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History of Italians in California

The Butte Store (California Historical Landmark No. 39) No photo description available. An Italian stone mason constructed the building in 1857 to serve settlers and miners as both their post office and general store. The Gnocchio family operated the store for 50 years, closing its doors in the early 1900s. The roofless building is the last structure still standing where 100 miner’s cabins once stood during the height of the Gold Rush era

Introduction: The History of Italians in California

by Christopher Forte

The story of Italians in California defies two stereotypical historical narratives. The first is about Italians: You probably know the common narrative as repeated by so many movies, especially Mob movies, and documentaries about the mass migration of Southern Italians and Sicilians to the US in the years 1880 to about 1920 or so, how most of them entered through the eastern ports like Boston and New York, and mainly settled at first in urban enclaves called "Little Italys" like the famous one in Manhattan. That most of them were poor, faced some prejudice, and worked hard to be accepted and successful. You might have heard how some made it West to make it big in agriculture and wine-making. But how many of you knew that Italians were in the West during the time of the Gold Rush? Becoming the largest immigrant group in the Mother Lode? That there were Italian ranchers in the Sierra Nevada foothills as early as 1852? Did you know about all the places named after Italians, including Italian Camp, Italian Diggings, Italian Bar and the Italian Bar Trail in Tuolumne County, the Italian Mine in Nevada City and Italian Bar on the American River in El Dorado County?

The second stereotypical historical story we all know that this article may change for you is the history of California itself: that it was colonized by the Spanish, then became Mexican, and finally American. In this story line you were probably taught about the Gold Rush and how many different nationalities from all over the world, but especially from Europe and eastern parts of the US, rushed to the gold fields being dubbed "49ers" for the year the first gold was found, 1849. But how many of you knew that there were Italians in Los Angeles, at El Pueblo, when it was still Mexican territory? That many of them married into the influential Californio families and owned some of the historic ranches or ranchos like Giovanni Battista Leandri who owned Rancho Los Coyotes in present-day Buena Park, and the neighboring Rancho CaƱada de la Habra, and married Maria Francesca Uribe, the daughter of a prominent Californio family? (The Californios were Spanish-speaking people of Latin American ancestry who were born in California during the era of Mexican and Spanish rule. During this era, Italians and Mexicans intermarried more frequently than any other group, according to the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles at and at their permanent online exhibit here.) Leandri changed his name to Juan Leandry to better fit in among the Californios.

These little-known facts and more are revealed by clicking on the following links. Indeed, in my research, I have found that next to the Spaniards themselves, no other immigrant group left such an indelible and enduring impact on the development and culture of the Golden State.


Bancroft Collection/Italian  Americans in California

Italian Americans in California


Italians were some of the first European explorers and settlers of California. Religious duties and the search for new fishing grounds were initial reasons for Italians to explore what later became the thirty-first state, but their reasons for staying expanded after arriving. Though we often associate Italians in California with San Francisco, the initial Italian settlers established themselves in such diverse communities as Monterey, Stockton, and San Diego during the years of Spanish Rule.

While the majority of Italians settled in the urban centers of the east, many, especially northern Italians came out west. As late as 1890, there were more Italian immigrants on the Pacific coast than in New England. Their reasons for leaving and for choosing California varied. Overpopulation and the French capture of the wine industry in the 1880s made leaving attractive to Ligurians. The fact that California's small immigrant community was 80% northern made it more attractive to these people.  More here: Bancroft Collection/Italian  Americans in CaliforniaCredit to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.


The contributions of Italian immigrants to 
this country and particularly to the State of 
California cannot be overestimated. In large 
part, Italian-Americans defined California with 
their hard work, intelligence, creativity and spirit 
of enterprise. Italian immigrants arrived early 
to the Golden State and established wineries, 
farms, canneries, fishing enterprises, factories 
and banks. They enhanced the state’s culture 
by founding universities and creating the 
San Francisco Opera Company. This positive 
influence continues as the most recent Italian 
immigrants make significant contributions to 
California’s new frontiers, particularly in the 
fields of technology and research.

The Museo ItaloAmericano continues the celebration of 
its first thirty years of existence by presenting In Cerca 
di una Nuova Vita, a documentary exhibit on Italian 
immigration to California from 1850 to the present day. 
There have been many individuals and organizations 
that have contributed to this exhibit — too many to 
enumerate all here. We do wish to acknowledge the 
following special contributors: Alessandro Baccari, who 
has contributed much material from his private collection; 
Professor Paola Sensi-Isolani of St. Mary’s College, whose 
First Wave narrative provides the historical context for 
the exhibit; and Paolo Pontoniere, who has curated a 
contemporary mode of presenting the accomplishments 
of the most recent immigrants. More here: From Italy to California (pdf)

Italian American Museum of Los Angeles: History

Southern California’s Italian Roots

Italians and Italian Americans have played an instrumental role in the development of Los Angeles as one of the world’s greatest metropolises, yet the history of Italians in the region is largely unknown. Though Los Angeles is home to the nation’s fifth-largest Italian population today, and the Italian presence in the American West predates the nation’s founding, seldom is the city included in dialogs surrounding contemporary or historic Italian American communities. An examination of the region’s Italian roots reveals both the complexity of the Italian Diaspora and the exceptionally diverse fabric of Southern California’s history. More here:




Beginning in Little Italy and extending to the broader Italian community, Convivio (through its auxiliary, the Italian Historical Society of San Diego), is preserving San Diego’s Italian American historical narrative and creating a lasting historical tableau through education, research, archival work, historical projects, exhibitions, and events.

With the Italian Archives of San Diego, we now have a digital repository to safeguard and share photographs, documents, manuscripts, and other historical material donated by community members to help tell the story of the Italians of San Diego.

At Amici House in Little Italy—the community’s heritage, event, and visitor center overseen by the Little Italy Heritage Commission (an advisory committee of the Italian Historical Society of San Diego)—guests can learn about local Italian history and participate in diverse programs and events offering something for everyone.
Contact us for more information on our heritage programs or to contribute materials to our archives. More here: Italian Archives of San Diego

More: Google Search Results

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