October typically brings thoughts of cooler nights, fall foliage, pumpkins, and Halloween. There is, however, another reason to celebrate in October and that is in honor of Italian American Heritage and Culture Month.
This annual heritage month celebrates the many accomplishments and contributions Italian Americans and their descendants have made in the United States in the areas of the arts, humanities, sciences, and culture.
Italian American Heritage and Culture Month was also designed to educate the public on Italian Americans’ rich history and culture.
Why Do We Celebrate Italian American Heritage and Culture in October?
The observance of Italian American Heritage and Culture Month in October was memorialized by the U.S. Congress and via Presidential proclamation in 1989.
October was chosen so that the month-long celebration could coincide with Columbus Day. This U.S. federal holiday commemorates Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage and arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.
While October 12th is the actual date of Columbus’ arrival, the U.S. Federal holiday is celebrated on the second Monday of October. Interestingly, Italy also has a Columbus Day which is observed on the first Monday in November.
The History of Italians in America
More than four million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1924. This explosion of immigration was a stark contrast to the 25,000 Italians living in America in 1870.
The mass influx of Italian immigrants in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries would have a long-lasting and significant impact on the fabric of America.
The descendants of those early immigrants resulted in a population of over 26 million Americans of Italian descent. That population now represents the nation’s fifth most reported ancestry group.
While early pre-1870s Italians typically came from areas in Northern Italy, the largest wave of Italian immigration originated from the southern regions of Italy such as Sicily, Calabria, Apulia, Molise, Basilicata, Campania, and Abruzzo.
Many of these Italian immigrants settled in America’s cities with the biggest concentration occurring in the boroughs of New York City including Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.
Additional Italian neighborhoods were founded in Chicago, Boston, and Newark, and were established in many other cities and communities along America’s East Coast.
Like other immigrant groups before them, Italians would eventually spread to all parts of America and establish communities in areas as far as San Francisco.
Here are some interesting facts about Italian immigration, Italian Americans, and America:
- At 3.1 million people, New York has the largest concentration of Italian Americans.
- According to the US Census Bureau, Fairfield, New Jersey is the most Italian place in the United States.
- Some travel experts believe Big Sur, California is the one city in the U.S. most like Italy, while others cite Venice, California for more reasons than the name.
Some Famous Italian Americans & Their Achievements
Italian Americans are well represented in all avenues of American life from the arts to sports, academics, the sciences, politics, etc. Below is a list of some noted Italian Americans compiled by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, a national organization founded in 1930 and dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Italian American heritage.
- Fiorello La Guardia: Three-term mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945.
- Antonin Scalia: First Italian American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as a justice for 30 years before his death in 2016.
- John Basilone: Recipient of both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for heroism and extraordinary heroism in the Battle of Henderson Field and the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
- Hector Boyardee: Established the famous food brand, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. The Brand’s canned spaghetti line grossed $500 million per year at its 1985 peak.
- Frank Sinatra: Considered to be the most popular and influential Italian American singer of the 20th century.
- Joe DiMaggio: Legendary sports figure, this New York Yankee still holds Baseball’s most coveted record with his 56-game hitting streak.
- Mario R. Capecchi: Winner of a Noble Prize in 2007 for innovations made in the area of targeted gene modification.
- Amadeo Peter Giannini: Founder of the Bank of Italy, which would eventually become the banking giant – Bank of America.
The Italian Influence on America’s Cuisine
Italian immigrants brought with them to America their language, traditions, and most importantly to food aficionados – their rich Mediterranean-influenced cuisine.
The National Restaurant Association estimates that there are over 100,000 restaurants in the United States that serve Italian food. For comparison, that is more than Chinese and Mexican restaurants combined.
So, what was unique about Italian food? Italian immigrants introduced America to a whole host of new foods and ingredients such as parmesan and mozzarella cheese, olive oil, basil, capers, and oregano, to name a few.
Plus, you cannot overlook the plethora of pasta variations including everything from the well-known ziti and ravioli to the lesser-known orecchiette. Southern Italian immigrants also helped to popularize seafood in America.
Below is a sampling of America’s favorite Italian and Italian American foods. Some of these dishes were brought to America by Italian immigrants, others are an amalgamation of Italian and local cuisines, and others are purely Italian American inventions.
- Chicken (or veal) parmesan
- Fettuccine alfredo
- Chicken scarpariello
- Baked ziti
- Pasta primavera
- Lobster fra diavolo
- Lasagna bolognese
- Chicken Marsala
- Shrimp Scampi
- Caesar salad
Italian influences on American meals are not exclusive to lunch or dinner. There are numerous Italian sweet treats that are staples for holidays, family gatherings, and celebrations.
Which of these desserts and party foods is your favorite?
- Rainbow cookies
- Panna Cotta
Now You Are Ready to Celebrate Italian American Heritage and Culture Month
You do not have to be Italian or Italian American to appreciate the many contributions Italian immigrants and their descendants made to America. Whether it is the food, the art, the music, or the language, there is a lot to celebrate.
Let Italian American Heritage and Culture Month be a reminder to you and your family to preserve and share your immigrant stories, traditions, and all those amazing recipes from grandma.
Invite the family over for a good old chicken parm dinner and end the night with our famous Boardwalk Zeppoles. No need to go to the shore, a fairground, or find a local food truck to enjoy these authentic Italian treats.
Boardwalk Zeppoles is bringing our golden brown and perfectly fluffy on-the-inside zeppoles right to your doorstep. You can now go from freezer to oven to table in 12 minutes.
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