NEW YORK—Tracing the origins of a group that now makes up 5% of the U.S. population, a historian has uncovered documents that reveal the first Italian immigrant to reach America did so by boarding a boat on accident while she chased someone with a wooden spoon. “A ship’s manifest from 1635 records as a passenger one Concetta Di Battista, a 31-year-old Venetian woman who ran up the gangway in search of her ‘gavone’ husband, whom she intended to punish for stealing a meatball out of the pot before they had prayed 50 rosaries,” said Maria Rosati, a history professor at Columbia University, who added that a journal from the ship’s captain describes a housecoat-clad Di Battista “whacking her husband about the head with a gravy-covered spoon” before he jumped off the transatlantic vessel. “During her three months at sea, this pioneer of the Italian diaspora continuously cursed the man she referred to as ‘maiale,’ or pig, spitting as she spoke the word and occasionally knocking valuable cargo overboard with the force of her expressive hand gestures. Her historic arrival in what is now New York City was well-documented by residents, who reported hearing the expletives approaching when the ship was still two miles away from the dock.” Di Battista is believed to have spent her first year in the new land waving the wooden spoon and chasing a mouthy fisherman who whistled at her as she disembarked from the ship.
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