Cultural Traditions, American Settings

The world of the Little Italies was rich in traditions that sustained the transition to a new environment. Almost half of all Italians who entered Ellis Island could read and write. Italian communities supported a thriving print culture with dailies, weeklies and magazines appealing to a wide range of political opinions from Left to Right, as well as a serious literary and artistic readership. By the 1920s, a quarter of a million copies of Italian-language newspapers circulated in the city every month. Bookstores carried novels and histories from Italian publishers. A vibrant radical press produced countless pamphlets and books while some Italian Americans were already writing stories and novels about the immigrant experience.

Italians also supported a lively theater. Alongside serious plays, many with a radical message, the incomparable Eduardo Migliaccio ("Farfariello") performed poignant one-man satires that allowed immigrants to see themselves. A popular Sicilian marionette theater entertained children and adults alike with an age-old cultural form. Little Italies abounded with mandolin and accordion players and regional bands playing both popular and folk repertoires.