Most ethnic Romanians from the Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian Empires and the state of Romania came as laborers and peasants and sought work wherever they could find it in North America. In the United States, they were attracted mainly to the industrial cities of the North, most prominently Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. In Canada, peasants found opportunities to homestead on the prairies of what are now Saskatchewan and Alberta. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 367,310 Americans and 131,830 Canadians claimed Romanian ancestry. By 2000, Romanians were widely spread throughout North America. In the 1990s, New York, Los Angeles, and Ontario were replacing the older areas as most favored areas of settlement.
Romania occupies 88,800 square miles in southeast Europe on the Black Sea. It is bordered on the north and east by Ukraine, on the east by Moldova, on the west by Hungary and Serbia and Montenegro, and on the south by Bulgaria. In 2002, the population was estimated at 22,364,022, with 89.1 percent of the population being Romanian, and 8.9 percent, Hungarian. More than two-thirds are adherents of the Romanian Orthodox Church; Roman Catholics and Protestants each make up about 6 percent of the population. Romanian tribes first created a Dacian kingdom that was occupied by the Roman Empire between 106 and 271. During that time, the people and their language were Romanized, setting them apart from the Slavs and Magyars who lived in surrounding areas. The foundation of the modern state structure was laid in the 13th century, particularly in the regions of Moldavia and Walachia, two principalities that were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire early in the 16th century. The western region of Transylvania, occupied by Romanians, Magyars, and Germans, formed a borderland between the lands of the Muslim Ottoman conquest and the Austrian and Hungarian lands of Christian Europe. Moldavia and Walachia were united to form Romania in 1863, and became fully independent in 1878. As an ally of Nazi Germany in World War II (1939–45), Romania lost considerable territory, including northern Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Trans-Dniestria. Falling under Soviet cold war domination, Romania’s economy deteriorated until it became one of the poorest countries in Europe. The country of Moldova, independent since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, was essentially the old Romanian province of Bessarabia, and its people, mostly Romanians.
The first Romanians to immigrate to North America were Jews who came between 1870 and 1895 from Moldavia; Bessarabia, then under Russian control; or Bukovina, under Austrian control. Their numbers were small, but they did establish the basis for a permanent settlement in what would become Saskatchewan, in Canada. Between 1905 and 1908, they were joined by more than 200 additional homesteaders, brought to the area by Maurice, baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Society. The first significant immigration in both the United States and Canada came between 1895 and 1920. During that period, it is estimated that more than 80,000 Romanians immigrated to the United States. Exact figures are difficult to determine, as most statistics were based on country of origin, which most often would have been Austria, Russia, or Hungary. Even after World War I (1914–18), with the creation of an expanded Romania, pre–World War I borders were frequently used to determine classification. Nevertheless, most Romanians came as single men intending to earn money and then return home, and the rate of return migration was high. Most were unskilled and found work in iron, steel, auto, and meatpacking industries of the U.S. North and Midwest. The Canadian experience in this period was very different, with most coming from peasant backgrounds in Transylvania and settling in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Exact numbers are difficult to determine, as the majority of Romanians actually emigrated from lands controlled by the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman Empires. As settled farmers, Canadian Romanians tended to stay in North America. By 1921, there were about 30,000 Romanians in Canada.
In the aftermath of World War II (see World War II and immigration), thousands of “Forty-eighters” arrived as refugees. About 10,000 were admitted to the United States under provisions of the Displaced Persons Act (1948). Most were relatively well educated and staunchly anticommunist, with a large percentage of professionals among them. Most settled in the industrial heartland, especially in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and the mid-sized industrial towns of Ohio and western Pennsylvania. During the long years of communist rule, emigration was difficult, but with the fall of the communist regime in 1989, Romanians again began to immigrate to North America, mainly seeking economic opportunities. Between 1990 and 2002, average annual Romanian immigration to the United States was about 5,000. The movement was proportionately much greater to Canada. Of the 60,165 Romanian immigrants in Canada in 2001, more than 58 percent of them (35,170), came between 1991 and 2001. Many of them came from Yugoslavia’s Vojvodina region, fleeing persecution and civil war.
See also Austro-Hungarian immigration; Russian immigration; Yugoslav immigration.