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CONVENTION  2000 - Part One

From as far as, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, United Kingdom, France, Corfu, they came to assemble at Dar I-Emigrant on Monday 24th January 2000. This was for registration to participate in the CONVENTION OF LEADERS OF ASSOCIATIONS OF MALTESE ABROAD AND OF MALTESE ORIGIN. This was the beginning of a long awaited and longed for dream for the now ageing Maltese Migrant to establish some consensus from the little Mother Island that they left and overgrown its population some four times over.

The buzzwords were "Why shouldn't we be counted." We have contributed economically and otherwise, and many of us paid a heavy price, through hardship, separation, isolation and language barriers to make room for those left behind. "The safety valve" was the term used to describe the mass migration that took place in the fifties soon after the end of the Second World War. The exchange of personal cards and stories that were to follow shrunk this unique globally spread species to almost a small family, reuniting after a long holiday. Everyone seemed to have some connection somehow. Whether they went to the same college or knew a relative, one soon realised that the stock came from a very singular root. It also started to emerge that whatever side of the hemisphere one got settled in, our needs were much the same.

Official Opening of the Convention
The opening ceremony took place on Tuesday 25th January at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. After the introduction addressed by the Chairman of the Convention, Mr George N. Busuttil, messages from the delegate countries' High Commissioners and Embassies were read. His Grace Mgr Joseph Mercieca, Archbishop of Malta stated that when Maltese and Gozitans went searching for new pastures in other lands, the Church in Malta toiled relentlessly to be with them and among them. "We Maltese, wherever we are in the world, should not be afraid to show who and what we are," he said. "Whatever the cultural currents and lifestyles we face or find ourselves in, we should have the courage to lead a life according to the values we believe in and which are part of our identity as a people."

Following His Grace, His Excellency Professor Guido De Marco, The President of Malta, in his opening statement, addressed the delegates, saying that the Maltese associations in different countries were crucial to ensuring that the Maltese identity remained a living reality beyond our shores. He believes that such associations are best placed to continue the partnership between Malta and the Maltese communities abroad.

First Session - Maltese Connections Overseas:

The topic was:

  • History of Emigration

The renowned historian Fr Lawrence E. Attard delivered the Keynote address in which he traced the history of Maltese migration. He said that up to 1798, Malta was a prosperous state under the Sovereign Military Order of St John and work in the construction industry or in the Order's Navy was abundant. However, the arrival of Napoleon in 1798 changed everything and within the space of two years, the Maltese islands became mere dots in a vast Empire ruled by the Colonial Office in distant London.

The first large-scale migrations were to North Africa in the early 19th century when the French expansion in what would later be known as Algeria and Tunisia gave an opportunity for Europeans to settle and work hard. The Maltese also left in their thousands and by 1900 their community in Algeria numbered 15,000 while that in Tunisia was of around 7,000.

Even greater was the presence of the Maltese community in Egypt. At one time, when the Suez Canal was opened in the 19th century, it reached 20,000. All these communities were however forced to leave by the subsequent Islamic rulers of these countries, and they ended up in the United Kingdom and France. At about the same time, more intrepid Maltese settlers ventured into more distant lands.

Apart from two abortive attempts at Maltese settlement in Brazil and Argentina in the 1920s and after the Second World War, migration to South America was almost non-existent. Some Maltese had arrived in Canada and the US during the 19th century but it was only in the post-war years that migrants started to pour in by the thousand. The same could be said of Australia, when the floodgates of migration were opened after the 1948 Passage Assistance Agreement by which a Maltese could travel to Australia forjust £10. Between 1946 and 1974, over 137,000 left Malta but the trend then underwent a rapid decline and came to a virtual stop by the 1990s.

Other delegate speakers delivered their speeches in turn, on the history of emigration and the present situation that related to their individual country or state.

These were:

Mr Mark Caruana
Mr Richard Cumbo
Mr Bernard Scerri
Mr Larry Zahra
Mr Ivan Magri Overend
Mr Jean Pierre Zammit
Mr Pierre Dimech
Ms Rose Godfrey
Mr Alfred Flask
- Australia
- Canada
- U.K.
- U.S.A.
- Maltese of Egypt
- Maltese of Tunes
- Maltese of Algeria
- New Zealand
- Australia

Mark Caruana, quoted from Dr Barry York's book "The Maltese in Australia" that - The Maltese in Australia have succeeded in Australian society largely because of dedicated, selfless and frequently unacknowledged efforts of individual and  community groups.  A few are here today but many, many more are not. It must therefore be acknowledged that through their individual and community efforts, Maltese in Australia have retained their sense of identity and love for their ancestral home.

Richard Cumbo spoke on the present situation in Canada. The Maltese have been coming to Canada for over a  hundred years, he said. Although they came to a society and climate that was completely opposite to what they were used to, through hard work, determination and perseverance they overcame many obstacles. The Maltese-Canadian community thrived and many prospered both financially  and academically. Now that Maltese migrants are not coming to Canada on a great scale, because of the solid foundation set by the early Maltese pioneers, the present community has a good foothold and a Maltese presence is felt in Canada, especially Toronto.

Bernard Scerri delivered his speech on this subject, emphasising that unlike Australia and Canada, records for the UK, are almost non-existent, that he had to base this paper on personal experience and that of friends. While the initial interest of the Maltese migrant in the UK was mainly to better their livelihood, and integrate in a British way of life, it was soon established that other engrossment in our culture and traditions were badly missed. He stated that many community leaders, in the past had made attempts to organise the Maltese culturally in the UK. Most of these had failed. The Maltese Culture Movement, formed some two years ago had so far succeeded, by responding to the demands of the Maltese community in a cultural and traditional way. He humorously described the scene of Maltese rushing towards the pastizzi stand at one of their Imnarja functions, like that of a stampede. So great was the longing for these traditions that it was almost frightening. He emphasised on the need for more of these events and concluded that the Maltese know what is good and always seek the best. Entertainment in the UK comes to a very high standard and as such our functions as traditional as they may be, have to meet the same standards or be bettered.

Larry Zahra, observed how the early Maltese settlers had to struggle as the Maltese were not recognised in the American society. And how the process of assimilation for most Maltese often took many years. How the property on which the Maltese church sat was condemned and the church abandoned. He said that in spite of raising nearly $100,000 to rehabilitate the church, Fr Michael Z. Cefai, the Maltese pastor was not permitted to rebuild and operate his ethnic church. Highlighted also was, that  the second wave of immigrants that travelled to America soon after World War II, could no longer draw financial ' support from the `PAPAFFY' and/or the `BUGEJA' foundations. Only those who migrate to England, Canada or Australia could get passage assistance from those relative countries. He concluded that the Maltese people are well respected and are not afraid to say they are Maltese as some of their earlier settlers were. And in an emotional statement he quoted his son's words as he was being sworn in as a Judge, "I owe all this to my father and mother who came from the tiny Island of Malta and installed in me the values that were handed to them by their parents".  The Maltese are now recognised as hard working people, achievers, and community minded.

Ivan Magri-Overend representing the Maltese of Egypt started by a reference to a French-Gozitan writer, Laurent Ropa, who in 1936 developed the first idea of a Federation of Maltese Associations Overseas. He described the changing mentality of a female migrant character, KALINE, who at first abandoned her Maltese origin and felt ashamed of it, but later returned to her root culture and became enthusiastic about being linked to Malta, her home country. Many emigrated Maltese have repeated this attitude in the past, but in more recent times the remaining Maltese abroad are demonstrating closer ties with their country of origin. Like Kaline, they now feel the need to come together and be identified as a Maltese population overseas.

In his paper Mr Magri-Overend covered all those Maltese who in the past four centuries were driven out of Malta and Gozo either as captives of conflicts or for voluntary settlement in mainly French-speaking dominations or localities. These date back from 1429 onwards. Some of the known places of stopover or settlement were Corsica, Gibraltar, Lampedusa, Linosa, Lampione, Pantelleria, Greece, Corfu, Cephalonia, Crete, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, North and Central Africa, Alexandria, Tripoli, Tunisia, Algeria and, of course, France. In some of these places the Maltese were in great numbers. As a French-speaking person himself, Mr Magri-Overend gave his own experiences when holding the position of co-ordinator and organiser of the Associations of Maltese in Egypt until the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 when the then colonised Maltese settlers were driven out of the country and settled in either France or the United Kingdom. With so many nostalgic memories of the past and the unceasing love for his motherland, the delegate concluded his intervention with a rhymed verse, which he sang in Maltese to the applause of all the convention delegates. This is how it went:

Hares lejna Malta Taghna
Ahna Ulidek nitolbuk
Ghalkem ahna il-boghod minnek
Bqajna dejjem inhobbuk.

Jean Pierre Zammit, for the Maltese of Tunisia explained how in their youth they communicated in French, and Maltese was only spoken within the family. The second generation could understand Maltese but would speak it less and less. As it went through generations it was looked at, as the old people's language, until it was reduced to the occasional saying or nursery rhyme or a prayer... Santa Barbara la deni u la hsara! Now as grandparents ourselves, vague are the memories of our grandparents' culture. The tale of GAHAN carrying the door on his back is probably the most remembered folklore. We never forget the ricotta pies and pastizzi! But is that all what is left from our inheritance? He went on describing the activities in their community are directed towards promoting Malta, the Maltese people and Maltese traditions. These activities are run by volunteers in their fifties and over, however, they are pleased that younger people are showing great interest in the country of their ancestors Malta and Gozo. He said, "Malta will always have a special place in our hearts and ended by shouting: "Viva Malta u I-Maltin!"

A message from Pierre Dimech representing the Maltese of Algeria was, that while he is of French nationality and has been living in France for the last 40 years he is practically 100% of Maltese origin. He expressed his opinion that the cultural question of assimilation is of more importance than that of nationality. He went on explaining that educational factors in the `frenchifying' process of most of the European Community of Algeria, and circumstances in communications and loss of direct ties with relatives in Malta, have led to the present state. He concluded that today those descendants of early Maltese from Algeria who had to leave after the country became an Arab and Islamic state are living in France, of which they are loyal citizens, but whose past is not quite theirs. They still remember their Maltese forefathers and hoped that they can be recognised as genuine children of Malta. He ended by pleading to this convention "to renew our ties with our Maltese roots."

Alfred Flask read a paper prepared by Dr Barry York. He stated that 1983 Maltese communities around Australia celebrated the centenary of the first organised and subsidised large group of migrants from Malta to Australia. It read: "it was no coincidence that the upsurge in active interest in Maltese-Australian history occurred in the 1980's. It wasn't until the1980s that Maltese settlers, who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, could afford the luxury of research. The fact that in 1988, Australia was celebrating two hundred years of European settlement further prompted the Maltese communities to look into their own part in Australian history and society."

END OF FIRST SESSION

The day was rounded up with an evening SOIREE at Manoel Theatre with the Maltese vocalists Joseph Aquilina (Tenor), Anita Cauchi (Soprano) and Alfred Camilleri (Bass), who sang various operatic arias with accompanied by the pianist Ms Simone Attard. The programme was embellished with a Maltese children's choir known as Cantores Sancti Juliani conducted by Miss Elvia Agius, who performed a selection of religious pieces for harmonic voices to the thrilling delight of the audience who applauded the talented singers with great enthusiasm and appreciation. In brief, this was a demonstration of Professional Malta today.

The President of Malta, His Excellency and Mrs Guido De Marco attended as the Guest of Honour.

The Convention lasts over ten days, and each day was filled with lectures from distinguished speakers, delegates, discussions and debates, and official visits to dignitaries. It marked the getting together as one Maltese nation of people from many parts of the world.

It is therefore essential that we present our readers with a full report of the proceedings of this very important Convention. Each session developed one or more aspects of migrant issues, which required an extensive explanation and study of the current situation concerning the people who emigrated from Malta over the years.

These sessions included the following subjects:

In view of the above-said we have decided to incorporate further details and reports from the Convention in the next issues of our Magazine. This will ascertain that we are tackling themes and topics that are of paramount importance to us as migrants outside our native country - MALTA. We are certain that you shall look forward to our next production of this magazine with many more items of concern to you.

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