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
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 12:40
  • Because Argentina is South of Bolivia?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 14:42
  • Not only Italians!! In spanish colonial period of Américas 750.000 spaniards migrated there. However, in reality, the biggest group came later. Between 1840-1930, América received more than 4 million spaniards, 50% of the chose Argentina. the great majority of the rest chose south-América. Thats why in México the majority arent whites in contrast with the countries of south-america
    – user16876
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 0:10
  • I would treat the figures of descendants of immigrants to Brazil with enormous caution. They do not seem to match the known facts about the number of people who actually immigrated to Brazil, the date of immigration, and the rate of birth among those people, and there are no census data for these categories. Particularly the figures for people from Arab descent are ridiculously inflated, But the figures for descendants of Italian immigrants are also overstated. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 18:56

6 Answers 6


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 Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 7:30
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    I agree that the availability of jobs in Argentina must have been a major factor, since there was a controlled experiment... over the same period Chile was also wide open to European settlement, but never attracted very many Italians, even though they covered similar latitudes.
    – AlaskaRon
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 5:14

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 southern 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 places like New York City (where many Italians 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.
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 17:51
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    @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
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 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.

  • +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. Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 0:58
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    @DarekWędrychowski - You need to go pick up a copy of Gun, Germs, and Steel.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 13:32
  • Thanks for great reccomendation! Thankfully it's easily available in Poland, so I'll definitely read it. Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 22:29
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    @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
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 1:24

The whole discussion fails to point out that there were also differences from the sources of immigration inside Italy.

Most immigrants to the US were immigrants from southern Italy, which began to industrialize later.

In Brazil, most immigrants were from northern Italy, which was industrializing earlier. Veneto, Trentino, Lombardia, etc.

There was also a difference in immigration pattern between immigrants to São Paulo and southern Brazil.

Immigrants to São Paulo mostly stayed in the city, which was already catching up with Rio de Janeiro in population and importance, or in coffee plantations, while immigrants to the brazilian south were making their own settlements and having their own land.

While italian immigrants to coffee plantations in São Paulo were probably being mistreated, in southern Brazil they were owning their own lands and creating their own cities and companies.

Moreover, even in São Paulo, the situation was probably not as bad as the propaganda in Italy made it seem.

Many italians in São Paulo were not only becoming successfull as also quite rich. While in NY at the beginning most rich italians were associated with the mafia, in São Paulo, by 1927, the Martinelli building, São Paulo's first skyscraper, was built by a rich italian immigrant.

And while NY had the powerful Rockefellers, São Paulo's most rich and prestigious family in the first half of the 20th century were the Matarazzos, also from Italy.


"At the age of 26, when Italian emigration to Brazil was widespread, he moved to the city of Sorocaba, São Paulo with his brothers, wife and children. Initially he sold oranges and lottery tickets and shined shoes, reinvesting the proceeds in new businesses, eventually including plantations of tea, coffee, corn, rice, rubber and cotton.[1]

In 1890, he moved to São Paulo and with his brothers, Giuseppe and Luigi, founded Matarazzo and Irmãos. He diversified its business and imported wheat flour from the United States of America. Giuseppe took part in the company with a lard factory in Porto Alegre and Luigi with a deposit-warehouse in São Paulo.

War between Spain and Central American countries made it difficult buy wheat flour and he obtained credit from the London and Brazilian Bank to build a mill in São Paulo. From there, his business expanded rapidly to a total of 365 factories[citation needed] throughout Brazil. The conglomerate became the fourth largest in the country and 6% of the population depended on its factories in São Paulo.

The Gestapo spy Hans Wesemann reported that:

An entire fleet sails under his flag. Tens of thousands of workers toil in his factories. He makes cement, cuts down trees and turns the pulp into paper, on which he prints his newspapers. The public drinks his beer and watches films in his cinemas. He contrives to be both wealthy and popular and when the president of Brazil visits Sao Paolo, he calls upon Matarazzo first.[1]

In recognition of his financial and material assistance to Italy during the First World War King Victor Emmanuel III conferred the title of Count.

Matarazzo died in 1937 after an attack of uremia. At that time he was Brazil's's richest man, with an estimated fortune of 10 billion U.S. dollars


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?
    – MCW
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 10:34

Everyone avoids talking about race and the genocide of indigenous peoples because it is embarrassing to talk about historical crimes. The reason why so many Italians immigrated to Argentina, starting in the mid-1800s, was because there was more "room" in Argentina to absorb them, given that the physical elimination of the indigenous population in Argentina had gone further than in most Latin American countries. (I would argue that we Italians were not a part of that crime, which happened before we arrived in Argentina in large numbers). The indigenous peoples of South America survived at higher altitudes, protected by the mountains (Andes) and their remoteness. Argentina had more flat land (Pampas) and less mountains territory than most South American countries - ergo few places for Native Americans to hide. (Unlike for example neighbouring Paraguay which has always had few Europeans, being the South American "Israel" for Native Americans. The Jesuits, btw, created Paraguay as a haven for Native Americans.

As one final comment, Colombia was named for Christopher Columbus, Venezuela was named for Venice... there are large Italian communities all over South America - with the only exception being the Guyanas. In fact, there are a surprising number of South American presidents over the last 150 years who had Italian ancestry. And, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Italian is the fourth most spoken language in the Americas (ahead of French).

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    This answer has no citations. Irrespective of whether the indigenous people where cleared from the land, the answer does not state why many Italians migrated to Argentina. Mass migration doesn't occur on a whim. Why did Italians want to leave Italy & why move to Argentina? Many Italians also moved to the US & Australia. Were the affects of invading Europeans in those countries also the reason Italians moving to the US or Australia?
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 0:43

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