Italian food and culture helped shape the history of Cook County

By Iacopo Luzi

According to the last U.S. census, 18,000 Italians live in Cook County. That number includes Italian immigrants and Italians born in the United States. The group makes up the second largest European population in Cook County, just after the Polish.

Giuseppe Quercia, from Naples, Campania, moved to the United States in 1968 with his family. Today he owns Freddy’s Pizzeria, in Cicero. Every day a line of costumers forms at his pizza business to buy his Italian food, but life in America wasn’t always easy for him.

Quercia recalls arriving in Chicago without speaking a word of English. Despite years of dealing with prejudice and stereotypes, he was eventually able to buy Freddy’s Pizzeria. It was a huge accomplishment, considering he originally started working there as a 13 year old shop boy.

“I was able to take orders, but if I had had a discussion, I would have been lost”, says Quercia.

Giuseppe Quercia’s Italian immigrant story is just one of many in Cook County. Since the beginning of the 19th century, Italians contributed to growth of the region, thanks to their culture and particularly, their passion for good food.

Giuseppe Quercia shows one of his specialties: the Margherita Pizza (Iacopo Luzi/MEDILL)