Italian Ohioans

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Saint John the Baptist Italian Catholic Church.jpg
Built in 1898, Saint John the Baptist Italian Catholic Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Father Alexander Cestelli was the first pastor of the Italian Catholic community in Columbus.

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Italian ancestors. Today, Italian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, or Southern European countries, like Italy, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern and Southern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1900, just over eleven thousand Italian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, their numbers had soared to 60,658 people. Most of these Italians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland. In 1870, only thirty-five Italian immigrants resided in Cleveland. By 1920, their numbers had surged to more than twenty thousand people. Most of these immigrants found low-paying jobs in factories, as day laborers, or as waiters, waitresses, and cooks in restaurants. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Italian products or began their own clothing or construction companies. In Cleveland, the Italian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the late 1800s, most Italian immigrants in Cleveland had settled in two neighborhoods nicknamed Big Italy and Little Italy. Most of these immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church.

Italian immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. During World War I and World War II, Italian Ohioans faced even greater persecution, since Italy was one of the United States' enemies in each of these wars. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of Ohioans.

Of all the immigrant groups to settle in Ohio, Italians remained the most determined to maintain their traditional heritage and beliefs. In 1903, Cleveland Italians established La Voce Del Popolo Italiano, the first Italian-language newspaper in Ohio. By 1920, the paper's circulation had reached nearly forty-five thousand people. Many Ohio Italians established social organizations. Unlike the organizations of other nationalities, Italian ones usually did not welcome all Italians. Rather, they usually only admitted people from their former villages in Italy. Thus they were more familial organizations than national ones. Further illustrating Ohio Italians' love for their native homeland, when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, more than one thousand Cleveland Italians sent their gold wedding rings to Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, to help pay for the conflict.

During World War II, Ohio Italians rallied behind the United States, forsaking their homeland. Many Italian social groups dropped their Italian names and adopted patriotic ones, like "Abraham Lincoln" and "Betsy Ross," instead. While Italian organizations continued to exist in Cleveland following World War II, the number of new immigrants moving to the city slowly declined. By 1980, only 11,890 native-born Italians resided in the city. Other Ohio cities experienced similar declines. Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Italian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Italians, many Italian communities began to disintegrate. Many Italians moved into other communities, while non-Italians began to infiltrate the traditionally Italian neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Italian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Italian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Italian beliefs and customs. [[Category:{$topic}]]