Italian Heritage Month Celebrations

Honoring Italian History and Culture in the U.S.

October is Italian Heritage Month, formerly known as National Italian-American Heritage Month. Coinciding with the festivities surrounding Columbus Day, the proclamation is recognition of the many achievements, contributions, and successes of Americans of Italian descent as well as Italians in America.

Christopher Columbus was Italian, and many countries celebrate Columbus Day every year to mark his discovery of the New World.

But Italian Heritage Month honors more than just Columbus.

Over 5.4 million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1992. Today there are over 26 million Americans of Italian descent in the United States, making them the fifth largest ethnic group. The country was even named after an Italian, the explorer and geographer Amerigo Vespucci.

History of Italian Americans in the U.S.

Federico Fellini, the movie director, once said that "language is culture and culture is the language," and nowhere is this more true than in Italy. There was a time when speaking Italian was considered a crime, but nowadays many Italian Americans are learning Italian to discover more about their family heritage.

Looking for ways to identify, understand, and bond with their family's ethnic background, they are getting in touch with their family heritage by learning their ancestors' native language.

Most of the Italians who immigrated to the U.S. came from the southern part of Italy, including Sicily.

That's because the pressures encouraging people to immigrate—including poverty and over-population—were greater in the southern part of the country, especially in the latter part of the 19th century. In fact, the Italian government encouraged southern Italians to leave the country and voyage to the U.S. Many ancestors of today's Italian-Americans came due to this policy.

Italian-American Heritage Month Celebrations

Each year in October, a wide variety of cities and towns with large Italian-American populations host various Italian cultural celebrations in honor of Italian Heritage Month.

Many of the celebrations revolve around food, of course. Italians are well-known for their contributions to excellent meals in the U.S. Italian-American heritage organizations often take the opportunity in October to introduce members and others to regional Italian cuisines, which go far beyond pasta.

Other events may highlight Italian art, ranging from Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to modern Italian sculptor Marino Marini and painter and print-maker Giorgio Morandi.

Italian Heritage Month celebrations also provide ample opportunities for learning Italian. For example, some organizations provide language labs for children so that they can discover the beauty of the Italian language. Others offer opportunities for adults to learn enough Italian to get by while traveling to Italy.

Finally, many cities—including New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco—host Columbus Day or Italian Heritage parades to mark the Columbus Day holiday. The largest parade is the one held in New York City, which involves 35,000 marchers and more than 100 groups.