For many Italian American families, the story of an immigrant’s sacrifice usually begins in the years between 1880 and 1920, known as the Great Wave of Italian Immigration to the United States.
But for 2,800 unfortunate souls, immigration to the “Land of Opportunity” came earlier, and at a much greater cost.
Between late 1872 and early 1873, thousands of unsuspecting Italian laborers were victims of an international scheme in which con men descended upon “every village and hamlet in Italy promising that a great deal of money was to be made in the United States.” But the promises of jobs, housing, and the opportunity for a better life were unfounded, and the newly-arrived immigrants found themselves stranded at journey’s end with only the clothes they wore and their life’s savings stolen. Most would end up wards of the United States government.
On this week’s episode, historians Joe Tucciarone and Ben Lariccia join us to explore this shameful chapter in early Italian American history, and to discuss their newly-released book, Italians Swindled to New York: False Promises at the Dawn of Immigration, the first-ever work to reveal this fascinating tale that would become an international scandal in its time.
We’ll examine how this under-studied saga reflects upon the first significant trickle of Italian Immigrants to America, what drove these men and women into the clutches of swindlers and predatory lenders, how American industrialists would use these victimized Italians as a tool in their battles with American labor, and how this toxic tale at the genesis of the Italian American experience might have defined the Italian immigrant experience for generations to come.
It’s a thought-provoking exploration into a little-known, and greatly important chapter in the Italian American story.