The few Italians who came to Texas during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries were mainly explorers, adventurers, or missionaries. Between 1880 and 1920, however, the immigration to Texas increased from a trickle to a flood as Italians journeyed to the state to escape the deplorable social and economic conditions then existent in their native land. In 1870 there were 186 Italians resident in Texas. By 1920 their numbers had swelled to 8,024. The immigration was part of a movement of Italians to the wider region; many others also settled in and around New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast formed one of the principal centers for Italian immigrants. The immigrants' primary goal was to provide a higher standard of living for themselves and their families. Sicilians settled in the lower Brazos valley and on the Galveston County mainland, while Piedmontese established homes in Montague County. Meanwhile, Modenese, Venetians, and Piedmontese worked the rich coal mines at Thurber, and Lombards helped to construct the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway, the "Macaroni Line," between Victoria and Rosenberg. Eventually, Italian settlements developed in Houston, Galveston, and San Antonio. A few men provided the initial direction or focus of the immigration, and other pioneers acted upon their advice. Later, railroad and steamship advertisements and notices published in the Italian-language press supplemented letters and word-of-mouth information. Italian Texans learned to grow cotton and corn on Texas soil, to speak the English language, and to adapt to their new environment. They purchased land, opened businesses, and acquired a degree of geographic mobility. Virtually all were farmers, miners, or unskilled laborers. A majority of the earliest migrants were males between the ages of fourteen and forty-four. The largest concentration was located in the Brazos valley. The initial Sicilian settlements expanded along the river, and then fanned into the surrounding communities. Most of the Italians living in Thurber and in Victoria County returned to Italy or moved to other places in America when their services were no longer needed in the coal mines or in railroad construction. The pillars supporting the Italian communities that remained in Texas were the immigrant church, the Italian-language press, and the benevolent-fraternal organizations. Each of these institutions had its origins in Europe. Yet each was formed and then constantly changed in Texas. Italian settlers mined coal, worked to construct railroad networks, opened small businesses in urban areas, and contributed to the agricultural development of the state. Among them were gifted artists-sculptor Pompeo Coppini, for instance, and noted bootmaker Sam Lucchese. Parks, airports, streets, and communities bear the names of prominent Italian immigrants, among them Bruni Park in Laredo, named for Antonio Mateo Bruni; Varisco Airport in Bryan, named for Biagio Varisco; Liggio Street in Dickinson and Laneri Street in Dallas; and Varisco and Bruni, Texas. In 1980, 189,799 residents of Texas claimed Italian descent.
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Valentine J. Belfiglio, The Italian Experience in Texas (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983). Valentine J. Belfiglio, "The Sicilians of the Brazos Valley, Texas," Journal of Regional Policy 1 (January-March 1986). The Italian Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1973).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Valentine J. Belfiglio,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 30, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
October 1, 1995