New York City has the largest population of Italian American in the United States as well as North America, many of whom inhabit ethnic enclaves in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.New York City is home to the third largest Italian population outside of Italy behind Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina, respectively.
The largest wave of Italian immigration to the United States took place in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Between 1820 and 1978, 5.3 million Italians immigrated to the United States, including over two million between 1900 and 1910. Only the Irish and Germans immigrated in larger numbers.
The first New York City neighborhood to be settled by large numbers of Italian immigrants – primarily from Southern Italy and Sicily was East Harlem, which became the first part of the city to be known as “Little Italy“. The area, which lies east of Lexington Avenue between 96th and 116th Streets and east of Madison Avenue between 116th and 125th Streets, featured people from different regions of Italy on each cross street, as immigrants from each area chose to live in close proximity to each other.
“Italian Harlem” approached its peak in the 1930s, with over 100,000 Italian-Americans living in its crowded, run-down apartment buildings. The 1930 census showed that 81 percent of the population of Italian Harlem consisted of first- or second- generation Italian Americans. This was somewhat less than the concentration of Italian Americans in the Lower East Side’s Little Italy with 88 percent; Italian Harlem’s total population, however, was three times that of Little Italy. Remnants of the neighborhood’s Italian heritage are kept alive by the Giglio Society of East Harlem. Every year on the second weekend of August, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated and the “Dancing of the Giglio” is performed for thousands of visitors.