieces, while Angela
Sciddurlo Rago has delighted us with her theatrical works.
Apulians, though, are now conspicuous in all the major professional fields, medicine,
law, engineering and education, and in the business world. Michael Pesce is a judge from
the New York State Supreme Court; Silvana Mangione is president of the Italian Committee
on Emigration for the New York and Connecticut area, while Corrado Manfredi is the owner
of the largest family-run automobile dealership in the New York metropolitan area, just to
name a few of these respected citizens.
The Apulians are hence a well established and respected group of the Italian community
in United States. They have earned their position in lesser years, but certainly not with
less sacrifice than any other Italian.
Their social status is so determined that they are the only regional group with their
own periodic, L'Idea, a quarterly published in Brooklyn in the Italian language.