Birds of Passage: The Italian Americans

In the early years of the 20th century, the United States was going through a significant period of expansion. Cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia needed workers to take hard, and often dangerous, jobs of modern industry. Millions of Italian men were willing to leave home, endure harsh working condition, and live apart from their families with the hope of earning a decent living before returning home to Italy. Before 1900, the vast majority of Italian immigrants to the U.S. were teenagers and young men; they were often called “Birds of Passage,” because so many of them never intended to stay in the United States. Between 20 and 30 percent of Italian immigrants during this period eventually returned to Italy after living apart from their parents, wives, and sometimes children for years.

Reflection Questions

  1. As you listen to the stories in this film, how do you explain why so many men left their families behind to work in the United States?
  2. Use the S.I.T. reflection strategy. Ask students what they found Surprising, Interesting, and Troubling in the stories they heard.
  3. In what ways were the stories unique to early 20th century America? What is familiar in the stories from the film?