Little Italy, now known as the popular tourist attraction, was formed sometime before the 1880’s. Little Italy first began developing in the early 1840s when some of the first Italian immigrants settled in the Five Points area of New York City. The first Italian immigrants began coming over to the United States during this time because of famines spreading throughout Italy and failing agriculture. This area was mostly made up of poor immigrants who lived in tight tenements. During the 1880s, larger numbers of Italians began to leave the hardships of Italy to start new lives in New York. Between 1880 and 1920, over four million Italian immigrants came to the United States. Many of these Italian immigrants settled in “Mulberry Bend”, one of the poorest areas of Five Points. The area was known for its traditional Italian heritage, with its language and customs making an easy transition for new Italians entering America. In 1910, almost 10,000 Italians, the most it has and ever will have, lived in an area of two square miles. By 1930, Italians made up 17% of New York City’s population. Because the area was so overcrowded, many Italians began moving to other parts of New York City like Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and Staten Island.

Little Italy mirrored its motherland in many ways, including the way immigrants settled. Sicilians, the Genovese, and Northern Italian segregated themselves within the area of Little Italy. Italian culture began spreading throughout New York City. Street carts selling Italian foods were common. Italian immigrants upheld other cultural traditions, like religion. Conflicts between the Irish and Italians arose because of the need to share churches. As a result, many Italians began worshipping in church basements, allowing them to have services in Italian. 

 Prior to the Hart-Cellar Act, otherwise known as the US Immigration Act of 1965, many different ethnic groups were prohibited from immigrating. Then after this act was passed, Chinese immigration specifically increased which led to an expansion of Chinatown. With this expansion, the southern areas of Little Italy were lost, which was only the beginning of the diminishing neighborhood. Originally, Little Italy spanned from Lafayette Street to the Bowery and from Kenmare to Canal (NY Post). This area was first home to Dutch settlers and the Lenape tribe during the 1600s. Today, Little Italy takes up roughly three blocks on Mulberry Street. As prices increased throughout Manhattan, many Italians began moving out. By 2010, there were no immigrants left from Italy in the neighborhood.

Di Palo Fine Foods on Grand Street, 1974 Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times 1
Little Italy, New York City Tenement 19502



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