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The Italians in Texas constitute the sixth largest ethnic group in the state, according to figures from the U. In that year, when the total population of Texas was Many of these people arrived in the last half of the 20th century when Italian-Americans, many of them professionals and business workers, were attracted or transferred to Texas in the booming job market. However, the Italian presence in the state goes back to the earliest years of Spanish exploration.

Like Christopher Columbus himself, Italians were often in the employ of the Spanish court during that early period of discovery. Some soldiers of fortune came from northern Italy, but the larger s were from Sicily and Naples, provinces that were under the Spanish crown at various times.

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When Texas became settled territory in the late s, individual Italian merchants began to arrive. Among them was Vincente Micheli who came to Nacogdoches from Brescia.

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The older cities of San Antonio, Nacogdoches and Victoria have Italian families who date back to this period. Not until the s, however, did Italian immigrants begin to arrive in Texas in large groups.

The Montague group was from northern Italy. Never large inthey engaged in agriculture, including planting some vineyards, primarily to supply the family table, but a few small wineries operated until Prohibition.

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The Val Verde Winery managed to survive Prohibition by selling table grapes from the Qualia family vineyards. A fourth group has largely "come and gone. Between andthis coal-mining town grew to a population of 10, Now, it is a virtual ghost town, a mere exit on Interstate 20, west of Fort Worth. Although a remnant lives in Thurber's neighboring towns of Mingus and Gordon, most of the Italians of Thurber moved north to other states or back to Italy when the mines and factories closed.

Another group of Italians worked building a railroad in that was to extend from Richmond and Rosenberg to Brownsville. So many were employed that the rail line became known as the "Macaroni Line. The Brazos Valley Italians came from impoverished Sicily, specifically from the three villages of Poggioreale, Corleone and Salaparuta.

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After a period of tenant farming of cotton and corn, they began to acquire land, some of it being flood-prone bottom land that had been passed over by German and Czechs who immigrated a bit earlier. Estimates in the late s on the s of Italians along the Brazos ranged from 2, to 3, Inheavy rainfall caused severe flooding in the Brazos bottom, and some of the Italian families left the area an estimated persons for mainland Galveston County, where other Italians had begun to establish vegetable and fruit farms.

There another weather disaster, the Galveston hurricane ofcreated havoc for these Italian-Texans, damaging their farmland with the surging saltwater tide. However, the families stood fast, continuing their farming or finding employment in nearby Houston.

The pillars of Italian cultural identity in Texas have been principally food, faith and family. Valentine J. Belfiglio, in his Italian Experience in Texassays assimilationist tendencies have been strong, especially by the time the third generation arrived on the scene.

This is a phenomenon common to all ethnic groups.

But among the third-generation Italian-Texans, certain attributes have helped preserve cultural identity. First is membership in the Roman Catholic Church. This can be seen in "Italian" parishes today, such as St.

Francesco Di Paola in San Antonio and others. Also, the tradition of the St. Joseph Altar on the feast day, March 19, remains a custom in several Texas cities. On this day in Sicily, dishes of pasta, cakes and bre were placed on a specially decorated table in the church.

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The Sicilian tradition was to take the blessed food to the poor. Knowledge of the preparation of Italian cuisine and the customs that go along with the celebration of the meal — such as folk music and dance — are other important factors in maintaining Italian identity. One distinguishing dance is the tarantella, almost always part of the wedding feast. Belfiglio describes the Sicilian tarantella as "full of movement and abandon," a dance that centuries ago fused with the Spanish fandango, but performed in the Italian style without castanets and with a band playing a certain melody.

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Sometimes, however, the sole accompaniment is the rhythmic beating of the hands. The foods and folk customs are almost always shared with the family. As social historians have noted, "To all Mediterranean people, food is the symbol of life's chief medium for human beings, the family.

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Italian consciousness does not depend on any one of these attributes but a sum of all of them, gained through a shared upbringing that includes them all. It is manifested in a pride in Italian achievements, especially in art, and specifically in architecture and sculpture.

Courthouses deed by immigrated Italian architects grace many Texas county seats. Other public spaces are anchored with sculptures by Italian-Texans.

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Pre-eminent among the artists is Pompeo Coppini. Born in Tuscany inhe arrived in Austin in Oscar and Frederick Ruffini, two Genoese brothers, deed many Texas public buildings. Frederick b.

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He was the architect of 19th century courthouses in Henderson, Longview, Georgetown and Corsicana. He died during an epidemic in Austin. Oscar b.

He died in San Angelo in Other Italian artists in Texas include: John C. The festivals observed by the older Italian-Texan community consist principally of observances connected with parish events. Houston — downtown Festa Italiana in early fall, with food, tenor competition, grape-stomping contest, bocce ball tournament similar to lawn bowling played on a long narrow court of sand. The event, near Keller, is sponsored by the Festival Italian Foundation.

Pizza, pasta, Italian ices are among food specialties. Games include bocce.

Learn More. Published by tsha distributed in partnership with the university of texas at austin. Photo by Kathy Straach. Buy Now!