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Jean Lafitte National Park to showcase Sicilian Migration

March 7, 2020 from 1pm to 2pm The National Park Service with present a discussion on the Sicilian Migration to New Orleans

Henri d’ Tonti efforts in 1686 led to the settlement by Bienville of New Orleans. Later in the 1820s, an Italian Consulate was opened. The Mandarin Orange was introduced by Sicilians to America via New Orleans.

On March 17, 1866, the Louisiana Bureau of Immigration was formed and planters began to look to Sicily as a possible solution to their labor needs. Steamship companies advertisements were very effective in recruiting potential workers. . Three steamships per month were running between New Orleans and Sicily by September 1881 at a cost of only forty dollars per person.

Little Palermo” was established by recent immigrants in the lower French Quarter. So many Italians settled here that some suggested the area should be renamed as “The Sicilian Quarter” in the early 20th century. As time passed and they became established, many Italian-Americans moved out of New Orleans and to the suburbs.[4]


Historically many corner stores in New Orleans were owned by Italians. Progresso Foods originated as a New Orleans Italian-American business.[4] The business established by the Vaccaro brothers later became Standard Fruit.[5]

After they first arrived, Italian immigrants generally took low-wage laboring jobs, which they could accomplish without being able to speak English.[5] They worked on docks, in macaroni factories, and in nearby sugar plantations. Some went to the French Market to sell fruit.[4] Italian workers became a significant presence in the French Market.[5]


In 1843 the Società Italiana di Mutua Beneficenza was established. The San Bartolomeo Society, established by immigrants from Ustica, was established in 1879. As of 2004 it is the oldest Italian-American society in New Orleans. Joseph Maselli, an ethnic Italian from New Orleans, founded the first pan-U.S. Italian-American federation of organizations.

The American Italian Cultural Center honors and celebrates the area’s Italian-American heritage and culture. The AICC houses the American Italian Museum, with exhibits about the history and contributions of Italian-Americans to the region. The Piazza d’Italia is a local monument dedicated to the Italian-American community of New Orleans.


On St. Joseph’s Day, ethnic Sicilians in the New Orleans area establish altars.[4] On that day marches organized by the Italian-American Marching Club occur. The club, which welcomes anyone of Italian origins, started in 1971 and as of 2004 has more than 1,500 members.

Italian Americans originally established the Krewe of Virgilians because they were unable to join other Krewes in the Mardi Gras. In 1936 the krewes crowned their first queen, Marguerite Piazza, who worked in the New Orleans Metropolitan Opera.


Italians in New Orleans brought with them many dishes from Sicilian cuisine and broader Italian cuisines, which influenced the Cuisine of New Orleans. Many food businesses and restaurants were started by Italians in New Orleans. Progresso, now a large Italian food brand, was started by Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans. Angelo Brocato’s an Italian Ice Cream parlor and bakery, established in 1905 by a Sicilian immigrant, is still in existence today. Central Grocery, also founded by a Sicilian immigrant and still in business, originated the muffaletta sandwich, served on the traditional Sicilian muffaletta bread.

Pasta Factories of New Orleans

Taromina Pasta Factory is now Muriel’s on Charters Street

From the book “Creole Italian” by Justin A. Nystrom

“From both a cultural, geographical, and genealogical standpoint, when we speak of “Italian” in New Orleans we really mean “Sicilian;” the origin of over 90 percent of the city’s self-identifying Italians. Sicilians first came in significant numbers to New Orleans in the 1830s on the back of the Mediterranean citrus trade. Until they were overtaken by California in 1938, Sicily was the world’s leading producer of lemons, a fruit grown in the fertile valleys of the island’s Conca d’Oro. Sicilian citrus merchants established trading houses along Decatur Street by the 1850s, and in decades came to dominate the importation and wholesaling of produce in the Mississippi Valley. Yet this was only the beginning of their ascent: the advent of the tramp steamer around 1880 forever revolutionized their business, cutting the cost and time it took to sail between the Gulf and Mediterranean in half and allowing for diversification in the far more lucrative tropical fruit trade. This steam-powered citrus fleet also offered Sicily’s rural poor relatively cheap transportation to the Americas.

Driven from the island by poverty and political instability and attracted by the prospect of property ownership after a purgatorial tenure harvesting cane, digging levees, and felling pine trees, they came ashore at the Nicholls Street Wharf and melted into the Lower Quarter by the thousands. The eventual arrival of 45,000 Sicilians to Louisiana by 1910 created an especially large and lucrative native market for Italian-style pasta.

The 1897 Dingley Tariff Act

The 1897 Dingley Tariff Act doubled the cost of imported pasta and increased the market for the domestic manufacture of the low-margin product. By 1901, eight significant macaroni factories operated in New Orleans, all but two owned by Italians and only one located outside the French Quarter.

These were in addition to an indeterminate number of cottage pasta makers producing macaroni in a back room of their residence. The question of the local market’s size was addressed through humorous calculation by the Picayune’s Branan. In reply to the Italian consul’s inability to compute the number of his countrymen in New Orleans, Branan joked that one could measure it by the sheer volume of macaroni consumption in New Orleans.

While Branan may have been off in his particulars, there could be no mistaking that the skyrocketing rate of growth in the city’s pasta production spoke to its burgeoning Italian population and an awakening taste for noodles among other Americans.”

The career of Giacomo “Jacob” Cusimano paralleled the rise of the pasta industry in New Orleans. A citrus trader from Palermo, Cusimano arrived in 1882 and by the late 1890s had diversified into macaroni with a small factory at 625 St. Philip. (The site of Ruffino’s Restaurant and Bakery for much of the twentieth century.) His business flourished so much that by 1902 he built a large purpose-built factory at the corner of Barracks and Chartres capable of producing 10,000 pounds of pasta a day.

Today this structure houses Le Richelieu Hotel, but it is hardly the only tangible remnant of Cusimano’s factory. His plant manager, Leon Tujague, formed a partnership with two other non-Italians in 1914 to form the Southern Macaroni Company, whose Luxury Brand pasta is still sold in grocery stores today (though owned by corporate giant ConAgra Foods).

Cusimano’s generosity fostered multiple food industry titans. As the legend goes, in 1908, the merchant lent a financial lifeline to a penniless Guiseppe Uddo, the founder of what would later become Progresso Foods.”

Saint Expedite Patron Saint of Urgent Need, April 19th

St. Expedite’s Feast is April 19th

St. Expedito’s Role in South Louisiana Catholicism, in New Orleans and in the Italian-American Community near Independence, Louisiana

By Karen Williams

“As the supplicants of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in New Orleans eagerly opened the package containing the new statue that was to grace the sacristy, a beautiful image of Our Lady, they were surprised to note that a second package of similar size had come to the same address. Puzzled, they read the bold letters EXPEDITE printed clearly on the outside. Opening the wrappings, they found a Roman soldier in resolute pose, both helmet- and sword- less, holding a palm branch in his left hand and raising high in his right hand a cross stating “hodie.” Quickly-the saint’s name allowed no hesitation-the soldier’s image was ensconced in the right hand corner, near the church’s entrance. In New Orleans, the saint’s popularity rose quickly, a patron for those needing help right away; concerns both sublime and ridiculous fell under Expedite’s providence. Those praying for the end of warfare, those seeking a speedy redress in legal and personal disputes, those seeking immediate employment, those striving to break habits of procrastination-all wondered how they had done without St. Expedite.

This may be an interesting anecdote, but its authenticity is far from certain, although many New Orleanians who believe in Expedite’s power claim it to be true. In looking for St. Expedite’s origins, one finds a rich morass of history and culture. New Orleans claims the saint as its own-both Catholic and voodoo followers-and remains unperturbed by its possible nascence in New Orleans. However, it is definitely not true that New Orleans has the only statue in the world as some sources claim or even the only statue in America. In fact, a number of churches in the United States as well as in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and other countries contain the noted foot soldier, often titled Expedito; and opinion is varied as far as the authenticity of the saint.1 In Louisiana studies, St. Expedite is an important figure that illuminates how a particular culture may claim a saint for its own. In New Orleans, St. Expedite’s unofficial and questionable status came to be a part of its appeal as voodoo embraced the figure. In contrast, the Italian community in rural southeastern Louisiana celebrated St. Expedito with public demonstrations and feasting.

My questions at the church and its adjacent gift shop went largely unanswered. The woman working at the gift shop claimed to know nothing of St. Expedite, although prayer cards, small statues, and medals all bore the image of the saint, and offered more information about St. Jude, to whom the shrine is officially dedicated. She not only refused to verify St. Expedite’s authenticity but declined to speak about the saint at all.

My Louisiana quest for the saint seemed to be at a dead end. However, driving on the back roads one day near Independence, Louisiana, home to a significant population of Sicilian and Italian descent, I came upon a small chapel marked by the title St. Expedito. Could this be the same figure? Unable to enter the locked door, I carefully pushed ajar a heavy window and peered into the quaint chapel. Near the altar, Expedito stands tall, crow underfoot and cross in hand, with all the standard features. A young Roman centurion, as mentioned earlier, has taken off his helmet and sword and instead holds aloft the cross stating “Hodie,” today, in Latin. One recurrent interpretation is that Expedito wanted an immediate end to war, thus helmet and sword are laid aside, replaced by the palm branch. The figure appears stoic, calm, and immobile; but his stance is belied by a second banner emblazoned with “Cras, Cras,” emanating from the throat of a crow being stomped under the saint’s foot. Why must the otherwise peaceable saint torment this prostate crow? Here Expedito shows his love of wordplay beyond his apt appellation. In Latin and Sicilian, the crow says “cras, cras” which means tomorrow; thus the crow is always croaking about the future. Stomping the crow, Expedite destroys the tendency to procrastinate (“St. Expedite,” http://www.armeniapedia.org).

There was no mistaking this figure-so remarkably like his New Orleans’ brother. Perhaps I would find a willing supplicant here in the largely Catholic community, especially since the whole chapel was proudly marked as St. Expedito’s. Although the pavilion beside the building seemed somewhat in disrepair, the chapel remained intact, my limited view inside yielding a neat, well organized room. I drove to the main Catholic Church office in Independence to see if I could get any information. An elderly man stopped me before I entered, sensing I needed help, and told me the name of the family who maintained the chapel-and little else. The church office had no more information for me about the chapel but did inform me that a young man had just chosen (this was 2005) St. Expedito as his patron saint.

In Independence Louisiana

Driving back toward the chapel, I noticed a well-kept wood frame house across the street. I knocked on the door, to be greeted by Mrs. Carmella Marciano, a vibrant woman in her seventies, who happily acknowledged my interest in St. Expedito. Mrs. Marciano, whose father built the chapel in the late 1940s because of St. Expedito’s help in a personal circumstance, told me of the celebrations that used to be held every second Sunday in June in honor of the saint (Marciano 2005). Food, beer, and bands converged with friends to offer homage.”

Most powerful prayer to St Expeditus. My Saint Expeditus of urgent and just causes, please intercede for me with Our Lord Jesus Christ. … Bring me back to the state of peace and tranquillity, my Saint Expeditus. I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life and I will speak your name to all those who have faith.

Sicilians Save New Orleans from Burning: April 25, 1862


New Orleans fell to Union forces on April 25, 1862.

New Orleans converts from the Confederacy to the Union in 1862

In the middle of the night of April 24, Admiral David Farragut led a fleet of 24 gunboats, 19 mortar boats, and 15,000 soldiers in a daring run past the forts.

Now, the river was open to New Orleans except for the ragtag Confederate fleet. The mighty Union armada plowed right through, sinking eight ships. At New Orleans, Confederate General Mansfield Lovell surveyed his tiny force and realized that resistance was futile.

If he resisted, Lovell told Mayor John Monroe, Farragut would bombard the city and inflict severe damage and casualties. Lovell pulled his troops out of New Orleans and the Yankees began arriving on April 25. The troops could not land until Forts Jackson and St. Phillip were secured.

They surrendered on April 29, and now New Orleans had no protection. Crowds cursed the Yankees as all Confederate flags in the city were lowered and stars and stripes were raised in their place.

After the April 24, 1862 surrender, the Italian Battalion was part of the European Brigade.

Mayor John Monroe turned to the 280 members of Italian Battalion which were part of the 1,300 member European Brigade to protect the city and prevent the fires and looting happening in Algiers.

In April 1862, during the American Civil War, flames arose from the shipyards in Algiers as Confederate officials destroyed property that might benefit the invading Union troops.

Historian John D. Winters, in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963), notes that the New Orleans populace was “‘amazed and could scarcely realize the awful fact, and ran hither and thither in speechless astonishment.’ . . . Shocked out of their dumb disbelief, many people joined in the destruction. Cotton was rolled from the warehouses, ships loaded with produce were boarded, and fire was set to the lot. Crowds of the city poor broke open warehouses and carried away baskets, bags, and carts spilling over with rice, bacon, sugar, molasses, corn, and other foods.

What they could not carry away they attempted to destroy by dumping in the river, burning, or throwing into the open gutters. A mob broke into the powder and gun factories in the Marine Hospital and carried away rifles and ammunition. The city was a frenzy of disorganized activity.”

A marker has been donated to recognize the efforts of the Italian Brigade. In September 2019 the City of New Orleans was asked to approve a location. As of March 3rd, 2020 there has been no offer of a location.

Video Playlist of St. Joseph’s Day

Home Altar for St. Joseph Day’s

Videos on home, business, and church altars. Plus a video of the St. Joseph’s Parade.

Video Playlist of Sicilian Music Contributions

Artist George Schmidt points to Nick LaRocca.

Sicilians in New Orleans played a major role in Jazz, Swing, and Rhythm & Blues. George Schmidt painted Nick LaRocca playing in 1915 on Canal Street, where he was recruited to play in Chicago and later New York.

In New York LaRocca changed the name from Jass to Jazz.

Video Playlist of Italian Sports Honorees


For 35 years the American Italian Cultural Museum has hosted a Sports Banquet to honor New Orleans and National Italians in several categories.

A video playlist of those honored was created.

Video Playlist of Sicilian influence in the Fighting Tigers


Sicilians played two major roles in the New Orleans during the Civil War. During the Italian Unification War of 1860-1861 over 12,000 Sicilians were taken as Prisoners of War. Major Wheat of New Orleans asked General Garibaldi to release 2,000 prisoners from the war to travel to New Orleans with him to fight as Confederates in what would become known as the Fighting Tigers. John Viola explains.

Video Playlist for “Little Palermo” Tour App

Over 60,000 Sicilians arrived in New Orleans between 1884-2014

AWE.News has created eight playlists of 30-minutes each on different parts the Sicilian Migration to New Orleans. The first is an introduction to Little Palermo.

Progressive Men’s Club of Monroe Louisiana

Located in east Monroe, the “PMC Club” hosted many Sicilian Community events during from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Founded 1938

For decades, the Monroe Progressive Men’s Club brought pride of ancestry, civic responsibility, hard work and American patriotism to the Italians of Monroe.

The PMC of Monroe was instrumental in the Federation with other clubs, including the Shreveport Progressive Men’s Club to the west, the Bona Fidem Fraternity in Opelousas to the south, and clubs in Alexandria and Baton for generating intense interest in Italian culture among other ethnic groups in north Louisiana.

In 1938, several members met with the idea of organizing a club which would not only be civic-minded, but would also foster the preservation of their Italian heritage.

The first convention, held in Shreveport, attracted Italian Americans from all sections of the state. It not only fused unity, but also created a compelling desire to continue cooperation among the groups.

The Club had an active Auxiliary, and, together, they have sponsored many charitable drives beneficial to the Monroe community. The club no longer exists, but the activities of Monroe Italians continue with St. Joseph’s Altars and other events.

Plans are to reform as a Lodge of the Sons and Daughters of Italy.