The Italian diaspora to the United States, which began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, saw a resurgence in the latter half of the 20th century and continues into the 21st century. This wave, though smaller in scale compared to the mass migrations of earlier periods, brought a new generation of Italians seeking better opportunities and a different life abroad. This article explores the factors driving this migration, the experiences of the emigrants, and their contributions to American society, including the notable figures who have made significant impacts in various fields.

Historical Context

Italian immigration to the United States can be divided into distinct waves. The first significant wave occurred between 1880 and 1920, driven by economic hardship, political instability, and natural disasters in Italy. By contrast, the post-World War II migration, particularly in the last 50 years, has been influenced by different factors such as globalization, changes in immigration policies, and economic opportunities.

Factors Driving Recent Migration

Economic Factors

  1. Job Opportunities: The United States has long been seen as a land of opportunity. Post-war Italy, despite its economic recovery and development, still faced regional disparities. The industrial north offered more jobs than the agricultural south, prompting some Italians to seek better employment opportunities abroad.
  2. Education and Professional Growth: The appeal of American universities and professional environments has attracted many Italians. The desire for advanced education, research opportunities, and professional development has been a significant pull factor.

Social and Cultural Factors

  1. Family Reunification: Many Italians moved to the United States to reunite with family members who had emigrated earlier. This kinship network provided support and eased the transition process.
  2. Cultural Exchange: The allure of American culture, media, and lifestyle has also played a role in attracting Italians. The idea of living in a diverse and dynamic society is appealing, especially to younger generations.

Political Factors

  1. Immigration Policies: Changes in U.S. immigration laws, particularly the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished national-origin quotas, facilitated a more diverse influx of immigrants, including Italians.

Experiences of Italian Emigrants

Adaptation and Integration

  1. Community Formation: Italian Americans have a long history of forming tight-knit communities. This tradition continued with recent emigrants who often settled in areas with established Italian populations, such as New York, New Jersey, and California.
  2. Cultural Retention: While integrating into American society, Italians have maintained their cultural heritage. Festivals, language schools, and cultural organizations play a crucial role in preserving Italian traditions.
  3. Challenges: New Italian immigrants faced challenges such as cultural differences, language barriers, and navigating the complexities of U.S. immigration laws. However, their resilience and community support systems have enabled many to succeed.

Economic Contributions

  1. Entrepreneurship: Italians have a rich tradition of entrepreneurship, contributing significantly to the American economy. From small family-owned businesses to larger enterprises, Italian immigrants have made their mark in various sectors, including food and hospitality, construction, and fashion.
  2. Professional Fields: Many recent Italian immigrants have excelled in professional fields such as academia, medicine, engineering, and the arts. Their expertise and skills have enriched American intellectual and cultural life.

Contributions to American Society

Cultural Influence

  1. Cuisine: Italian cuisine has become a staple in American culture. The recent wave of immigrants has continued to introduce regional Italian dishes and culinary innovations, further diversifying the American palate.
  2. Arts and Entertainment: Italian Americans have made significant contributions to the arts, music, and entertainment industry. From opera singers and classical musicians to contemporary filmmakers and actors, the Italian influence is pervasive.
  3. Fashion and Design: Italy’s reputation for fashion and design has been bolstered by Italian immigrants in the United States. They have played key roles in fashion design, architecture, and interior design, bringing a touch of Italian elegance and innovation.

Social and Political Contributions

  1. Advocacy and Leadership: Italian Americans have been active in social and political advocacy. Organizations such as the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) work to promote Italian heritage and support the community’s interests in the political arena.
  2. Philanthropy: Italian Americans have also been involved in philanthropic efforts, contributing to various charitable causes both within the Italian American community and the broader society.

Notable Italian Emigrants in the Past 50 Years

Academia and Science

  1. Rita Levi-Montalcini: A Nobel Prize-winning neurologist, Levi-Montalcini’s work has had a profound impact on medical research. She co-won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986 for her discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF).
  2. Fabiola Gianotti: A particle physicist, Gianotti was the first woman to be appointed Director-General of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Her leadership in the discovery of the Higgs boson has been monumental.
  3. Giulio Natta: An Italian chemist who co-won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963, Natta’s later work continued to influence polymer chemistry and materials science in the United States.
  4. Renato Dulbecco: A Nobel Prize-winning virologist, Dulbecco’s work on oncoviruses has significantly advanced our understanding of cancer.
  5. Carlo Rubbia: An Italian physicist and Nobel Laureate, Rubbia’s contributions to the field of particle physics have been instrumental, particularly in his work at CERN.

Arts and Entertainment

  1. Martin Scorsese: One of the most influential filmmakers in cinema history, Scorsese’s contributions to film have earned him numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Director. His films often explore Italian American identity and culture.
  2. Francis Ford Coppola: Another legendary filmmaker, Coppola directed “The Godfather” series, which is considered one of the greatest film series of all time. His work has had a lasting influence on American cinema.
  3. Andrea Bocelli: The internationally renowned tenor has brought classical opera to a global audience. His recordings and performances have made significant contributions to the popularity of Italian opera in the United States.
  4. Isabella Rossellini: An actress and model, Rossellini has made significant contributions to both the film and fashion industries. Her work in movies like “Blue Velvet” and her role as a Lancôme model have made her a prominent figure in American culture.
  5. Roberto Benigni: An actor, director, and comedian, Benigni is best known for his film “Life is Beautiful,” which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. His work has had a significant cultural impact in the United States.
  6. Luca Guadagnino: An acclaimed film director known for his visually stunning and emotionally rich films such as “Call Me by Your Name,” Guadagnino has made a significant mark on American and international cinema.

Business and Entrepreneurship

  1. Domenico De Sole: As the former CEO of Gucci and co-founder of the luxury brand Tom Ford, De Sole has played a critical role in shaping the global fashion industry.
  2. Mario Gabelli: A prominent investor and financial analyst, Gabelli founded Gabelli Asset Management Company Investors (GAMCO), one of the leading investment firms in the United States.
  3. Amadeo Peter Giannini: Founder of the Bank of Italy, which later became Bank of America, Giannini revolutionized banking by providing loans to immigrants and small businesses, significantly influencing the American financial landscape.
  4. Lapo Elkann: An entrepreneur and member of the prominent Agnelli family, Elkann has been influential in the automotive and fashion industries, known for his work with Fiat and his own brand, Italia Independent.
  5. Massimo Bottura: Renowned chef and owner of Osteria Francescana, Bottura’s influence extends to the U.S. culinary scene through his partnerships and pop-up events, bringing innovative Italian cuisine to American food enthusiasts.

Politics and Advocacy

  1. Nancy Pelosi: The first woman to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi is of Italian descent and has been a significant figure in American politics, advocating for a variety of social and economic issues.
  2. Anthony Fauci: A leading immunologist, Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He played a key role in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Mario Cuomo: Served as the Governor of New York for three terms from 1983 to 1994. Cuomo was known for his eloquent speeches and progressive policies.
  4. Andrew Cuomo: Following in his father’s footsteps, Andrew served as Governor of New York from 2011 to 2021, becoming a prominent figure in American politics.
  5. Rudolph Giuliani: Former Mayor of New York City, Giuliani gained national fame for his leadership during the 9/11 attacks. His efforts in crime reduction and urban renewal have had lasting impacts on the city.
  6. Geraldine Ferraro: A lawyer and politician, Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate representing a major American political party when she ran with Walter Mondale in 1984.

Additional Contributions

Media and Communication

  1. Maria Bartiromo: A prominent journalist and television anchor, Bartiromo is known for her work in financial news. She was the first journalist to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
  2. Giada De Laurentiis: A renowned chef and television personality, De Laurentiis has popularized Italian cuisine through her Food Network shows and cookbooks, making Italian cooking accessible to a wide American audience.

Literature and Publishing

  1. Gay Talese: An influential writer and journalist, Talese’s work has helped shape modern American journalism. His detailed and narrative style of reporting has influenced generations of writers.
  2. Don DeLillo: An acclaimed novelist, DeLillo’s works often explore complex themes related to American life and culture. His Italian heritage subtly influences his storytelling and characters.


The past 50 years have seen a steady stream of Italian immigrants to the United States, each bringing with them their unique stories, skills, and cultural heritage. Despite facing challenges, these emigrants have made significant contributions to American society, enriching it economically, culturally, and socially. Notable figures like Rita Levi-Montalcini, Martin Scorsese, Nancy Pelosi, and many others exemplify the profound impact of Italian immigrants in diverse fields. The Italian American community continues to thrive, reflecting the enduring legacy of Italy’s influence on the United States. As this community evolves, it remains a testament to the enduring bonds between Italy and America, and the shared values of opportunity, resilience, and cultural pride.

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