The Rich History of Philadelphia's Italian Community

Philadelphia is home to the second-largest Italian-American population in the United States, and this has resulted in a vibrant Italian culture. From Italian restaurants and pizzerias to food stores and cultural institutions, the city is full of Italian influences. In 1934, when South Philadelphia had the highest unemployment rates in the city, a movement began to promote politicians “of the Italian race” due to the influx of immigrants from Northern Italy in British North America. According to Di Giacomo's Italians in Philadelphia, the first population was much smaller than the mass immigrant groups of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1819, Silvio Pellico wrote in Breve Soggiorno in Milano di Battistino Barometro that some Italian immigrants were on their way to Philadelphia. Immigrants from southern regions, such as Abruzzo and Calabria, began moving to the area in large numbers during the 1880s. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, in South Philadelphia, was the first Italian Catholic parish in the United States and was founded by Italians before mass immigration. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, South Philadelphia was witnessing a wave of Italian immigration from Southern Italy. In South Philadelphia, the second and third generations of Protestants left at a much faster rate compared to Catholics of the same generation.

In the 1980s, real estate in some neighborhoods in South Philadelphia began to recover and the insularity of the Italian-American community began to fracture. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, Italians who immigrated to Philadelphia came mainly from peasant villages in southern Italy and came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Enclaves began to form with immigrants from the Abruzzo region who lived in a neighborhood, Sicilians established part of the city and highly qualified northerners from Friuli created their own Italian neighborhood. By 1900, this population had grown from 1,656 Italians in 1880 to 76,734. Arianna DiCicco is an educator and writer from California with strong ties to her grandparents' house in Abruzzo, Italy. With a master's degree in International Education, Arianna has a love and passion for learning and educating others about Italian history and culture.

She has lived in San Francisco, Rome and New York, where she has established deep connections with Italian communities and has gained new perspectives on her own culture. The Italian South of Philadelphia reached its zenith after World War II, extending west to Broad Street where it found a growing African-American presence in Point Breeze. Today, 26 percent of Philadelphia's population is of Italian descent.

Jenna Dean
Jenna Dean

Wannabe social media enthusiast. Alcoholaholic. Proud zombie lover. Avid internet junkie. Hardcore beer enthusiast. Lifelong pop culture buff.