Little Italy by Ihea Inyama

During the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, New York City experienced a great wave of immigration from Italy (Boys). The majority of these immigrants came in search of job opportunities in the United States (Little). In New York, The Italian population became heavily concentrated in a small part of lower Manhattan: an area that became known as Little Italy.

Why Make the Move?

A large number of Italians immigrating to the United States settled in Little Italy. This made the area an ethnic enclave, a geographic area with a high ethnic concentration. When moving to a foreign place, people tend to migrate towards people of the same family or ethnicity. Because of this, immigration to the U.S. formed many other enclaves, including Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little India. As Italians moved into New York, a sort of chain reaction ensued: between 1860 and 1880, less than 70 thousand Italians migrated into New York, and by the early 1900s, Italian immigrants migrated to New York at a rate of 200,000 persons per year (United).

The Migration

Starting in the late 1870s, hordes of Italians immigrated into New York City (Boys). Unemployment and poverty in Italy had forced many to emigrate to find new opportunities in the United States (Little). Between 1860 and 1880, about 69,000 Italians moved to New York, and by 1920, 390,000 Italians were living in the city (Little). These immigrants settled in the lower Manhattan areas of Mulberry Street, Pell, Baxter, Houston, and Worth (United). This area, known as Little Italy, became home to thousands of immigrants living in old tenement houses (Boys). By 1930, Italians made up about 98 percent of households in Little Italy (United).


From its start, Little Italy was home to pushcarts, cheese shops, barber shops, organ grinders, and a plethora of Italian restaurants (Boys). Little Italy has many of New York's oldest shops still in operation (Boys). Many tourists are still drawn to Mulberry Street's many Italian eateries, along with Grand Street's Italian food stores (Little). These include Lombardi's, which was established as America's first pizzeria in 1905, and Pellegrino's, which prides itself as being one of Little Italy's finest restaurants. There are also a number of Italian festivals held every year in Little Italy, including the Feast of San Gennaro, which takes place annually in late September. A number of scenes in Godfather II were shot in the area, on Sixth Street. Among the most notable of Little Italy's attractions, however, is the Church of the Most Precious Blood of Saint Michael, which is located at 113 Baxter Street (United). The Church was the first Catholic church built in the U.S. that retained Italian Catholic traditions. Today, about thirty Italian-American babies born in Little Italy are baptized at the Church of the Most Precious Blood (Roberts)
The Feast of San Gennaro festival (top), The Church of the Most Precious Blood of Saint Michael (bottom left), scene from Godfather II of younger Vito's Little Italy neighborhood (bottom middle), and Lombardi's pizzeria (bottom right).

Little Italy Today

Starting in the late 1950s, the Italian population of Little Italy decreased significantly. A number of factors lead to this contraction. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely hindered the number of Italian immigrants allowed; it favored northern Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans. During the 1950s, large numbers of middle and upper class Americans moved to the growing suburbs, including a large number of Little Italy residents (United). In recent years, Chinatown, another ethnic enclave in New York City, has expanded northward and overlapped with previously Italian-American areas. Similarly, the northernmost sections of Little Italy have been transformed into the fashion-centered neighborhood known as Nolita, an abbreviation for North of Little Italy. Today, Little Italy is limited mainly to three blocks on Mulberry Street. Even the waiters working in Little Italy's restaurants are largely Latino, not Italian (Little). A recent census survey determined that the Italian population living in the area that had originally been deemed as "Little Italy" has shrunk to about 5 percent (Roberts).

Works Cited:

Boys, Bowery. "The Big History of Little Italy." The Bowery Boys: New York City History. N.p., 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. <>.

"Little Italy." N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. <>.

Roberts, Sam. "New York’s Little Italy, Littler by the Year." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2011. Web. 13 Jan. 2017. <>.

United States. National Park Service. "Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District -- Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2017. <>.


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