Independence, "Little Italy" of Louisiana was created as a result of the New Orleans to Jackson route of the Great Northern Railroad in the 1880's. Sicilian Italian families searching for a place to settle in the 1880's were attracted by the thriving strawberry industry of the area. Independence slowly became a predominately Sicilian Italian Community. It is more diverse culturally today but is still characterized by its excellent Sicilian Italian Cuisine and its hard working and friendly people.
In the 1890’s, many thrifty southern Italians (primarily Sicilians) eventually purchased land in the Independence area, extending north toward Amite and south toward Hammond. Early difficulties in assimilation strengthened the close community bonds among these Sicilian-Italians in Tangipahoa Parish. The religious and secular traditions and rituals served to keep the community close.
Independence Italians continued to operate strawberry farms, and by 1905, Independence had become Louisiana’s primary shipping center for strawberries. By 1910, Italians and their children represented the majority of the town’s population. Expanding their endeavors beyond berry farming, the Italians invested in businesses, small factories, and in an electric power plant. They also took an active role in the creation of strawberry farmers’ associations, working with other Sicilians and Native Americans, which helped Louisiana to become the leading strawberry-producing state throughout the 1920s.
The Sicilian Italians of Independence continued to observe many aspects of traditional Sicilian life. One of the ways in which a sense of community was preserved was with the establishment of mutual aid societies that assisted the new citizens in adjusting to American life. These groups were politically active and advocated for such things as new transportation routes, and they also served as springboards for Italians who wished to enter public life. Huey Long’s tenure saw the largest increase of Italian and other “ethnic” politicians in Louisiana, and during this time Independence politicians moved from positions such as aldermen and mayors, police jurors, and school board members to become state representatives and to move further into the political mainstream.
Many of Independence’s younger Italian Americans find it necessary to move to nearby Hammond, Baton Rouge, or New Orleans for professional reasons, but family and religious gatherings draw them back home on weekends.
Aside from family gatherings, Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church is the primary place where Italian families gather in Independence. In addition to its regular mass schedule, the church sponsors social and community events. A number of other organizations boast a sizeable number of Independence citizens of Italian descent. The Knights of Columbus, which comprises a men’s club and a ladies’ auxiliary, sponsors monthly family social events. The American Legion Hall hosts holiday and special events, and its members observe special occasions, such as Memorial Day, as a group. The Chamber of Commerce is also an active organization within the community.
(The above information was taken largely from the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program. For more information or to view the full project, visit: http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/Italians.html)