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The Italian "diaspora is the large-scale emigration of "Italians from "Italy. There are two major Italian diasporas in Italian history. The first diaspora began in 1861 with the Unification of Italy and ended in the 1920s with the rise of the Italian Fascism. The second diaspora started after the end of World War II and roughly concluded in the 1970s. The largest voluntary emigration in documented history was between the period of 1880 and 1976 with about 13 million Italians leaving the country.[1] By 1978, it was estimated that about 25 million Italians were residing outside Italy.[2] A third wave is being reported in present times, due to the difficulties caused by the financial crisis of the early 21st century, especially among the young. According to the Public Register of Italian Residents Abroad (AIRE), figures of Italians abroad rose from 3,106,251 in 2006 to 4,636,647 in 2015, growing by 49.3% in 10 years.



The Italian Diaspora, a large-scale migration of Italians away from Italy during the 19th and 20th centuries, occurred in three different waves. The first wave occurred between the unification of Italy in 1861 and 1900, the second wave occurred between 1900 and 1914 during the beginning of World War I, and the third wave occurred following World War II along with Europeans from various countries.[3] Poverty was the primary reason for the diaspora, specifically the lack of land as property became subdivided over generations, especially in the South where conditions were harsh.[3] Secondary reasons for the diaspora include internal political and economic problems, as well as "organized crime from economic difficulties in the South. Italy was until the 1860s 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.[4] 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.[5] 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. Concurrently, industrial capital spread from its earlier concentration in the cities of northern Europe and Great Britain to those of the Americas, and to plantations and mines in newer colonies in Africa and Asia.[6] This new migration of capital created millions of unskilled jobs around the world and was responsible for the simultaneous mass migration of Italians on the search for "work and bread." [7] Like preceding migrations from Italy, the proletarian mass migrations of the late nineteenth century created multiple diasporas that gave new meanings to the adjective "Italian." [6] Between 1861 and 1985, 29,036,000 Italians immigrated to other countries; of whom 16 million (55 percent) arrived before the outbreak of WWI. About 10,275,000 returned to Italy (35 percent) while 18,761,000 permanently settled abroad (65 percent).[8] In 2011 in the world there were 4,115,235 Italian citizens living outside "Italy[9] and several tens of millions of descendants of Italians, who emigrated in the last two centuries.[10]


The "Unification of Italy broke down the feudal land system, which 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 so less and less productive as land was subdivided among heirs.[4]

Estimates of the number of emigrants from 1876-1900 and 1901-1915, according to their region of origin.[11]

Between 1860 and World War I, 9,000,000 Italians left, most from the south and most going to North or South America.[12] Prior to this period, the majority of Italian emigrants were from northern and central Italy. Two-thirds of the migrants who left Italy between 1870 and 1914 were men with traditional skills. Peasants were half of all migrants before 1896.[6] As the number of Italian emigrants abroad increased, so did their "remittances, which encouraged 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. It has been termed "persistent and path-dependent emigration flow".[12] Friends and relatives who left first sent back money for tickets and helped relatives as they arrived. That tended to support an emigration flow since even improving conditions in the original country took 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, and the restrictions on immigration that were 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.[13]

The Italian diaspora did not affect all regions of the nation equally. In the second phase of emigration (1900 to World War I), slightly less than half of emigrants were from the south and most of them were from rural areas, as they were driven off the land by inefficient land management, lawlessness and sickness ("pellagra and "cholera). 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".[14]

"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 that 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 there was socially despised. People invested not in agricultural equipment but in such things as low-risk state bonds.[4]

The rule that emigration from cities was negligible has an important exception, in "Naples.[4] 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 was to make money for themselves by moving emigrants. Such labor agents and recruiters were called padroni, translating to patron or boss.[6] Abuses led to the first migration law in Italy, passed in 1888, to bring the many emigration agencies under state control.[15] 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, such as dealing with the American laws that discriminated against alien workers (like the "Alien Contract Labor Law) and even suspending, for a while, emigration to Brazil, where many migrants had wound up as virtual slaves on large coffee plantations.[15] 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 "GNP.[16] 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.[17]

lnterwar period[edit]

"The emigrants", Antonio Rocco, 1910

Although the physical perils involved with transatlantic ship traffic during World War I obviously disrupted emigration from all parts of Europe, including Italy, the condition of various national economies in the immediate postwar period was so bad that immigration picked up almost immediately. Foreign newspapers ran scare stories little different than those published 40 years earlier (when, for example, on December 18, 1880, the "New York Times ran an editorial, "Undesirable Emigrants", 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 an article of April 17, 1921 in the same newspaper, under the headline "Italians Coming in Great Numbers" and "Number of Immigrants Will Be Limited Only By Capacity of Liners" (there was now a limited number of ships available because of recent wartime losses) and that potential emigrants were thronging the quays in the cities of Genoa. Also:

"…The stranger walking though a city like Naples can easily realize the problem the government has to do with. The side streets…are literally swarming with children, who sprawl in the paved roadway and on the sidewalks. They look dirty and happy…Suburbs of Naples… swarm with children who, for number, can only be compared to those in Delhi, Agra and other cities in the East Indies…."

The extreme economic difficulties of postwar Italy and the severe internal tensions within the nation, which led to the rise of fascism, led 614,000 emigrants away in 1920, half of them going to the United States. 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, 1.5 million people left Italy.[18] By then, the nature of the emigrants had changed; there was, for example, a marked increase in the rise of relatives outside the working age moving to be with their families, who had already left Italy.

By region[edit]


"Libya had some 150,000 "Italians settlers when Italy entered "World War II in 1940, constituting about 18% of the total population in "Italian Libya.[19] The Italians in Libya resided (and many still do) in most major cities like "Tripoli (37% of the city was Italian), "Benghazi (31%), and "Hun (3%). Their numbers decreased after 1946. The French and English took over the spoils of war that included Italian discovery and technical expertise in the extraction and production of crude oil, superhighways, irrigation, electricity. Most of Libya's Italians were expelled from the North African country in 1970, a year after "Muammar Gaddafi seized power (a "day of vengeance" on 7 October 1970),[20] but a few hundred Italian settlers returned to Libya in the 2000s (decade).

Year Italians Percentage Total Libya Source for data on population
1936 112,600 13.26% 848,600 Enciclopedia Geografica Mondiale K-Z, De Agostini, 1996
1939 108,419 12.37% 876,563 Guida Breve d'Italia Vol.III, C.T.I., 1939 (Censimento Ufficiale)
1962 35,000 2.1% 1,681,739 Enciclopedia Motta, Vol.VIII, Motta Editore, 1969
1982 1,500 0.05% 2,856,000 Atlante Geografico Universale, Fabbri Editori, 1988
2004 22,530 0.4% 5,631,585 L'Aménagement Linguistique dans le Monde


"Somalia had some 50,000 "Italian Somali settlers during "World War II, constituting about 5% of the total population in "Italian Somaliland.[21][22] The Italians resided in most major cities in the central and southern parts of the territory, with around 10,000 living in the capital "Mogadishu. Other major areas of settlement included "Jowhar, which was founded by the Italian prince "Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi. "Italian used to be a major language, but its influence significantly diminished following independence. It is now most frequently heard among older generations.[23]

South Africa[edit]

Italian Club in "Boksburg

Although "Italians did not emigrate to South Africa in large numbers, those who arrived there have nevertheless made an impact on that host country.

Before World War II, relatively few Italian immigrants arrived, though there were some prominent exceptions such as the "Cape's first Prime Minister "John Molteno. South African Italians made big headlines during "World War II, when Italians captured in "Italian East Africa needed to be sent to a safe "stronghold to be kept as "prisoners of war (POWs). South Africa was the perfect destination, and the first POWs arrived in "Durban, in 1941.[24][25]

Despite being POWs, the Italians were treated well, with a good food "diet and friendly hospitality. These factors, along with the peaceful, cheap, and sunny landscape, made it very attractive for Italians to settle down, and therefore, the Italian South African community was born. Although over 100,000 Italian POW were sent to South Africa, only a handful decided to stay, and during their capture, they were given the choice of hard labor or helping spread their genius in agriculture (setting up the first vinyards), aqueducts, sewer lines, highway construction, masonry techniques, build chapels, churches, dams, and many more structures. Most Italian influence and architecture can be seen in the "Natal and "Transvaal area. White South Africans of Italian descent number between 6,300[26] and 28,059. Today a small Italian community persists in South Africa: athletes "Davide Somma and "Angelo Gigli are a part of this community.

Elsewhere in Africa[edit]

See also: "Italian Eritreans, "Italians of Ethiopia, "Italian Egyptians, "Italian Tunisians
Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Asmara, built by Italian Eritreans in 1923.

The Italians had a significantly large, but very quickly diminished population in Africa. In 1926, there were 90,000 "Italians in Tunisia, compared to 70,000 Frenchmen (unusual since Tunisia was a French protectorate).[27] Former Italian communities also once thrived in the "Horn of Africa, with about 50,000 Italian settlers living in "Eritrea in 1935.[28] The "Italian Eritrean population grew from 4,000 during World War I to nearly 100,000 at the beginning of World War II.[29]

Additionally, there were settler communities in "Ethiopia. During the five-year occupation of Ethiopia, roughly 300,000 Italians settled in the Horn of Africa. Over 49,000 lived in "Asmara in 1939 (around 10% of the city's population), and over 38,000 resided in "Addis Ababa. The size of the "Italian Egyptian community had also reached around 55,000 just before World War II, forming the second largest expatriate community in Egypt.

A few Italian settlers stayed in Portugal's colonies in Africa after "World War II. As the Portuguese government had sought to enlarge the small Portuguese population through emigration from Europe,[30] the Italian migrants gradually assimilated into the Angolan Portuguese community.

The Americas[edit]

Mulberry Street, along which New York City's "Little Italy is centered. "Lower East Side, circa 1900
"Italian immigrants arriving in "São Paulo, "Brazil, circa 1890. The South American country has the largest Italian population outside Italy.[31]
Actual distribution of residents born in Italy through Venezuela

"Italian immigration to "Argentina, along with "Spanish, formed the backbone of "Argentine society. Minor groups of Italians started to immigrate to Argentina as early as the second half of the 17th century.[32] However, the stream of Italian immigration to Argentina became a mass phenomenon between 1880-1920 when Italy was facing social and economic disturbances. Platinean culture has significant connections to Italian culture in terms of language, customs and traditions.[33] It is estimated up to 50-60% of the population or 20 million Argentines have full or partial Italian ancestry.[34][35] According to the "Ministry of the Interior of Italy, there are 527,570 Italian citizens living in the Argentine Republic, including Argentines with dual citizenship.[36]

"Italian Brazilians are the largest number of people with full or partial Italian ancestry outside Italy, with "São Paulo being the most populous city with Italian ancestry in the world. 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 state[37] and the highest percentage in the southeastern state of "Espírito Santo (60-75%).[38][39] Small southern Brazilian towns, such as "Nova Veneza, have as much as 95% of their population of Italian descent.[40]

Between 1870 and 1914, four million Italians applied to migrate to Canada. A substantial influx of Italian immigrants to Canada began in the early 20th century when over a hundred thousand Italians, mainly from "Southern Italy, moved to Canada. In the post-war years (1945-1970s) another influx of Italians immigrated to Canada, again from the south but also from the "northeast, namely "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. For example, "Hamilton, Ontario, has around 24,000 residents with ties to its sister city "Racalmuto in "Sicily.[41] The city of "Vaughan, just outside "Toronto, and the town of "King, just north of Vaughan, have the two largest concentrations of Italians in Canada at over 30 percent of the total population of each community.[42][43]

From the late 19th century until the 1930s, the "United States was a main destination for Italian emigrants, with most first settling in the "New York metropolitan area, but with other major "Italian American communities developing in "Boston, "Philadelphia, "Chicago, "Cleveland, "Detroit, "St. Louis, "Pittsburgh, "Baltimore, "San Francisco, and "New Orleans. Most Italian migrants to the United States came from the Southern regions of Italy, namely "Campania, "Apulia, "Basilicata, "Calabria, and "Sicily. Many of them coming to America were also small landowners.[6] Italian Americans are known for their tight-knit communities and ethnic pride, and have been highly influential in the development of modern U.S. culture, particularly in the "Northeastern region of the country. Italian American communities have often been depicted in U.S. film and television, with distinct Italian-influenced dialects of "English prominently spoken by many characters. Although many do not speak Italian fluently, over a million still speak Italian at home, according to the 2000 US Census.[44] Today, "New York City still remains home to the largest Italian population in North America, with the borough of "Staten Island home to at least 400,000 people who claim full or partial Italian ancestry.

Another very important Italian community is in "Venezuela, which developed especially after the Second World War. They number about 2 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.


Italo-Swiss World Cup alpine ski racer Lara Gut.

Italian migration into what is today France has been going on, in different migrating cycles from the end of the 19th century to the present.[45] 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 centuries) came predominantly from northern Italy ("Piedmont, "Veneto), then from central Italy ("Marche, "Umbria), mostly to the bordering southeastern region of "Provence.[45] 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.[45] Today, it is estimated that as many as 5 million "French nationals have Italian ancestry going back three generations.[45]

In Switzerland, Italian immigrants (not to be confused with a large autochthonous population of "Italophones in "Ticino and "Grigioni)[46] 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 immigrated to Switzerland in 1902, only to be "deported after becoming involved in the socialist movement.[47] A new migratory wave began after 1945, favoured by the lax immigration laws then in force.[48]

The English towns of "Bedford and "Hoddesdon have sizeable Italian populations. A significant number of Italians came to Bedford in the 1950s due to the "London Brick Company finding itself short of workers in the wake of the reconstruction boom. As a result, today Bedford has the largest concentration of Italian families in the UK, and the third highest number of Italian immigrants overall with around 20,000 of its population of 100,000 being of Italian descent.[49][50] In Hoddesdon, many Italians, mostly descending from Sicily, migrated there and across the "Lea Valley in the 1950s due to opportunities working in local garden nurseries. They were drawn to the area by the rich agricultural landscape and better wages in comparison to back home. Today, the town's Italian community has had such a significant impact that an Italian consul, Carmelo Nicastro, was even elected for the area.[51]


Italians first arrived in Australia in the decades immediately following the Unification, but the most significant wave was after World War II ended in 1945, particularly from 1950 to 1965. It was those Italian migrants and their descendants who 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 low rate of return migration to Italy, relative to the Italian diaspora in other countries.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand has never received much immigration from Italy. Several hundreds of them, mostly fishermen, made it in the late 1890s. As of 2011, roughly 3,500 New Zealanders claim Italian heritage.


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 40,000,000 in Germany and 30,000,000 in the United Kingdom).[52]

A preliminary census done in 1861, after the annexation of the South, claimed that there were a mere 100,000 Italians living abroad.[13] The General Directorate of Statistics did not start compiling official emigration statistics until 1876.[15] 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:[53]

The high point of Italian emigration was in 1913, when 872,598 persons left Italy.[13]

By extrapolating from the 25,000,000 inhabitants of Italy at the time of unification, natural birth and death rates, without emigration, there would have been a population of about 65 million by 1970. Instead, because of emigration earlier in the century, there were only 54 million.[54]

The "Italian constitutional referendum, 2016 provided data on the number of registered Italian citizens living outside Italy by country. The highest number is in Argentina, with 673,238 registered Italians residing in the country in 2016, followed by Germany with 581,433, Switzerland 482,539, France 329,202, Brazil 325,555, the UK 232,932, Belgium 225,801, the USA 218,407, Australia 120,791 and Spain 118,879.[55]


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External links[edit]

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