“Riffraff”

“Riffraff”

Italian immigrants to the United States faced fierce discrimination in the early 20th century. In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti tells part of that story.

Entertainer Jimmy Durante, on the cover of the new issue of Primo Magazine.

Primo Magazine—the magazine for and about Italian Americans—recently posted an interview with me about the book. Read the excerpt below, or see the entire interview and learn more about the magazine at Primo online: http://www.onlineprimo.com/.

 

Primo: You bring to life the prejudices and outright bigotry back then that a host of politicians, journalists, and community leaders displayed against Italian immigrants. Share with us some of the most egregious examples of anti-Italianism in the era of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Tejada: The most egregious example would have to be the largest mass lynching in American history, when eleven jailed Italians were killed in a single night in New Orleans in 1891. Five of them were awaiting trial for the murder of the city’s chief of police; of the other six, three had experienced a mistrial in the same case and three had already been acquitted. Another egregious example is the 1911 report by the U.S. Immigration Commission, stating that “certain kinds of criminality are inherent in the Italian race.”

Of course, Italians weren’t the only immigrants who experienced bigotry. Almost 70 percent of immigrants to the United States between 1900 and 1909 came from Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, and nativists viewed them all as worthless riffraff, “the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans,” in the opinion of Madison Grant, the chairman of the New York Zoological Society.

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