By the end of January 2021, when Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States, Jill Biden will be the first Italian-American First Lady in history. Local historian Antonia Federico said Jill Biden’s great-grandfather was from the village of Gesso, in the city of Messina, northeastern Sicily. He emigrated to America in 1900 and changed his surname Giacoppo to Jacobs to be “more like American”.
“Finally there was good news that got us excited. Biden’s victory was a great event, it brought us something positive and interesting to talk about, as well as plans for the future.” Says Federico, who has spent 10 years studying Jill Biden’s genealogy. He also hopes that one day, Jill will visit the village.
With the victory of the Biden family, people hope this is an opportunity for Gesso to appear stronger on the world tourist map. They also expect tourists to flock here to travel after the pandemic is under control, travel restrictions have been lifted and the local economy restored.
The village on top of a hill dates back to the 1500s. Gesso’s location is considered stunning with a view of the Strait of Messina.
Giusy Curcio, head of the tourism promotion agency “Visit Gesso” and colleagues are planning to launch new activities related to the “Biden” theme. One of them was a tour to visit the Jacobs house in the village with a guide. This house was abandoned for a long time and in ruins. People can also take part in hiking in the mountains, in caves near the Jacobs house or take part in a chalk-making class … Because in Italian, Gesso means chalk.
Travel agency Discover Messina is running package tours called “Biden” for visitors to Gesso and neighboring villages. Visitors can visit the home of Jill Biden ancestors and the home of other migrant families. End of the tour is a program to enjoy the local specialties.
“The US election has come as a blessing. Covid-19 has dealt a heavy blow to the tourism industry. We are experiencing a moment of excitement. Through Gesso, the whole world is heading to Messina. Greatness from America has sparked enthusiasm, sparking hope for better days to come, “said Giacomo Chillé – of Mr. Discover Messina.
Gesso’s village museum displays ancient Sicilian puppets and masks, agricultural artifacts and a collection of ancient musical instruments. Locals hope that the festivals in the village will also attract visitors. For the sweet-toothed traveler, the village fairs are an ideal location. You can visit for a tubular cannoli filled with cheese and pine nuts, pignolata ice cream and chocolate cake.
After Joe Biden became deputy general under President Obama in 2009, Federico had heard Jill Biden say her origins were in Italy. Then, he turned to the Jacobs family file from Ellis Island, USA and confirmed that Domenico Giacoppo had emigrated from Gesso to America with his parents, siblings when he was a child. More than a century later, the village with about 500 inhabitants became famous on the world map. Reporters flocked here, wove in the town’s alleys and squares, chasing any of Biden’s distant relatives for interviews. Tour operators work hard to organize special events, historic site tours associated with the Jacobs (or Giacoppo) family.
Sicily is being partially frozen after a second wave of Covid-19 broke out in Italy. Residents are asked to stay indoors, and during these dark days, potential visitors from the US are a spark of hope for the villagers of Gesso.