Immigrants in the Food Industry Part 1
Watermelon push cart on the streets of New York City circa 1940s to 1950s, Courtesy of the US National Archives.
We are in a political environment in which some are demonizing immigrants. It seems shortsighted considering our history as a nation. Some four million Italians immigrated to the Americas between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1920s. Most settled in larger cities across the United States such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans. In most instances, they lived and worked in close proximity to each other when possible they established urban food gardens similar to what they did back home. From these gardens they grew produce that they consumed and sold on stands, at markets, and on pushcarts. For many Italian immigrants selling fruit served as their first entry into local American economies. From a profitable street cart selling fruit they expanded into larger more profitable businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants. Selling food symbolized a chance to go into business for oneself and make the most of community taste. In short, for a gardener and the street vender, food produced expensively and sold at a profit could provide an avenue to increased economic opportunity.