In the 1880s and 1890s most Italian arrivals to New York were men without families living at first in boarding houses on the Lower East Side. When immigrant families began to arrive, they rented apartments in cold-water tenements in neighborhoods with others from their regions. Here, in crowded, noisy environments, immigrants created private spaces for themselves with a few precious items that reminded them of home: a family photograph, a religious statue, a hand-crocheted scarf. The kitchen table became the center of family life: it was where women and children made piecework items such as artificial flowers; where the family members ate their meals and read their newspapers; where children did homework and where parents discussed the future after children went to bed.

The Giovinco family was typical of these early immigrants. A number of years after his marriage in 1888 in Sicily, Paolo Giovinco (b. 1863) came to New York, leaving behind his wife Liboria (b. 1867) and their four children: Luciano (b. 1889), Antonina (b. 1895), Maria (b. 1897) and Antonino (b. 1902). After establishing a business in Brooklyn, Paolo returned to Sicily to move his family to America. They arrived in 1903 and settled in an apartment at 94 Starr Street in Brooklyn. Paolo's trouser factory prospered. In 1908, Liboria had twin boys in America.