The Mafia Stereotype - rates in the 1920s and 1930s •...

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The Mafia Stereotype • The most persistent Italian American stereotype has been the image of serious criminality. As early as the 1870s, Italians were depicted as lawless, knife-wielding thugs looking for a fight. One report of the influential U.S. Immigration Commission, issued in the early 1900s, argued that certain types of criminality were “inherent in the Italian race.” • However, the validity of the criminality stereotype is disputed by government data. In 1910, the imprisonment rate for Italian immigrants was much lower than public stereotypes would suggest: 527 prisoners per 100,000 for the Italian-born, compared with 727 for the English and Welsh foreign-born. • Although the Sicilian word Mafia has been used to describe organized crime, many of these gangsters have been neither Sicilian nor Italian. Significantly, Italian Americans had low crime
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Unformatted text preview: rates in the 1920s and 1930s. • Small-scale crime, fostered by poverty and discrimination, was a problem in most central city communities, but it usually did not involve a criminal conspiracy. Prohibition catapulted some Italian Americans into organized crime, which at the time was controlled by Irish and Jewish Americans. By 1940 two dozen Italian American “crime families” were operating in major cities. For many immigrant groups, including Italian Americans, such crime has been one of the only avenues for economic mobility. • Reports in the 1990s indicate that, except in a few New York City and Chicago areas, the power of Italian American “crime families” had declined significantly. Current FBI statistics show that only 4 percent of the 500,000 Americans estimated to be involved in organized crime belong to Italian American crime networks....
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  • Fall '10
  • Bernhardt
  • Immigration to the United States, Italian Americans, U.S. immigration commission, Italian American stereotype

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