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On 13th of March, 2013, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became new pope of Catholic Church. He was born and raised in Argentina with Italian origins.

There are more than 24 millions of Argentinian citizens who have Italian roots, making it around 60% of the country population. They came to South America in different generations. Many of them during the great European immigration wave to Argentina at the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Italian immigration was an important part of that, as between 1880-1920 Italy was facing social and economic disturbances.

As for the overall reasons of immigrating to Argentina, articles linked above mention in the first place the open immigration politic of the Argentinian officials, who wanted to raise the country population. Checking Constitution of Argentina from 1853 we'll find there article 25:

The Federal Government shall encourage European immigration, and shall not restrict, limit, or obstruct, by taxation of any king, the entrance into the Argentine territory of foreigners coming to it for the purpose of engaging in the cultivation of the soil, the improvement of industrial business, or the introduction and teaching of arts and sciences.

But I'm pretty sure there had to be also particular reasons for Italians to chose Argentina, which I'm not aware of. Where there any other reasons for the immigration of so many Italians to Argentina? Why did they chose this particular country?

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Assuming you refers to both Italians from Italy and their ancestors, then Argentina (total population: 40 million) have the largest population from Italian origin in percentage (almost half have at least an Italian grandparent straight from Italy), while Brazil (total population: 190 million) the largest by absolute numbers (25 million, 15% of total population). Well, Brazil is much bigger than Argentina. – user3253 Dec 3 '13 at 12:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Many Italians emigrated to Argentina because many Italians emigrated. Argentina, like Brazil and the United States could offer economic opportunities not to be found in the old country, but equally importantly, had policies that were open to immigration.

Italian Emigration 1876-1926

Many Italians left Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it is one of the largest modern emigrations any country has seen (Ireland was another, and Italian and Irish emigré communities became rivals in many places). Argentina was a popular destination, but so were Brazil and the United States, as well as Uruguay and Canada, and numbers of Italians are noted in Venezuela and Peru as well. According to a 1931 paper on emigration between 1876 and 1926, an estimated 8.9 million Italians emigrated to the Americas, 7.6 million to other countries in Europe, 300,000 to Africa, 42,000 to Oceania, and 13,000 to Asia.

After unification in 1861, the Italian economy improved, leading to an increase in population, but the benefits of the economy were not evenly distributed. Generations of subdividing plots had rendered farms too small and inefficient to support the population, especially given poor land management and farming methods, while the phylloxera epidemic wiped out the Italian wine industry starting in the 1870s. An 1884 cholera epidemic could not have helped. In any case, increasing numbers of young Italian men began seeking work abroad, first in France and Switzerland, then in the Americas as transatlantic shipping became more reliable and less expensive.

Labor Demand in the Americas

Argentina was the preferred destination in the 1870s and 1880s, then equally favored with Brazil until the close of the century, when the U.S. became the favored destination until after World War I, when Argentina resumed the crown.

As the great majority of Italian emigrants were economic migrants, it was the availability of work above all that governed their preferred destinations. Argentina was popular at first because of geography; farm laborers could find work in Argentina to earn extra income during the Northern Hemisphere winter. As the economy there boomed— in per capita terms, it was one of the wealthiest countries in the world at the start of the 20th century, thanks to demand for its agricultural products— there was also work to be had in building and railroad construction. Domingo Sarmiento, president of Argentina 1868-1874, encouraged immigration, although he rather wished for more Northern Europeans, even attempting to subsidize them.

In 1890 Argentina suffered a severe economic downturn, the Baring crisis, which also affected its neighbors and the U.S. But Brazil's coffee planters were becoming more aggressive in seeking cheap labor. São Paulo state began to subsidize passage and lodging for recent arrivals, and in the 1880s, coffee plantation owners had begun promoting Brazil heavily as a destination. As such, Brazil began attracting a large proportion of Italian emigrants; indeed, in percentage terms, Italians would become a larger part of the Brazilian population than the Argentinian.

Word of ill-treatment of Italian workers in Brazil led to outrage in Italy, and in 1902 the Prinetti Decree outlaws subsidized emigration to Brazil. This sharply curtailed the number of Italian immigrants to Brazil, and helped swing the numbers to the United States. In contrast to the situation in South America, the U.S. needed cheap labor for its factories, not farms, and some argue that some Italians deemed the life of a factory worker preferable to that of a farm laborer or ranch hand. So the United States absorbed the lion's share of Italians until after World War I, when a series of anti-immigration laws all but closed the country to Southern Europeans (among others).

After World War II, Italian emigration expanded to places like Australia, but improving economic conditions at home would eventually stem the population outflow to more stable levels.

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Thanks! I've just realized that actually, a significant number of Argentinians and Brazilians I host and guide in Krakow travel around Europe using Italian passport. And I've never wondered why before. +1 – Darek Wędrychowski Mar 14 '13 at 7:30

According to the Italian government, there are 31 million Brazilians of Italian descent. Brazil is home to 30 millions Argentina 20 millions United States 17.800 millions

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This doesn't answer the question. Furthermore it is difficult to place any confidence in statistics without a citation. Good start, but could you expand this to answer why and provide citations? – Mark C. Wallace Jun 25 '14 at 10:34

To take off on the climate answer, it is noteworthy that the area between Buenos Aires and the Brazilian border (to the North), approximates the (south) latitudes of Italy's own (northern) latitudes. Thus, not only the temperature, but the rainfall and crop patterns of that part of Argentina resemble that of parts of Italy. Basically, Italians felt "at home" there.

In the U.S., the Labrador current makes e.g. New York City (where many Italiaans settled) much colder than the same latitude in northern Italy. The parts of the U.S. further South with similar climates (e.g. Virginia and the Carolinas) were much more "Anglo" and Protestant and much less receptive to Italians than climatically similar areas in Argentina (whose "settlers" spoke an Italian-like Spanish, and who were mostly fellow Catholics).

Also, Argentina was the most technologically advanced South American country in the late 19th century, while Italy was less advanced than the rest of Europe and the U.S. Put another way, they were quite "compatible" in this respect, being at similar stages of development.

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Another thing to mention in this regard is that pretty much all the available land in the Old South was by this time owned by somebody. It was only Argentina that still had lots of available land in the temperate zone. ...still, 4 million Italilans did immigrate to the USA. I know of at least two families (those of my minister's wife's parents) that even immigrated from Sicily to east Texas to take up farming there. So it wasn't unheard of. – T.E.D. Mar 14 '13 at 17:51
@T.E.D.: Texas was one place where there was still some "spare" land. But most of the U.S. South was "socially" (as opposed to climatically) hostile to Italians, who had a choice between the U.S. north, or Argentina. As late as the mid-1950s, Lee Iacocca's boss warned him to be prepared for hostility in the South. The boss' solution was to have him introduce himself as "Iacocca Lee," ("funny" first name, revered "last" name.) – Tom Au Mar 15 '13 at 1:23

One thing that may have been a big factor is the climate. Argentina is the one place in South America that has large areas of temperate climate. This allowed Europeans to go there and find not just temperatures and weather they were already acclimated to, but that allowed the kinds of agriculture they knew.

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The other large temperate areas available are in the United States, Southern China, the East Coast of Australia + New Zealand, and southern Africa.

Of those, the USA also experienced a large amount of Italian immigration in this same period. The British controlled South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and Dutch the rest of southern Africa, which may have served to deter other nationalities from settling in those places. China already had more than enough Chinese people living there.

According to the link above, a large number of the people emigrating from Italy during this period were rural folk from south Italy, so being able to carry out their agriculture would have been a huge deal.

The newly created Italian constitution, drafted after unification in 1861, heavily favored the North. This caused economic conditions to considerably worsen for many in southern Italy and Sicily. Heavy taxes and other economic measures imposed on the South made the situation virtually impossible for many tenant farmers, and small business and land owners. Multitudes chose to emigrate rather than try to eke out a meager living.

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+1, thanks, sounds very reasonable. Somehow I've never realized the connection between the agriculture and Argentina, Southern Africa and Eastern Australia being populated by Europeans. But I'll wait a bit for other contributions with accepting the answer. – Darek Wędrychowski Mar 14 '13 at 0:58
@DarekWędrychowski - You need to go pick up a copy of Gun, Germs, and Steel. – T.E.D. Mar 14 '13 at 13:32
Thanks for great reccomendation! Thankfully it's easily available in Poland, so I'll definitely read it. – Darek Wędrychowski Mar 14 '13 at 22:29
@DarekWędrychowski: "Waiting a bit for other other contributions before accepting the answer" is something I've done (and posted about). I'm glad to see someone else set a good example. – Tom Au Mar 15 '13 at 1:24

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