the Italian issue

J oseph P. Rouse immigrated to America from Sardinia, Italy’s second largest island, in 1900. He arrived at Ellis Island, New York, accompanied by his parents, Anthony and Marie, and an older brother. He was barely one. The Rouses were part of the New Immigration of Italians. That period between the 1880s through 1920s saw the arrival in America of more than four million mostly southern Italian immigrants who’d left their homeland in search of work and a better life.Many arrived wide-eyed and anxious, having left family back in their Italian homeland. The Port of NewOrleans was amajor gateway for Italian immigrants. Sicilians had been coming to New Orleans in significant numbers since the 1830s.New Orleans was America’s second biggest port for the Sicilian citrus fruit trade. Many immigrants were fruit traders who set up shop on Decatur Street working as produce merchants and brokers. But the Sicilians and Sardinians and other southern Italians who arrived around the turn of the century were not citrus traders; they were poor immigrants escaping corruption and danger in a newly unified Italy. Some were financed by padrones (labor bosses) in Italy who served as middlemen for Southern plantation owners looking for inexpensive labor. Nearly three-quarters of those who arrived during the New Immigration were farmers and laborers. Those whose passages to America were paid by padrones went to work in the cane fields of South Louisiana. The New Immigration by Marcy, Rouses Creative Director

[LEFT] Circa 1906. Decatur Street in the New Orleans French Quarter [RIGHT] Vintage photos of Ponchatoula Strawberry farmers

Sugarcane was the main crop in Louisiana, but the lumber business was significant in areas like St. Tammany. And there was money in vegetables. Italian truck farms operated all over the West Bank of New Orleans, Harahan, Little Farms (now River Ridge) and St. Bernard Parish, growing herbs, beans, peas, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and cardoon, which are similar to artichokes.The produce was trucked to New Orleans public markets where Italian farmers sold wholesale. Lauricella Family Farms and Picone Family Farms were two of the larger tracts in what is now Harahan. Kenner was mostly farmland. Produce grown in Kenner’s “Green Gold” fields was ferried to the French Market via the OK Street Car Line, which ran between New Orleans and Kenner from 1915 to 1928. Many Italians settled in Kenner, buying land and raising families.The city still has a large Italian population and still celebrates St. Rosalie, the patroness of Palermo, with a procession every September. A teenage J.P. Rouse got a job at a truck farm in Marrero raising potatoes and cabbages. The railroads helped immigrants establish Italian communities all over the Gulf Coast. The New Orleans to Jackson route of the Great Northern Railroad went straight through Tangipahoa Parish, the heart of Louisiana’s strawberry industry. Newcomers settled in cities and towns like Ponchatoula, Independence, Amite and Hammond. By 1910, so many Sicilians inhabited Independence it became known as “Little Italy.” The name still resonates today —



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