Italians Arrive

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Gendusa Wedding
Nick Gendusa and his bride Annie Catanzaro Gendusa are shown with their wedding party. The Gendusa/Catanzaro wedding was a traditional, formal Italian wedding. Nick Gendusa was a truck farmer living on River Road in St. Rose bringing his produce to the New Orleans market for decades. Circa 1930s. (Photo courtesy of RoseMarie Gendusa Palmisano)

Italians Invited To Come to Louisiana

The Breadbasket continues…

During the 1870s, many blacks left Louisiana for more desirable opportunities in the North, which caused a major labor shortage. The sugar producing parishes were particularly affected. Remaining laborers took advantage and threatened to strike for better wages. The planters organized to resolve this situation and a plan was formulated to enhance the labor pool and control the cost of labor.

During the mid-1880s, the Louisiana Sugar Planters Association distributed information throughout Sicily and southern Italy. It sent agents to encourage the Italians to immigrate and established an office in New Orleans, which would provide aid on arrival. The Louisiana Agriculture and Immigration Association also extended “An Invitation to Louisiana for Italian Tenant Farmers and Agriculturalists.” It is reported that between 1870 and 1920 at least 300,000 Italians (primarily Sicilians) immigrated to the New Orleans area.

Italian Laborers Advertisement
An 1891 advertisement to lure Italian laborers to Louisiana states, “All persons who work laborers in great numbers find the Italian immigrant a valuable acquisition because of his willingness and his peculiar adaptability to hard work.” There were differing scales of pay. Whites received the highest, African Americans less, and the Italians were at the bottom of the scale. (Courtesy of American Italian Museum and Library, New Orleans)
These passports were issued to Italian immigrants. Note the physical description at left. (Courtesy of American Italian Museum and Library, New Orleans)
Pietro Vitrano Citizenship
Pietro Vitrano became a bona fide citizen of the United States of America. (Courtesy of American Italian Museum and Library, New Orleans)
Pietro Vitrano became a bona fide citizen of the United States of America. (Courtesy of American Italian Museum and Library, New Orleans)
Portera Family Produce
Using the skiff they named the Virgin Mary, the Portera family sold produce up and down the Mississippi River. The family later entered into the retail business. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Portera)

Many of the Italians settled on the German Coast and made a significant impact. Like the Germans who came before them, they were hard working and productive farmers and craftsmen. However, they were faced with profound prejudice and the realization that they were placed very low on the social ladder. Salvadore Portera, a typical Italian immigrant, arrived on the German Coast in 1880. He and his wife, Mary Grace Pizzuto, were from Sicily. They lived in Hahnville and were forced to live behind the levee, not being allowed to live “on the other side.” The Italians introduced new fruit and vegetables and expanded the truck farming industry, which added a new dimension to the wholesale and retail trade. Packing-houses lined the railroad tracks to ship their produce across the country. Many Italians were also proficient in masonry, carpentry, stonecutting, tailoring, and advanced horticulture. Italian immigrants formed social and benevolent organizations and carried on their beloved customs and traditions. The St. Joseph Altar Societies and other Italian organizations continue to nurture and hand down these traditions along the German Coast. Other familiar family names were Gilardi, Giangroso, Giardina, Palmisano, Giglio, Gendusa, Vitrano, Barraco, Pizzolato, Bosco, Migliorie and Marino.

The Bosco Family
The Bosco family, immigrants of Sicily, are shown left to right: Ester (mother), Guisseppi (son), Lena Nelli Bosco (wife), and two-year-old daughter Ester. The Bosco family lived on River Road in St. Rose and owned a large farm, a grocery store, an oyster house, and participated in the New Orleans French Market. Bosco descendants now own many successful businesses in the parish. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Tamburello Woulfe)
Josephine and Samuel Bosco
Josephine and Samuel Bosco in Confirmation and First Communion attire. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Tamburello Woulfe)
With the help of the Italian immigrants, farmers of the German Coast continued to be major food suppliers to the markets of New Orleans. The German Coast packinghouses shipped by rail vegetables and produce to major United States cities.

German Coast Italian Farmers
At the turn of the century, German Coast Italian farmers grew “truck” crops and took them to packing sheds. Shown is the Christina Packing Shed in Kenner with several St. Rose farmers and their wagons. Crops were shipped by rail across the entire country. In later years a packing facility was opened in St. Rose—the Vitrano Packing Shed. (St. Charles Herald Profile, August 15, 1991)

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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Further Reading

Now That’s Italian! A Regional Archive Houses Extensive Ethnic Material
Vol. 23 No. 4
Winter 2012-2013

Louisiana Endowment for the Arts’ Cultural Vistas

Forget the Geritol!
By Edith Vicknair
Vol. 1 No. 1

River Parish Focus