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The term Italian diaspora refers to the large-scale migration of Italians away from Italy in the period roughly beginning with the unification of Italy in 1861 and ending with the Italian economic miracle in the 1960s. The Italian diaspora concerned more than 25 million Italians and it is considered the biggest mass migration of contemporary times.
Poverty was the main reason for the diaspora. Italy was until the 1950s a partially rural society where land management practices, especially in the South and North-East, did not easily convince farmers to stay on the land and work the soil.
Another characteristic was related to the overpopulation of southern Italy after the improvements of the socio-economic conditions, following the unification process. Indeed southern Italian families after 1861 started to have access (for the first time) to hospitals, improved hygienic conditions and normal food supply.
This created a demographic boom and forced the new generations to emigrate en masse at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, mostly to the Americas. The Fascist government, in order to colonize Libya and the horn of Africa moved some of the excessive Italian population to those Italian colonies. After World War II the process started again in huge numbers, because of the destruction during the war of Italy and its economy.
In 2011 in the world there are 4,115,235 Italians living outside Italy and approximately 80 million direct descendants of Italians, who emigrated in the last two centuries. They have greatly contributed to the Italophilia in our contemporary world.
There is a history of Italians working and living outside of the Italian peninsula since ancient times. The Italian Maritime Republics during the Middle Ages created colonies in many areas around the Mediterranean sea, mainly in south-eastern Europe and the Levant.
Italian bankers and traders expanded to all parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, sometimes creating outposts. In late medieval times, there was a significant permanent presence in Flanders, Lyon, Paris, and outposts were created throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Since the Renaissance, the services of Italian architects and artists were sought by many of Europe's royal courts, as far as Russia. This migration, though generally small in numbers, and sometimes ephemeral, pre-dates the unification of Italian states.
Between 1900 and World War I 9,000,000 Italians left, most from the south and most going to either North or South America. However, another source claims that most Italian emigrants were from Northern Italy.
As the number of Italian emigrants abroad increased, so did their remittances, thus encouraging further emigration even in the face of factors that might logically be thought to decrease the need to leave such as increased wages at home. This has been termed "persistent and path-dependent emigration flow"; that is, friends and relatives who leave first send back money for tickets, and help relatives as they arrive. This tends to support an emigration flow since even improving conditions in the emigrant's country take a while to trickle down to potential emigrants to convince them not to leave. The emigrant flow was stemmed only by dramatic events such as the outbreak of World War I, which greatly disrupted the flow of people trying to leave Europe, or by restrictions on immigration put in place by receiving countries. Examples of such restrictions in the United States were the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Restrictive legislation to limit emigration from Italy was introduced by the Fascist government of the 1920s and 30s.
The unification of Italy broke down the feudal land system that had survived in the south since the Middle Ages, especially where land had been the inalienable property of aristocrats, religious bodies, or the king. The breakdown of feudalism, however, and redistribution of land did not necessarily lead to small farmers in the south winding up with land of their own or land they could work and profit from. Many remained landless, and plots grew smaller and smaller and thus more and more unproductive as land was subdivided among heirs.
The Italian diaspora did not affect all regions of the nation equally. In the second phase of emigration (1900 to World War I) most emigrants were from the south and north-east and most of them were from rural areas, driven off the land by inefficient land management, lawlessness and sickness (pellagra in the north-east and cholera in the south). Robert Foerster, in Italian Emigration of our Times (1919)  says, " [Emigration has been]…well nigh expulsion; it has been exodus, in the sense of depopulation; it has been characteristically permanent."
Mezzadria, a form of sharefarming where tenant families obtained a plot to work on from an owner and kept a reasonable share of the profits, was more prevalent in central Italy, which is one of the reasons why there was less emigration from that part of Italy. The south lacked entrepreneurs, and absentee landlords were common. Although owning land was the basic yardstick of wealth, farming in the south was socially despised. People did not invest in agricultural equipment but in such things as low-risk state bonds.
The assumption that emigration from cities was negligible has an important exception, and that is the city of Naples. The city went from being the capital of its own kingdom in 1860 to being just another large city in Italy. The loss of bureaucratical jobs and the subsequently declining financial situation led to high unemployment. In the early 1880s epidemics of cholera also struck the city, causing many people to leave. The epidemics were the driving force behind the decision to rebuild entire sections of the city, an undertaking known as the "risanamento" (literally "making healthy again") a pursuit that lasted until the start of World War I.
During the first few years before the unification of Italy emigration was not particularly controlled by the state. Emigrants were often in the hands of emigration agents, whose job it was to make money for themselves by moving emigrants. Abuses led to the first migration law in Italy, passed in 1888, to bring the many emigration agencies under state control.
On 31 January 1901 the Commissariat of Emigration was created, granting licenses to carriers, enforcing fixed ticket costs, keeping order at ports of embarkation, providing health inspection for those leaving, setting up hostels and care facilities and arranging agreements with receiving countries to help care for those arriving. The Commissariat tried to take care of emigrants before they left and after they arrived. This included dealing with the labor laws in the US that discriminated against alien workers (the US alien contract labor law of 1885) and even suspending, for a while, emigration to Brazil, where many migrants had wound up as virtual slaves on large coffee plantations.
The Commissariat also helped to set up remittances sent by emigrants from the United States back to their motherland, which turned into a constant flow of money amounting, by some accounts, to about 5% of the Italian national product. In 1903 the Commissariat also set the available ports of embarkation as Palermo, Naples and Genoa, excluding the port of Venice which had previously also been used.
Although the physical perils involved with transatlantic ship traffic during the First World War obviously disrupted emigration from all parts of Europe, including Italy, the condition of various national economies in the immediate post-war period was so bad that immigration picked up almost immediately. Foreign newspapers ran "scare" stories that, substantially, were not much different than those published 40 years earlier (when, for example, on Dec. 18, 1880, the New York Times ran an editorial, "Undesirable Emigrants", that was full of typical invective of the day against the "promiscuous immigration…[of]…the filthy, wretched, lazy, criminal dregs of the meanest sections of Italy.") Somewhat toned down was a New York Times article of April 17, 1921, which reported under the headline "Italians Coming in Great Numbers" that the "Number of Immigrants Will Be Limited Only By Capacity of Liners" (there was now a limited number of ships available due to recent wartime losses) and that potential emigrants were thronging the quays in the cities of Genoa and Naples. Furthermore:
The extreme economic difficulties of post-war Italy and the severe internal tensions within the nation (which led to the rise of Fascism) "pushed" 614,000 emigrants away in 1920, half of them going to the United States. ("Push" as opposed to the economic "pull" of a foreign nation in need of immigrant labor—the case in earlier decades.) When the Fascists came to power in 1922 there was a general slowdown in the flow of emigrants from Italy—eventually. However, during the first five years of Fascism, one and one-half million people left Italy. That is 300,000 persons per year, a number quite comparable to the early years of the 20th century. Even as late as 1930, 300,000 emigrants left Italy in that single year. By that time, the nature of the emigrants had changed; there was, for example, a marked increase in the rise of relatives of non-working age who were moving to be with their families who had gone before.
In general, the Fascist government spun the entire emigration saga to its own benefit. A 1927 study by the Italian government estimated that there were some 9,200,000 living abroad—one fifth of the Italian nation lived abroad. Thus, on the one hand, the government could claim that the slowdown in emigration was due to the successful economic policies of the government, and, on the other hand, could view the massive presence of Italians abroad as a powerful potential, a kind of cultural colonialism.
|This section requires expansion. (September 2009)|
In a wave of temporary Italian migration, from 1945 to the early 1970s (peaking in the period after World War II), Italian "guest workers" went mostly to Austria, Belgium, France, West Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Italian immigration to Argentina and Uruguay, along with Spanish, formed the backbone of the Argentine and Uruguayan societies. Minor groups of Italians started to immigrate to Argentina as early as the second half of the 17th century. However, the stream of Italian immigration to Argentina became a mass phenomenon between 1880-1920 when Italy was facing social and economic disturbances. Argentine culture has significant connections to Italian culture in terms of language, customs and traditions. it is estimated up to 53-60% of the population or 23 million Argentines have full or partial italian ancestry. According to the Ministry of the Interior of Italy (Ministero dell'Interno), there are 527,570 Italian citizens living in the Argentine Republic.
Italian Brazilians are the largest number of people with full or partial Italian ancestry outside of Italy. Nowadays, it's possible to find millions of descendants of Italians, from the southeastern state of Minas Gerais to the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, with the majority living in São Paulo and the highest percentage in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo (60-75%). Small southern Brazilian towns, such as Nova Veneza, have as much as 95% of their population of Italian descent.
A substantial influx of Italian immigrants to Canada began in the early 20th century when over a hundred thousand Italians moved to Canada. In the post-war years (1945-1970s) another influx of Italians emigrated to Canada, again from the south but also from Veneto and Friuli and displaced Italians from Istria. Almost 1,000,000 Italians reside in the Province of Ontario, making it a strong global representation of the Italian diaspora. Toronto contains a strong and tight-knit Italian community. In recent years, Italian enclaves have expanded into Vaughan, Woodbridge and Maple. Hamilton, Ontario, which has over 25,000 residents with ties to its sister city in Sicily, Racalmuto.
Starting in the late 19th century until the 1950s, the United States became a main destination for Italian immigrants, most settling originally in the New York metropolitan area, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Many Italian Americans still retain aspects of their culture. In movies that deal with cultural issues, Italian American words and lingo are sometimes spoken by the characters. Although many do not speak Italian fluently, over 1 million speak Italian at home according to the 2000 US Census.
Another very important Italian community is in Venezuela, which developed especially after the Second World War. They number about 600,000 people and up to 1 million including people with at the least one Italian grandparent. The Italo-Venezuelans have obtained significant results in the contemporary society of Venezuela. The Italian Embassy calculates that one quarter of the Venezuelan industries, not related to the oil sector, are directly or indirectly owned and/or managed by Italian-Venezuelans.
In a wave of temporary Italian migration, from 1920 to the early 1970s (peaking in the periods of World War I and World War II), Italian "guest workers" went mostly to Austria, Belgium, France, West Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Italian migration into what is today France has been going on, in different migrating cycles from the end of the 19th century to nowadays. In addition, Corsica passed from the Republic of Genoa to France in 1770, and the area around Nice and Savoy from the Kingdom of Sardinia to France in 1860. Initially, Italian immigration to modern France (late 18th to the early 20th C.) came predominantly from northern Italy (Piedmont, Veneto), then from central Italy (Marche, Umbria), mostly to the bordering southeastern region of Provence. It wasn't until after World War II that large numbers of immigrants from southern Italy immigrated to France, usually settling in industrialised areas of France, such as Lorraine, Paris and Lyon. Today, it is estimated that as many as 5 million French nationals have Italian ancestry going back three generations.
In Switzerland, Italian immigrants (not to be confused with a large autochthonous population of Italophones in Ticino and Grigioni) reached the country starting in the late 19th century, most of whom eventually came back to Italy after the rise of Italian Fascism. Future Fascist leader Benito Mussolini emigrated in Switzerland in 1902, only to be deported after becoming involved in the socialist movement. A new migratory wave began after 1945, favoured by the lax immigration laws then in force.
Italian communities once thrived in the former African colonies of Eritrea (50,000 Italian settlers in 1935), Somalia and Libya (150,000 Italians settled in Libya, constituting about 18% of the total population). A significant portion of the pied-noir community of French Algeria and Tunisia were also of Italian descent, though much of this population naturalized as French citizens, and most migrated to France after Algerian and Tunisinian independences.
Today, there are still some Italian descendants remnant in African nations since colonial days, although most returned to Italy or moved elsewhere after the second world war. There is a significant post-colonial immigrant community, however, in South Africa.
Italians arrived in Australia most prominently in the decades immediately following the Second World War, and they and their descendants have had a significant impact on the culture, society and economy of Australia. The 2006 Census counted 199,124 persons who were born in Italy, and Italian is the fifth most identified ancestry in Australia with 852,418 responses. Italian Australians experienced a relatively low rate of return migration to Italy.
A photographic record of the migrant experience in Australia can be seen in a collection of images held at the National Museum of Australia, created by Sicilian-born Carmello Mirabelli. Mirabelli arrived in Sydney on the ship Assimina in 1951. He worked as an itinerant seasonal fruit-picker and cane-cutter across Australia, taking photographs with a Zeiss Ikon Nettar camera to send to his mother to show what life was like in Australia.
The immigration patterns of the Italian diaspora varied, sometimes radically, from a region of Italy to another. As with many other immigrant groups, Italians tended to emigrate along with or after relatives or friends, often emigrating by the hundreds from the same village for the same destination, which led to great divergences in the composition of the diaspora in different countries and also within the different regions of larger countries such as the United States.
The Calabrian diaspora refers to the migration of Calabrians between the unification of Italy in 1861 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, a second mass-migration in the interwar period and the last period from 1945 until the 1980s.
Bedford is home to one of the largest concentrations of Italian immigrants in the United Kingdom. According to a 2001 census, 2 in 7 (almost 30%) of Bedford's population are of at least partial Italian descent. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the early 1950s by the London Brick Company in the southern Italian regions of Puglia, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Abruzzo and Sicily.
The areas of Tuscany traditionally most affected by emigration were today's provinces of Lucca and Massa-Carrara. Tuscans were among the first contemporary inhabitants of the Italian peninsula to emigrate in significant numbers: already in the second half the 17th century, lumberjacks, coalmen and farmers began to leave the Garfagnana for Corsica, while figurinai (figurine makers) left for France, England and Spain.
Large-scale migrations for the new world only began in the 1880s. Most Tuscans worked abroad just for the time necessary to save enough money to buy landholdings back in Tuscany and marry. Mass-migrations from Tuscany largely ended after the Great Depression, with the exception of a migratory wave towards Australia, which was however far smaller than the preceding ones.
|Country||Regional destinations||Cities and towns with high concentrations||Emigrants||Time frame||Notes||References|
|Corsica||Bastia, rural areas||2,500 by 1760;|
over 10,000 by the 1870s
|1650s–1870s||Mostly seasonal agricultural workers||ASEI|
|France||Provence||second half of the 19th century||young men, also young women of peasant origin, who worked as nannies||ASEI|
|Brazil||South, Southeast||São Paulo||1880–1898||farmers in the coffee plantations in Brazil's interior, a 1898 crisis in coffee prices forced many back to Tuscany||ASEI|
|United States||Northern California||San Francisco and neighbouring rural areas||1860s - 1920s||In San Francisco, agricultural commerce, transport and sale of fruit and vegetables.||ASEI|
|Philadelphia and Chicago metropolitan areas||Tuscans worked in many economic sectors in every part of the country, from Montana to the Panama Canal Zone|
Source: Adriano Boncompagni (2006-02-27). "L'emigrazione toscana" (in Italian). ASEI–Archivio Storico dell'Emigrazione Italiana. http://www.asei.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
Before the 20th century, the Umbrian migratory flux was insignificant, never reaching more than 35-40 emigrants per year. Emigrated Umbrian men predominantly worked as miners, owing to the experience that many accumulated in the sector by working in the Lignite mines near Spoleto, and possibly from a cultural influence from the neighbouring regions of Marche and Romagna, who already had a tradition of working as miners abroad.
After World War I, the migratory flux resumed to the usual destinations (with the exception of Germany) from 1919 until the onset of the Great Depression, without ever reaching the pre-1914 levels again. The Umbrian contribution to the Italian settlements in Africa was also modest.
|Country||Regional destinations||Cities and towns with high concentrations||Emigrants (1900–1914)||Emigrants (per year)||Notes||References|
|United States||North-Eastern Pennsylvania||Jessup, Old Forge, Pittston, Reading and its suburbs||over 30,000||The most popular destination for Umbrians immigrating to the US, who mostly worked as miners||ASEI|
|Michigan and Minnesota||Iron Mountain, Hibbing, Chisholm, Virginia, Eveleth||Mostly working in iron mines||ASEI|
|France||Côte d'Azur, Alpes Maritimes||37.000||2,000-3,000||Migrations began in the 1870s, mostly seasonal agricultural workers from the Upper Tiber Valley; also tourist sector (working in hotels, cafés); women worked as nannies||ASEI|
|Meurthe-et-Moselle||Longwy, Villerupt||Iron mines, steelworks|
|Germany||Bavaria, Baden||32,000||bricklayers, manual labourers, nannies||ASEI|
|Lorraine, Rhineland, Westphalia, Ruhr||Mostly miners (miners predominantly came from the Gubbio–Gualdo Tadino Apennine), also steel workers||ASEI|
|Switzerland||Basel, Arbon, St. Gallen, Rorschach||27,000||Bricklayers, agricultural workers, also women aged 14–20 from Perugia and the Trasimeno region, who worked in the textile and manufacturing industries||ASEI|
Source: Luciano Tosi (2007-04-10). "L'emigrazione all'estero dall'Umbria" (in Italian). ASEI–Archivio Storico dell'Emigrazione Italiana. http://www.asei.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=104. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
After 1890, Italian contribution to the emigration flow to the New world was significant. By 1870, Italy had about 25,000,000 inhabitants (compared to circa 40,000,000 in Germany and circa 30,000,000 in the United Kingdom).
A preliminary census  done in 1861 after the annexation of the South claimed that there were a mere 100,000 Italians living abroad. Early figures such as those are not absolutely reliable and serve only as a general guide. The General Directorate of Statistics did not start compiling official emigration statistics until 1876. Accurate figures on the decades between 1870 and World War I show how emigration increased dramatically during that period:
Italian emigrants per 1,000 population
The high point of Italian emigration was 1913, when 872,598 persons left Italy.
Extrapolating from the circa 25,000,000 inhabitants of Italy at the time of unification, natural birth and death rates (without considering emigration) would have been expected to produce a population of about 65 million by 1970. Instead, because of emigration earlier in the century, there were only 54 million.
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