Nov 8, 2017 in Analysis

Southern Italians

Most of the Italians who migrated to both Brazil and United States of America in the early 20th Century were Southern Italians from the areas Lazio, Campania, Sicily, Calabra and Abruzzo. This is a common feature shared by both of them.

Another similarity that can be pointed out between Italian Brazilians and Italian Americans is that both the groups were forced out of Italy under similar circumstances. The major cause was political turmoil and poverty that occurred in parts of Italy during the last quarter of the 19th century forcing them to flee in to other countries. Both of the groups arrived to their destination with no cash or very little if any and no cultural capital. In other words, they were neither educated nor intellectually sophisticated. 

Both Italian Brazilians and Italian Americans still retained many aspects of their culture. They consumed Italian food and drinks. Their art and religion, Roman Catholicism, is still being practices even today by Italians all over the world. They both held annual Italian feasts and had strong commitment to their extended family in their respective diaspora. Moreover, they influenced popular music in both countries in the years ranging from 1940s to 1970s which served as major contribution to the culture of Brazil and USA. They also influenced the movie industry in both regions with Italian words being widely used in movies that deal with cultural issues. 

In the early 20th century the number of Italians who immigrated to USA was more than those who went to Brazil. An approximate of 2 million fled to the US, a figure that is double compared to almost 1 million who immigrated to Brazil.

In America they stayed in typical slum areas with overcrowded tenements and poor sanitation and rampant tuberculosis. Here they were subjected to severe Anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant discrimination and worse of, some faced violence such as lynching. In Brazil, although they also faced hard conditions, they were not exposed to severe decimation by natives. They were welcomed to provide the labor that was highly needed in coffee plantations to substitute Africans due to abolishment of slave trade. Since the Italians were peasants in their own country, they had experience in the coffee that called for better trained rural workers. Due to this, the Brazilian government could go to an extent of ferrying them from Italy, and in most cases catering for their transportation by ship, though this was the initial scenario. Later farmers took the responsibility of contracting with the immigrants or they could use specialized companies to recruit Italians. On a different note, many posters with pictures of Brazil were spread in Italy selling the idea that there were greener pastures in Brazil and anyone could become rich if they came along to work in coffee farms. The religion here was also not a problem contrary to the U.S. as a majority of the Brazilians were Catholics.

The Italians in Brazil also leaved in relatively well developed colonies. In the plantations however, they were subjected to semi-slavery conditions which made them to rebel against Brazilian farmers. This caused great turmoil in Italy forcing the Italian government to institute restrictions to curb further immigrations.

During the World War II, many Italian Americans were forced into the United States Armed Forces to fight against the Axis Powers. It is estimated that 1.2 million Italian Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. This figure corresponds to 7.5% of the total 16 million people who served in the war. Women were never spared as they too were included in the forces. This was not the situation in Italy as the Italian Brazilians were not part of the war. Additionally, during the Allied invasion of Sicily, Italian Americans immensely assisted the troops of the United States of America in securing and fortifying the recently-acquired foothold in Europe. It is suggested that the troops worked with the locals, Mafiosi included to carry out their operations. This scenario also did not happen in Brazil.

As early as in the 1930s, Italian Americans were subject to voting rights in the United States of America. They largely voted as Democrats voted in 1930s but since 1960s the votes have almost been split equally to favor the two sides; the Republican and the Democratic parties. It should also be noted that the US congress has had Italian Americans as leaders in both republican and the Democratic parties.

On the other hand, Italian Brazilians after working for many years in the coffee farms, they collected enough cash and bought their own farms becoming farmers on their own. As a result some of them were very rich hence attracting more Italians to Brazil. Due to bad conditions in the rural areas, part of them moved to big cities like Sao Paulo, Ribeirao Preto and Campinas. Until today Sao Paulo has many Italians, only second to Rome. They helped develop many cities like Curitiba, Sao Paulo. Remarkably, the Italians and their descendants were fast to come up with mutual aid societies like Circolo italiano. They also set up their own schools (Instituto Dante Alighieri), newspapers (La Fanciulla), syndicates radio stations, magazine and even soccer teams (Palestra Italia) after the World War II. They helped to build industries in Brazil.

Although Italian originated from Italy, a bigger proportion of them are found in countries across the world. Notable among these countries are Brazil and the United States of America. Brazil is believed to have the highest number of individuals within Italian ancestry, the Italian Brazilians. Those in the United States of America are referred to as Italian Americans.  The main reason that forced Italians out of their country was mainly poverty in the region. The groups had great impacts in their new countries, in America; they helped the U.S. Armed Forces to fight in the World War II although they earlier faced massive resistance and decimation. In Brazil they were mainly used as laborers in coffee plantations. The groups have made great contributions in the diasporas’ economy and culture through cultural influence. To date, Italian Brazilians and Italian Americans are still established in these countries but they have since stuck to their native Italian practices.

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