Italian Americans in the U.S. Were Targeted During WWII

Questo articolo tratta degli immigrati italiani che furono discriminati durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Giacchè l'America fu in guerra con l'Italia, furono tanti gli italiani presi di mira dagli americani. Fu per colpa della discriminazione ricevuta che gli italiani non potettero mantenere le loro proprietà e le terre di confine in quanto vennero confiscate. Dopo un periodo difficile per gli immigrati italiani, il Presidente Franklin Delano Roosvelt dischiarò che gli italiani non erano più nemici della nazione e diventarono cittadini accolti.

During WWII, the U.S. saw Italian Americans as a threat to homeland security. The executive order (#9066) that forced Japanese Americans from their homes also put immigrants from Italy under the watchful eye of the government, day and night, it was reported.

It was 1941 when news broke out that Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into war with the Axis Powers of Japan, Germany and Italy. Italian immigrants were scared, confused and dreaded the thought of deportation.

For people like Frank DiCara, now 92-years-old, whose parents came from Sicily three decades before, the news was doubly horrifying. Along with the anger and amazement that America had been attacked came the unbelievable news that Italy – their homeland – was suddenly the enemy. Overnight, the land his parents remembered fondly from their youth and where they still had family could not be talked about without risking treason.

Poignantly, Italian Americans were the largest group of immigrants entering the U.S. and who passed through Ellis Island for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Between the years 1880 and 1930, five million Italians moved to the U.S., but not without a backlash. “We took a lot of slur from people back then. Italian Americans were called ‘guineas,’ ‘dagoes,’ and ‘wops,’” vividly recalls DiCara.

In addition to forcibly evacuating 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast to barbed-wire, encircled camps, the executive order called for the compulsory relocation of 10,000 Italian Americans and restricted the movements of more than 600,000 Italian Americans nationwide. As a result, a curfew was placed on Italians from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each evening.

“Right after the Pearl Harbor attack, rumors were abound that the U.S. government was going to pass a law taking away all the property of all Italians who did not have citizenship papers. Italians living near defense factories would be forced to move; Italian homes would be searched, and cameras, shortwave radios, and guns would be confiscated,” writes David A. Taylor, an author for “Even Joe DiMaggio’s parents in Sausalito, CA weren’t spared. Though their son, the Yankee slugger, was the toast of New York, General John DeWitt, a leading officer in the Western Defense Command, pressed to arrest Joe’s father, Guiseppe, who had lived in the U.S. for almost 40 years but never applied for citizenship papers…” 

Guiseppe DiMaggio was not the only Italian immigrant processed at the turn of the 20th century at Ellis Island. In fact, “It varied from person to person, but for 80 percent, the process took a few hours, and those who passed through were on their way with no official paperwork. At the end of the day, less than 2 percent are rejected,” writes Vincent Cannato in “American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.” “Though the FBI stopped short of arresting Guiseppe, he and his wife had to carry ‘enemy alien’ photo ID booklets at all times, and he needed a permit to travel more than five miles from home. Guiseppe was barred from the waterfront, Fisherman’s Wharf, where he had worked for decades and had his boat seized by the government,” writes Taylor. 

Guiseppe was not the only Italian immigrant that was harassed during this wartime hysteria, affecting the American social landscape. In a memorable instance, Lucetta Berizzi, a first-generation Italian American, was questioned by FBI agents and unfairly suspected of treason. “Why did (Lucetta) speak such good Italian? Had her father engaged in suspicious activities? Was she a traitor? She was released without being charged, but soon thereafter suffered the consequences of the anti-Italian sentiment that had spread like wildfire since the United States entered World War II. After being seen speaking Italian with a customer, she was fired from her job as a salesperson at Saks Fifth Avenue,” writes Erin Blakemore for “Her father wasn’t a traitor, either. His only crime was being born in Italy. During the early years of World War II, however, that was enough to classify him as an ‘enemy alien’ and to justify freezing his assets, interrogating his family, and interning him for months,” explains Blakemore. This and thousands of other harassing incidents were routinely performed during the war, chasing down innocent Italian Americans and penalizing them for being of Italian ancestry.

To help reconcile the irreparable harm to Italian Americans in the U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a memorable radio address in which he recognized Italian Americans as full and patriotic citizens, lifting the enemy alien stigma forever. 

In fact, on October 12, 1942, Attorney General Francis Biddle officially declared that Italians were no longer enemies of the state: “You have met the test. Your loyalty to democracy has given you this chance, you have proved and proven well…We have trusted you, you must prove worthy of that trust, so that it may never be said hereafter that there are disloyal groups of Italians.” However, the FBI and other federal agencies continued to violate their rights behind the scenes.

Today, the persecution and internment of Italian Americans is a relatively unknown episode in the history of WWII, in part because of the humiliation and silence of the Italian Americans forced to live it. “What happened to the Italians was based on wartime hysteria,” Joanne Chiedi, a former U.S. justice official and daughter of Italian immigrants who helped write the report, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001: “We are trying to educate people so it won’t happen again. This story needs to be told.” In 2001, the U.S. Attorney General reported to Congress on a review of the treatment by the Department of Justice of Italian Americans during WWII. In 2010, the California Legislature passed a resolution apologizing for the U.S. mistreatment of Italian residents during WWII.