When it comes to Italian immigration, most people would assume that America or European countries near Italy would have the largest ex-pat populations. However, statistics show that South America, and more specifically Argentina, has the highest number of Italians living abroad.
Between 1857 and 1940, Italians made up almost 45% of Argentina’s immigrant population. In 1913 alone, 111,500 Italians arrived. According to a 2018 survey, about 1 million Italians were living in the country. Almost 62% of Argentines are of Italian descent, and Italian is the second most spoken language.
These numbers are astounding, but what drew Italians to Argentina in the first place?
In the early days of the 1800s, Italy was experiencing a dramatic transformation. The call for unification was growing, and eventually, the Kingdom of Italy was established in 1860. The northern Italian regions made up the kingdom, and the effort to add the central and southern regions of the country was met with resistance and bloodshed. Facing famine and economic instability, many Italians opted to leave and start over somewhere else.
Around this time, Argentina was struggling with a demand for agricultural labor and to modernize its economy. In 1845, future President Domingo F Sarmiento suggested that European immigrants be encouraged to settle in the country to help with these expansion efforts. Some years later, in 1876, The Immigration and Colonization Act was passed, which opened the floodgates for mass migration. The law offered immigrants food and lodging when they arrived, employment, and offered to pay for their train ticket to their final settlement destination in the country.
With such a large number of Italians taking advantage of this offer, the country’s entire culture quickly adopted many Italian traditions. Many of the local cocktails are made with Campari and Fernet-Branca, and pizza and pasta are staples in the local diet. Even the country’s architecture was influenced by Italian artisans and styles. One building, in particular, Palacio Barolo, was designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti as a tribute to Dante’s Divine Comedy, with each floor representing each stanza.
Argentina provided a welcoming environment for Italian immigrants to put down roots and start a new life. They allowed them to thrive and build a life for their descendants who still reside in the country to this day.