Friday, March 1, 2024



From 1876 to 1980 more than 26 million Italians emigrated abroad: it is interesting to note that this figure is equal to the total Italian population at the time of italian unification in 1861.

According to the data available (since 1905), 48 percent of Italian emigrants returned before of the First World War, 1.52 percent between the two wars, 57 percent after the second world War. More than half of the emigrants returned home, on average at least once. The peak of the phenomenon was reached at the beginning of the 20th century, when more than half a million people left the country every year, and in 1913 with 872,000 units. Before the first war fourteen million people had already emigrated worldwide: 55 percent of the entire flow of a century. Initially the flow was mainly toward the Americas.

At the end of the second decade of the 2000s, over 1.5 million Italians resided in Latin America, approximately a third of the 5.5 million registered in the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE). Eight Latin American countries appear in the ranking of the top 25 Italian communities abroad: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico. Other communities of a certain importance are found in Paraguay, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia, while in Honduras and Nicaragua there are less than a thousand Italian residents. Therefore, it is valid to say that Latin America is mostly a "continent of Italians".

"Festa do immigrante" (Immigrant Celebration) in Sao Paulo/Brasil

The Italian presence was decisive in the formation of Argentina and Brazil as modern countries, but also in the others the influence of the Italians was felt to a notable extent. The direct contribution of the pioneers of emigration was strengthened by the contribution given by their descendants, who became local citizens. Natives are estimated at nearly 32 million in Brazil, more than 25 million in Argentina, 2 million in Colombia, 1.5 million in Uruguay, 1 million in Venezuela, and more than 850 thousand in Paraguay and Mexico. By adding the results of these estimates to the Italians registered with AIRE in all the world, we arrive at nearly exceeding the population resident in Italy in 2020 (that was 61 million, but some estimates -like those of researcher Mancini- judge that the descendants of italians in the world should be nearly 100 million!)

The first flows were those of Risorgimento exiles followed, from the Unification of Italy onwards, by those who moved for work, driven to do so by a situation of poverty. The "Great Emigration" occurred from 1876 onwards, was intense for the entire duration of the century, and even increased in the following century until the eve of the First World War. Emigration reduced in intensity after the First World War and during the period of the fascist regime while the emigrants were mainly of southern origin in the XX century (because in the northern Italy the process of big industrialization -mainly in the triangle Milan/Torino/Genova- stopped the former huge emigration).

After the Second World War, the flows resumed towards Latin America for only a few years and were directed with particular intensity towards Venezuela following its oil boom. Therefore, the destinations of that continent were supplanted by European ones and, moreover, Italy's internal development strongly reduced the tendency to exodus. Few Italians now emigrate to Latin American countries: for family, commercial or business reasons, as representatives of NGOs, or for other professional reasons, while temporary travel for tourism is more substantial. However, Latin Americans who have emigrated to Italy since the 1970s have become more numerous, i.e. since Italy began to become a country of immigration due to economic, social hardship and also political instability in Latin America.

Argentina fascists in 1939: the "Fascio" of Buenos Aires had 4000 members (a small number in the total italian population of the city). After the WW2 disappearance of fascism, nearly all of them become fanatical supporters of Peronism

Actually the city with the highest number of people of Italian origin in the world is Sao Paulo, Brazil: six million and half of the 11 million "saopaulinhos" (or nearly 60% of the total population). Not only that: 44% of the population of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and 52% of those who live in Buenos Aires, which has 12 million inhabitants, have Italian roots.

Uruguay is the latinoamerican nation were was more strong the "italianism": the period of the late 1930s represented an era in which the Italian community achieved primary importance in Uruguayan society. It coincided with the rise to power of the Italian-Uruguayan Baldomir Ferrari (1938-1943). The Italian-Uruguayan President Ferrari obtained that the hydroelectric dam of the artificial lake "Rincón del Bonete", on the Rio Negro, was financed and partially built mainly by the Italian government in the late 1930. This President of Uruguay openly appreciated Italian fascism and attempted to imitate some of its corporate and political characteristics.

In Montevideo, for example, there was a political Fascio with 1200 members, which gave 150 Italian-Uruguayan volunteers to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. President Ferrari (and his predecessor) managed to obtain funding and technical support from Mussolini (and also from Hitler) to build the dam on the Rio Negro, creating the largest artificial lake in South America. Furthermore, he promoted the beginning of the industrialization process of Uruguay through Italian companies. The Italian diplomat Serafino Mazzolini stated that Mussolini considered Uruguay as the most "Italian" state in the Americas, with which to form a possible future political and ethnic-racial alliance.

The italian language acquired considerable importance in Montevideo in those years and became compulsory in Uruguay's high schools in 1942, during the presidency of Baldomir Ferrari.

The Chile's Alessandri family, of Italian descent, in 1920, with two future presidents of Chile, Arturo Alessandri (1920–1925 and 1932–1938) and Jorge Alessandri (1958–1964)

The following are the ten highest percentages of Italian descendants (in parentesis the actual Italian citizens) in the main LatinoAmerican countries. It is noteworthy to pinpoint thar Brasil has the biggest amount of Italian descendants (32 million), while Argentina (63%), Uruguay (44%) and Paraguay (40%) have the highest percentage of them in the total national population:

1) Brasil: 32 million (The Embassy of Italy in Brazil in 2013, reported the number of 32 million descendants of Italian immigrants in Brazil (about 15% of the population); half of them in the state of São Paulo, while there were around 450,000 Italian citizens in Brazil.

2) Argentina: nearly 25 million (at least 25 million Argentines -62.7% of the country's population- have some degree of Italian ancestry, most of them in the Buenos Aires region. And there are nearly 700,000 Italian citizens in all Argentina)

3) Paraguay: 2,500,000 (The Italian embassy calculates that nearly 40% of the Paraguayans have recent and/or distant Italian roots: about 2,500,000 Paraguayans are descendants of Italian emigrants to Paraguay. And actually 13,000 italians are residents, mainly in the capital area)

4) Colombia: 2 million (nearly 2,000,000 Italian descendants of full or partial ancestry live in Colombia, corresponding to about 4% of the total population. There are also 20,315 Italians in 2019 (by citizenship) who reside in Colombia)

5) Uruguay: nearly 1,500,000 (an estimated 1,500,000 Uruguayans have Italian ancestry, about 44% of the total population of Uruguay. The italians residents in Uruguay are 90,000).

6) Peru: more than 1,450,000 (the descendants of italians directly and indirectly -since colonial times- are around one million and half, or the 4.8% of the total population of Peru. The italian citizens are 35000).

7) Venezuela: more than one million (some italian embassy estimates reach the 2 million descendants, while the Italian citizens are more than one hundred thousand)

8) Mexico: nearly 900,000 (there are more than 850,000 Mexicans descended from Italian emigrants since colonial times. Population figures are uncertain because, unlike other countries, Mexico's census does not gather information on specific ethnic groups. Nearly 10,000 are italian citizens living in Mexico, mainly in the capital area)

9) Chile: 700,000 (It is estimated that more than 650,000 Chileans are of full or partial Italian ancestry, corresponding to about 3.9% of the total population, while Italians by birth in Chile are about 52,000).

10) Costa Rica: 460,000 (according to the italian embassy there are nearly half a million Costa Ricans of Italian descent, corresponding to about 7.8% of Costa Rica's population, while there are around 2,300 Italian citizens)

Finally we must remember that the province of Quebec in Canada is officially french speaking and can be considered one of the latino territories in the Americas. In the 2016 Quebec census there were 327,000 italians and italian descendants.

Giuliana Sansaloni, queen of the italian community in Oberá, Misiones, Argentina

The country in Latin America that has experienced the biggest italian emigration after WW2 is Venezuela.

Italians in Venezuela

In the history of Italian emigration to Venezuela, four phases can be distinguished. Arrivals in the country, up until the 1920s, were few and the Italian presence numbered around 3 thousand units. The second phase of Italian emigration took place in the period of the great development of the oil industry until the beginning of the Second World War, when Venezuela became the first crude oil exporting country. Even in that period, the routes of emigrants towards traditional transoceanic destinations and in the Italian colonies in Africa prevailed: there were 3,137 Italians in Venezuela in 1941. The third phase began after the Second World War. Between 1950 and 1960, the period in which the "Venezuelan dream" took hold, the arrivals of Italians exceeded 100 thousand units. The Italians were not disappointed because they, thanks to their resourcefulness, together with the Spanish and the Portuguese contributed to the notable development of the country, entering all sectors. That was the period of the "enlightened dictatorship" of Marcos Perez Jimenez (1953-1958), who managed to promote strong development with the plan to strengthen infrastructure throughout the country.

The Italians, among whom there were few technicians and many agricultural workers, were able to seize the opportunities of this expansion phase and spread throughout the territory, unlike other European communities who favored the capital. There were few Italians hired in the public sectors as doctors, veterinarians, architects and in other sectors. There were many who created their own family-run businesses, obtaining subcontracts from larger ones. Furthermore, with this multiplicity of companies they managed to offer the variety of services required by a society that was beginning to understand well-being of the XX century. The fact that the national currency was strong (and the favorable exchange rate compared to Italy) allowed the emigrants who settled there, on the one hand, to send substantial savings to Italy and, on the other, to achieve family reunions. There was no shortage of those who preferred to operate as commuters between the two countries.

At the 1961 census, there were 121,733 Italians in Venezuela, demonstrating the great growth of the community. However, the repatriations were also substantial, as there was a widespread tendency to stay in place for only a few years. The post-war years were those in which Italians managed to make themselves appreciated on a cultural level, as well as on an entrepreneurial level (especially in the food, construction and fashion sectors). Some data do not fail to make an impression. In the 1950s, at least 12% of the capital's constructions relied on the work of Italians, but in the early 1960s it was nearly 44%! In the food sector, pasta prevailed over the classic corn flour, previously a national food, making Venezuela the second pasta consumer country after Italy. In turn, Italian fashion managed to impose itself on French fashion. Between 1952 and 1958 the production of footwear was in the hands of Italian protagonists. The share then rose to 80%, as emerged from the 1984-1985 industry census, highlighting that as many as 520 companies in the sector were managed by Italians.

After such a strong development, a long phase of decline began (and continues), both in terms of arrivals from Italy and in terms of the economic management of the country. Five million Venezuelans, forced to leave their country and take refuge mostly in other Latin American countries, are a sign of the catastrophic situation in Venezuela in the 2020s.

Compared to the past, the '90s and the first two decades of the new century were not satisfactory and, indeed, the last phases can be defined as dramatic due to the civil war, which saw the president of the National Assembly Antonio Guialdo Marquez, opposing the President of the Republic Nicolas Maduro Moros, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013 (in office from 1999 to 2012). Maduro's government has become unwelcome at home and unsupported by most foreign countries. The 2018 elections did not restore calm.

Furthermore, the crisis, made unbearable by economic decay, had already made itself evident in its institutional and political implications in the 1970s, when the country was struggling to channel the considerable resources deriving from oil into functional uses for local development: a very serious deficiency, taking into account that 90% of the industries and mineral resources were in public hands. State gigantism favored the phenomena of corruption and clientelism. For example, in the past it was foreseen the hiring of a lift attendant in all public and private buildings in which a lift had already been installed and there was a public influx.

National policy was unable to remedy the decrease in oil revenues with the diversification of production activities. The result was the devaluation of the national currency, the collapse of employment, the proposal of severe measures by the International Monetary Fund and a generalized impoverishment with recurring popular uprisings. There was a temporary recovery in the two-year period 2004-2005 (GDP growth of 17.4% and 9.8% respectively), which populist politics was unable to exploit so that the GDP was barely a fifth compared to that of 2013. For critics of the regime it was a long inconclusive populism, incapable of reducing social inequalities through the prudent use of resources.

Pompeo D'Ambrosio (with his daughter Antonella and son Bruno) in 1977, when was vice-president of the main private bank of Venezuela and was responsable -with his brother Mino- of the "Deportivo Italia" (the football team of the italovenezuelans that was considered as the best Venezuelan team of the 20th century, according to the "International Federation of Football History and Education")
After the 1960s, Venezuela began to lose its attractive capacity and the numerical reduction of the Italian community also began, first gradually and then in an increasing manner, it experienced a continuous numerical decrease and in 1999 there were only 61,800 people: in that that year the Italian community was overtaken by the Spanish (133,661) and Portuguese (78,735), which in 1950 were smaller than it. Within the community, which was above average in terms of well-being, cases of hardship and poverty increased, because only higher income classes were protected from it. These are those people who traditionally organize themselves into exclusive clubs, which ensure prestige and professional and entrepreneurial opportunities. As known from recurring news stories, such notoriety comes at the cost of greater exposure to the kidnapping industry.

By virtue of its internal growth, the Italian community in the 2020s is one of the largest on the Latin American continent, around 120 thousand units; the majority of Italians live between Caracas and the regions of Carabobo and Aragua (additionally we must remember that -according to the Italian Embassy in Caracas- nearly two million Venezuelans have roots in italian emigration: the former president Raul Leoni (1964-1969) was the great-greatgrandson of an italian emigrated to Venezuela in the late XVIII century, for example). There are now few Italians who emigrate to Venezuela and, mostly, for a temporary stay: these are NGO workers, journalists and professionals. As has happened in other countries, traditional and regional associations no longer have the attraction of the past and young people are interested in other forms of aggregation.

The Italian community, like the native one, is divided regarding the political regime. The problem arises of showing, with due care, the closeness to a community that is not only formally Italian, but feels its Italianness. The case of Venezuela, in the overall context of post-war migration, represents a significant case for the substantial flows of the two post-war decades, as it was also towards Canada and Australia. The "Venezuelan dream" was motivated by a rapidly expanding country and dissolved with the downsizing of such expectations following the tormented socio-political events of the last thirty years.


  1. I think one hundred million descendants of Italians is an amount related only to the last two centuries. If we go back to the middle ages we can easily double that amount

  2. Sincerely I think that 150 millions of Italian descendants is the minimum going back to the year 1000 AD. For example the Ranieri rule the Principate of Monte Carlo since the middle ages , but this is a family who emigrated from Salerno around the year 1200 AD and moved to live in south France since then. Now there are hundreds of Ranieri in the French Riviera ; and who knows how many -with French family names- have roots in this family there now?