Forgiven, not Forgotten: the Detainment of Italian Americans in WWII

Buried in the pages of U.S. history, we explore the nation's treatment of immigrants in wartime.

The following article, written by Laura Smith, appears on

The shameful treatment of Italian immigrants during WWII shows America’s propensity for xenophobic hysteria

Their movements were restricted, their homes raided; in some cases, they were interned

The men in suits were at the Maiorana family’s Monterey, California, home again. Mike, the family’s young son, watched as the agents rummaged through their belongings in search of guns, cameras, and shortwave radios. And again, they found nothing.

This was during World War II, and the FBI had declared Mike’s mother an “enemy alien.” The sole source of evidence for this allegation was that she was Italian. Elsewhere in California, an Italian poet’s work was scrutinized for treachery, and a father was hauled off by the FBI, leaving his wife and ten children without a breadwinner for four months. In New York, an Italian opera singer was thrown in prison without charge and just as unceremoniously released.

Related article: Internment of Italian Americans

Hundreds of Italian mariners who had been stranded in U.S. waters by the start of the war were loaded into Army trucks and hauled to an internment camp in Missoula, Montana, where some would remain for years.

It was a distinctly American story, revealing the immigration system’s xenophobic through line. Poverty-stricken immigrants who were hated one day were approved of the next, only to be replaced by another allegedly dangerous immigrant group, all under the guise of national security.

As beloved as Italian cuisine, sports cars, and fashion are on our shores today, things were different during the first half of the 20th century, especially during WWII. Swept up in xenophobic hysteria, Italians’ movements were restricted, their homes raided; in some cases, they were interned. Continue reading at

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