Present Situation in the United States of America
Author: Larry Zahra
“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,
Your Huddles Masses Yearning
To Breathe Free, The Wretched
Refuse Of Your Teeming Shores,
Send These, The Homeless,
Tempest-Tossed, To Me.”
These lines were written by Emma Lazurus in 1886. They are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
The above quote has an historic meaning to all immigrants in the United States. It still warms the heart and quickens the blood of many good men.
In those days, to populate its land, America was asking Europe to send her homeless, its poor, and the unfortunate surplus of her crowded shores. Thus, it was not so strange for Malta to have found the opportunity to furnish a very minute portion of America's vast manpower needs.
History tells us that immigrants have gone to America from many countries and for a number of different reasons. Some sought freedom of worship, some freedom of the mind, other simply sought wealth.
The motive behind this sad departure of Maltese emigrants from Malta's shores was almost always poverty. However, later on after the 1950s many educated craftsmen and adventureous people migrated to America to fulfill their dreams.
It has been estimated that some came to Michigan to seek and establish a new beginning. This produced second generations that have topped the 70,000 residents in Michigan. I was one of these who came after 1950, and contributed to our second generation Maltese Americans by four children.
I have heard it is said that no one can appreciate America properly until he has seen it from an immigrant's point of view.
Well, I am an immigrant and I have, over these past forty-one years, sought to avail myself of the opportunities of the new world. To many, since this makes me such a newcomer to the States, my complete identification with the American dream, may seem presumptuous, but I know that no matter where an immigrant's seed falls in America, it make a tree which struggles to reach the sky, as my seeds, and those of many others like me, did, thank God.
Our children take a natural pride in the fact that it is there birth right to call themselves Americans, but, as I have once read somewhere only the immigrant can truly say that he chose to be an American.
Even though, in theory, Malta was subordinate to England, the mother country, the Maltese never really felt there was any question of their rights and privileges as free born people. They felt far from being subservient in spirit to the good English who were always, in fact, our friends.
Therefore, Maltese of my generation at least, never really “yearned to breathe free”. We were poor, perhaps, but never “homeless or tempest-tossed”.
Between 1897 and 1930, when uncontrolled waves of Europeans went to America, Maltese immigration to the United States was at its peak. Before this time, whenever our forefathers left Malta to seek their future elsewhere, the distant lands were often the shores of North Africa. Few journeyed farther away that the shores of the United Kingdom and the vast Australian Continent. But now, those who dared to journey across the Atlantic were destined to find their future in the United States. The gates of America stood open then, inviting all who dared.
Nearly all Maltese immigrants arrived in America in two stages, in the first two decades of the last century, and immediately after the end of World War II. There were Maltese in Detroit, Michigan before the turn of the century. One James Robinson, a native of Cospicua, Malta, was in the American Navy during the Spanish-American War of 1896. He went back to visit his mother in Malta around 1906 and the following year, returned to the United States accompanied by some friends, like Eugene Mizzi and others.
Most of the early Maltese migrants, who reached the United States before the 1920s, often came as stowaways. Most did not come to stay, as they usually had a family still in Malta, but they turned out to be real important, as they often brought back to Malta with them, stories of life in the United States that served as an impetus for future immigration to America.
The first Maltese settlers in the United States were true pioneers, who had the courage to risk the great adventure within America, and who could not count upon compatriots, who had gone there earlier, to cushion their entrance into a complex industrial land.
It is no secret that these early emigrants were not always an average slice of the island's population. In fact, of all who ever went to America from Europe, they were amongst the least well-fitted to make their way in a bustling modern society.
To make things worse, at the turn of the last century, there was a widely promoted doctrine in America that the Nordic or Aryan race, especially the Anglo-Saxons, were superior to any other. Many viewed the new immigrants of certain nationality as late-comers, who had migrated to the United States to cash in on American prosperity, while they portrayed the very first immigrants in the United States (British, Germans, Swedes etc.) as hardly pioneers who had developed the U.S.A. and had become an integral part of the nation. However, it was also thought then that some immigration of “inferior” peoples had to be tolerated, or even necessary, to perform certain menial tasks.
Thus, it was no easy matter for the first Maltese settlers to establish a beachhead in an America that believed in the superiority of the Aryan race, and was even committed then to maintain their dominance in the population.
Our compatriots, therefore, faced an unenviable task, even though they had strong muscles and good hearts, which they were prepared to give to their adopted country.
In spite of all this, however, they must have realized that they had come into a world that seemed to offer both work and security. They succeeded because they took with them to America, along with their numerous handicaps, a talent for thrift, and urge to achieve economic independence, and a fervent desire to earn for their children the education that they themselves had never been able to attain.
A Colony in Detroit
As has already been stated, because the early Maltese immigrants had only the scantiest of formal education, they were, so to speak, condemned to earn their living by the most menial tasks. Most of them huddled together in small colonies in industrial centers like Detroit, Michigan, where they knew that American industry was hungry for cheap, unskilled, physical labor.
Between 1910 and 1920, one estimate puts the number of Maltese people around Highland Park and Detroit, Michigan at about 5,000. Official census figures were not accurate then, as often, the Maltese, who had British passports, were counted with the British. Also, because so many entered America illegally, through the back door, so to speak, by jumping ships or crossing the Canadian border at night, they were never counted by the official census takers. However, it is a known fact that the Detroit Maltese group has always, even to this day, outnumbered their compatriots in New York or California.
Like any other group of new immigrants, the Maltese had started at the bottom and gradually moved up and out into the economy. As the individuals found work, the community began to gain independence, and assimilation started to take place.
The conditions of existence in a strange land led the early Maltese settlers in Detroit to come together to found fraternal societies. They developed a variety of clubs and a church, in order to meet fundamental needs common to all mankind.
These societies have provided them with a way to preserve an older love for all that is beautiful and good in the land of their origin, without diminishing their loyalty or love for America.
The first attempt to form a club in Detroit, Michigan apparently was made before 1920 by one Tony Agius, who rented a small tenement on 1430 Michigan Avenue and transformed it into a meeting place for his friends. However, the first true Maltese club was formed about 1922, and it was appropriately called the Sons Of Malta. It was situated on Howard and Third Streets. Its president was Mr John B. Spiteri, a very prominent member of the banking circles in Detroit, until his death in 1961. The primary purpose of this club was to promote a nationality soccer team, which went on to ably participate in the Detroit American Soccer League, captured the League's championship on more than one occasion, and were, for many years later, hailed as the toast of all Detroit soccer.
This club was soon followed by another which was called the Maltese Social Club, headed by Mr Joseph Fasi. It was located on Trumbull Avenue corner with Porter Street. Then, in 1928 the Ramblers were formed and they were situated on Fifth Street near Elizabeth. Later, in 1930, the St Mary's Club showed up on the scene with quarters on Trumbull Avenue.
Except for the Maltese Social Club, all the others had prominent soccer teams. However the Ramblers could not find enough Maltese players to form their team, so they recruited some Scottish and English players plus one Swede. They become “B” Division champions and “A” Division semi-finalists of the Detroit American Soccer League in 1934.
Trophies, still on display at the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc., attest to the many successes reaped by the various Maltese soccer clubs of old Detroit.
Now, at the various clubs, the old immigrant would seek and find his country-men and relatives. Here he was also afforded the occasion to fulfill his desire to maintain close ties with the homeland, the national spirit and customs, which he often upheld.
Detroit was a city of minorities then. It had people from every imagineable nationality and of various religious strains. Communities like these have enriched countless facets of American life. We, citizens of Maltese descent, are proud to have long been a small part of a community that became known as the Arsenal of Democracy and later went on to put the world on wheels.
As the Maltese community grew in numbers, the need for a nationality church became apparent. The immigrants were longing for the opportunity to have a place of their own in which to worship God according to the traditional faith and manner in which they have been reared. Thus, a church was started on Fort Street and Second Avenue by the Reverend Michael Borg of Vittoriosa.
The importance of the church in the daily lives of the immigrant flourished with the community and, within the span of three years, Father Borg took over an old church on 2219 Fourth Avenue and Plum Street in Detroit, which he re-named as “Saint Paul's Maltese”.
On Easter week in 1927, a new priest, the Reverend Michael Z. Cefai of Senglea, came upon the scene and he soon took over the duties of Pastor at the Maltese church.
The church was made possible by the common efforts and enthusiasm of all Maltese in the area, and it remained the chief glory of our compatriots over many years.
As time progressed, the church became the hub of many activities and took place in the Maltese American community of Detroit. The most popular recreation of the Maltese colony then was to attend dramatic plays in Maltese, which were often held in the church's basement. A very good dramatic company was formed, under the name of L-Indipendenza, with Father Cefai as its first director. These amateurs - Dilettanti - took their tasks very seriously and the company was very successful.
At the church, various classes in English, dress making, knitting etc. were formed to benefit the Maltese community. Boys and Girls Scouts were pioneered under the guidance of Mr Michael Gauci and Miss Mary Bartolo. Thus, the church, not only preserved and enlarged Catholic teachings at a time when the immigrants hungered for spiritual learning and help, but it often offered a real refuge from a harsh new world.
Sunday was almost always the day for the community to gather in the church to listen to sermons and lectures by the good priest.
A Sister Colony across the Detroit River
In the 1890s there were a few Maltese living in the border city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. This city across the Detroit river often served as a spring board for Maltese to join the Detroit community. They would normally cross over in search of better wages and, once they found employment, they stayed to happily augment the Detroit community.
The Maltese in Windsor, Ontario, who today number about 2,000 strong have a history of their own to relate but, because of their proximity to the larger community in Michigan, they have long-established and pleasant ties with the Maltese-Detroiters.
For example, the two communities often joined together for various social activities, such as: the annual picnic to Bob-Lo island on the feast of Santa Maria (August 15th), to keep alive, in a small way, the traditional Maltese xalata. Here we usually organized together an occasional soccer match, musical recitals and Maltese folk songs - G¹ana. We also provide timpani, pastizzi, qassatat and fniek for those who attend this occasion.
In times of emergencies, like during the Siege of Malta in World War II, joint activities were organized to raise money for the Malta Relief Fund. After the war, a committee was formed to honour George Beurling, Canada's famous fighter pilot, for his gallant part in the defense of Malta against hordes of German planes. A banquet in his honour was held at the Sheration Cadillac Hotel in Detroit.
Maltese clubs in Windsor, Ontario, date back from after World War I. At that time, veterans of the Canadian and British Armies residing in the city formed an association called Post 129 of the Canadian Legion. This Post eventually moved to Detroit in Michigan, as most of its members found work and stayed in our fair city. It was housed at the Maltese church and its leader was then Commander Dom Meilak. It became known later as Knights of Malta, Post 129, Canadian Legion.
Various other clubs were intermittently formed in Windsor. The Maltese Canadian Society of Windsor in 1952, the Malta United Soccer club in 1955 and, of course, the Malta Windsor in 1962 which was located at 716 Pelissier Avenue, under the leadership of Mr Charles Carbonaro. All these clubs aimed to help the Maltese immigrants in Windsor to find their way around in Canada.
As to be expected, some priests came over from Malta to look after the spiritual needs of the Maltese in Windsor. In 1951, a young and pleasant monk named Father A. Vella came upon the scene. In 1954 the Society of St Paul of Malta sent over Father Augustine Grech and later Father John Mizzi. Since 1960, for its spiritual needs and guidance, the Maltese community of Windsor has depended heavily upon a Father Grace Agius C.S.B. of the Assumption College, who was truly a hard worker and a prominent scholar.
Of course, a history of the Maltese in Windsor, Ontario, Canada will never be complete without a reference to the indefatigable Mr George Bonavia, past president of many of the old clubs; founder of the monthly newspaper called the Malta News, and author of many interesting books on Canada. Mr Bonavia also kept himself busy with various radio broadcasts over several Canadian networks, one of which was in the Maltese language.
The Hard Days of the Depression
With the advent of the 1929 depression, hard and heavy tidings fell upon the Maltese community in Detroit. The entire country went through a dark period of uncertainty. Although one could then buy a steak dinner for 25 cents nobody had even a dime in his pockets. From this time forward, our compatriots were to be constantly plagued with many economic problems.
Many of Detroit's factories which, in those early days, were the main source of employment and income for the hardy Maltese settlers, were the first to be affected by the depression. For many years they remained virtually idle, if not completely closed.
This had a potent bearing upon the old immigrants and they began to lose confidence in their ability to make their own way in life. Their yearning for economic betterment fell apart. Some were compelled as a matter of common sense, to go back home. Frightened and bewildered, they often turned to the clubs and the church for solace and help.
The bachelor especially, who was never able to draw support or relief from any source was often the hardest hit. Nothing in his background has prepared him for life on America's mechanized farms, the only other place where he could have possibly found employment. Not until Franklin DeLano Roosevelt was to appear on the national political scene, did our compatriots see a measure of relief from their miseries and much prolonged agonies.
In this period, the clubs and the church provided a degree of financial security, in the form of a type of insurance, by which the individual could be sure of getting some assistance from his own kind. They cooperated and started several programmes to alleviate the community's sickness costs, shoulder the burden of burial costs for their indigent members, and to pass on food and groceries to those families in need of same.
The clubs and the church also provided the emotional security of being able to work out one's problems with those that were of one's own nationality, and perhaps even had similar problems. In fact, some of these programmes remained in effect even after the end of World War II, when the Maltese American Benevolent Society, Inc. was formed, followed by the Maltese American Community Club of Dearborn.
The actual decline of factory employment was the means by which the Maltese colony in Detroit was reduced, forcing our people to spread out and to enter the American melting pot ahead of schedule, so to speak.
By the time the wheels of industry started turning again, many familiar faces were missing from the Detroit scene. Some had journeyed as far north as Shebogan, Michigan, where they had found employment as sailors on the boats, ferrying people and materials from the lower to the upper peninsular, across the Mackinaw Straits. Others had found work on the lakes, journeying on the cargo or pleasure boats plying between Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; and Duluth, Minnesota. A few found themselves involved with Dairy farming, where their own knowledge of caring for animals worked out to their advantage.
A Strong Feeling for Assimilation
The adventure of America has always been, in part, an experiment in the intermingling of people. However, assimilation never came easy.
Early American history shows that only the immigrant from Great Britain readily melted into the American population. It was, and still is, easy for them to do so, for a large part of the population in America has always been of British descent.
However, for others, Maltese included, the process of assimilation often took many years. There was always home sickness, language difficulties, traditions and a need to belong to the nationality group.
Even the recent Maltese immigrants in the United States, who are fairly educated and have a good understanding of American life, language and government, still cannot attain instant Americanization.
The early Maltese settlers in the U.S. could have had a much more difficult time attaining assimilation but for the fact that they mostly went to live in the cities of America, where an isolated folk existence was impossible. Thus, a shorter time sufficed to remove the language and culture brought with them.
Their love of wine, strange dress, alien tongue, uncouth manners, and devotion to a church which, in America, is still viewed as a “foreign church”, ruled by a “foreign potential”, were simply varieties of the Maltese immigrant's life, and hardly a set of good assets by which any group can be assured of speedy assimilation. These differences often brought pressure from the outside, making our compatriots feel unaccepted by the local population. But the early Maltese settlers in America were hard to put down. They had a strong feeling for assimilation and they persistently pressed on, until they achieved a good measure of it.
The clubs, no doubt have played their part well in the assimilation process of our compatriots. Today, our ethnic group in America, with all its complexities, is definitely a part of the main stream of American life, one of the many ingredients in the melting pot.
In the city of Detroit, one can find Americans of Maltese descent in practically all walks of life. For proof, one can look at the city's telephone directory where he will soon find lawyers, physicians, architects, engineers, priests, bankers and businessmen with Maltese last names.
Disloyalty amongst our group, either in the first or second World Wars, or even during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, has never been heard of.
Even when an occasional immigrant would go back home, once there, he would usually go through a sore trial longing for the full rich life he left behind in America. He will soon begin to miss the full freedom, the high degree of personal and political liberty, to which he had become accustomed. The noise and sounds of busy streets and factories all of a sudden become full of meaning to him and these often call him back to take up, once more, where he has left before leaving the United States.
In the rapidity and thoroughness of integration of the Maltese immigrant in the American life, the record of one John R. Gatt, originally from Mosta, Malta but now firmly of Detroit, Michigan, and his children mirrors the history of many other American families of Maltese descent. He did what many others had to do before him and since. He left Malta to seek his future elsewhere.
In the case of Mr Gatt, minor legends have grown up about his unknown years. To be sure, there are no particular fanciful tales to tell about him, but his 50 years in America complete his identification with the American dream.
It is said that he had advanced from a Machinist to a Process Engineer with the Engine and Foundry Division of the Ford Motor Company, from where he retired in 1964. He came to America in 1920, had married and raised five children, sending most of them through college.
His three daughters are all High School graduates and Shirley, though married and a mother, became a school teacher. His son Michael, was a Production Control Superintendent with the Ford Motor company while the other son Johnny, who had a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters in Business Administration, became a career officer and a Major in the United States Air Force, where he flew big B52 and 47 transports.
The most remarkable fact about Mr Gatt's story is that it is not an exceptional one. Countless others, though obscure, may have greater legends to tell.
Yes, to many of our people great riches may not have come, but life in America had been kind of pleasant to them.
Changes after the Forties
A lot of changes took place in the Maltese American community of Detroit, Michigan during the period between the end of the depression and the beginning of World War II. The hardship that the country went through over the years left our community scarred but undaunted. The clubs and the church have played a key role in keeping the community together. When the moment came for them to drop their old ways, so as to grasp to the emerging situation, they were not found wanting.
A quest for a renewed and better life was to be found everywhere then and, to stay alive in the face of new adventure and competition, our compatriots had to go wherever they knew work could be found.
The rise of greater attractions in the suburbs and the actual dispersal of factories outside of Detroit, were the means for the Maltese to join the mainstream of American life.
Many followed their friends and relatives to new suburban places where the latter had already lined up jobs for them. Some moved to Dearborn or Dearborn Heights to be in the vicinity of their employment, the River Rouge complex of the Ford Motor Company. Others moved to the Flint area where work could be found in the General Motor plants.
The effects of dispersal upon the clubs and the community became evident. Membership spread throughout Michigan as expenses to maintain the clubs increased. In addition, the call to arms following Pearl Harbor further depleted membership as our compatriots dutifully served in every theater of the war. As a result, the leaderships of the various clubs were forced to form a single club.
The Sons of Malta took the first step toward amalgamation as they joined the St Mary's Club and became known as the Maltese American Social Club. After World War II the Ramblers joined this club and the club name was changed to the Maltese Cultural Centre of Michigan. The name was again changed later to the Maltese American Benevolent Society, Inc.
During this same period, the property on which the Maltese Church was built was on the verge of condemnation. The church was so rundown that the congregation was not able to purchase insurance, a prerequisite to staying open. As a result, the church was vacated and abandoned.
At this point the Maltese Community showed great signs of wanting to remain together. They raised nearly $100,000 to rehabilitate the church but the Detroit Catholic Archdiocese opposed reviving ethnic churches and the Maltese pastor was not permitted to rebuild his church and operate it as an ethnic church.
Soon after this, the Pastor was reassigned to the Madonna church on Oakland Boulevard and Twelfth Street. Although the name was changed to Madonna and St Paul's, to give the appearance of a Maltese parish, the congregation refused this substitute and did not follow their Pastor.
However, in all fairness, it must be said that the Pastor continued his usual concern for the members of his community at large. He never failed to respond to any call made for his services, regardless from what part of the city it came from.
For all purposes, this move was the beginning of the end of the Maltese ethnic church in Detroit, Michigan which is now practically non-existent.
On his 47 years in the priesthood, Father Michael Z. Cefai spent 42 years serving the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Second Wave of the Maltese Immigrants
The second wave of the Maltese immigrants came to America soon after World War II. At that time, there again was a universal trend for emigration in Malta. The usual population explosion once more made thousands of young Maltese men feel the customary economic pressures that often lead to natural frustrations. However, this time, the new Maltese emigrant had a different character from that of his earlier counterpart. He was generally amiable and often with a higher education level and skill.
Thus, in this period, a new breed of men left Malta in quest of new homes abroad. This new wave of emigrants rapidly developed an opinion in favour of going to America and, those who could, lost no time striking out on their own, making their way across the oceans, to the land of the Brave and Home of the Free.
Indeed, it was no easy matter to go to America in those days. Unlike the earlier Maltese emigrant, who was able to draw financial support from the “Papaffy” and or the “Bugeja” foundations, when he journeyed overseas, the new emigrant could get passage assistance only from the English, Canadian or Australian governments, if he had chosen to go to their lands. I firmly believe that I was the first Maltese to go to the U.S.A. under the “Papaffy” foundation ordinance.
On the other hand, those who elected to go to America not only had to provide the entire cost of their journey, but they had also to overcome the recently introduced rules and regulations which America adopted to restrict entrance of immigrants to her shores.
The first twenty years after World War II saw many thousands of men again leaving Malta, but only 8,000 of them came to the United States. America had, for many years, regularly absorbed more immigrants from all parts of the world than any other single country. But after World War II, she abandoned her traditional policy of welcoming all comers. Though her gates where left slightly ajar, they were, for all practical purposes, virtually closed.
After three centuries of immigration, many Americans who had been quite moderate and intolerant in their attitudes, now favored a reduction in the total volume of immigration and advocated some kind of test to separate the undesirable from the desirable. Other Americans felt that they cannot open their doors to all who profess democracy. They contended that new industries and new ventures will not arise fast enough to absorb additional immigration.
Fortunately, there were those in America who believed that their country was still growing and advancing into new frontiers of industry and opportunity. Knowing that immigration has enriched America's past, these Americans believed that more immigration will enrich America's future, and a constant but regulated flow of new blood and new brains will guarantee both America's strength and democracy.
Thus, when the second wave of Maltese immigrants reached America, the prevailing atmosphere was one that made some Americans look askance at them, and all other new immigrants, of course, believing them to be a threat to the peace, prosperity and security of the land.
It is now wonder then that the new Maltese immigrant in the United States had invariably tended to seek out the regions where friends and countrymen had already settled. He would usually have, in his pockets, the address and phone number of a fellow townsman or relative who had gone to America before him, but he would, as a rule, barely have enough money to pay for his railroad fare to Detroit.
Although the new Maltese immigrant was often literate and he was, rather endowed with vigor, hope, and idealism that made him capable of consciously choosing to break old ties and to strike out for a broader freedom in a new world, he would, once in Detroit, still seek to assuage his loneliness by clustering with those he had known in the old country, at the Maltese American club.
As a rule, he would take advantage of an established education system, which America had designed for the schooling of new comers in the principles of Americanism. He was usually a good mixer, which helped his fast assimilation, yet, he was still a thrift man who, on each payday, would very carefully divide the money he had earned into two or three parts . . . one to help support his parents or family who were still in Malta; another went for his living expenses and, finally, a fraction was scrupulously deposited in a savings account.
The new Maltese immigrant was often literate. This time he was capable of publishing a community newspaper, The Malta News (from Windsor, Ontario, Canada) and put together two weekly radio programs in Maltese, one was prepared by the Editor of The Malta News, Mr G. Bonavia, which emanated from C.J.S.P., Leamington, Ontario, the other was the work of Mr Joseph Calleja, M.B.E., founder of the Malta Information Center, broadcasting from W.J.L.B., Detroit, Michigan.
For the most part, the Maltese in Michigan lived in a section of Detroit referred to as postal zone 1, 16, 26. This area is between Cass Avenue and Fourteen Street on the one hand and W. Fort Street and Grand River on the other. Before World War II, some lived on Congress and Antoine Avenue, on the other side of Woodward Avenue.
Now, however, they are well dispersed throughout the city and its suburbs but they still maintain a center of activity known as the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc. at 1832 Michigan Avenue in Detroit and the Maltese American Community Club of Dearborn.
Birth of New Clubs
History very often has a way of repeating itself. The turn for more than one Maltese club in the Detroit area came again during the early 1950s.
There were never real good reasons for anyone to go it alone, but a few, perhaps disillusioned individuals would rather switch than bear the thought that they could not obtain a firm grip on the leadership of the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc.
Of course, there were always a few genuine people who were really in search of a new identity. These few were the type who would usually prefer to get their entertainment by visiting each other's home on the weekends, rather than spend their Saturday or Sunday at the club.
Mr Joseph Fasi was one of these people. He put together an organization called the Sons and Daughters of Malta and had, as its objective, the collection of clothes, books and medicine for the poor in Malta. He formed a small committee to help him with his numerous tasks, but he almost always ended up doing most of the work himself. This organization being very much like a private personal enterprise, used to go as Mr Fasi went.
There were still some others who preferred to belong to an organization founded on strict Catholic principles. These people, under the leadership of Mr Joseph Calleja, M.B.E., formed a Militant Catholic group which they called the Malta Friendship League. The scope of this organization was to provide social and religious activities for the Maltese families in Detroit, to keep them together, and to advance their personal welfare.
Utilizing the auditorium of a nearby Catholic church, The Holy Redeemer, around which many Maltese families resided, they would often hold dinners and get together, producing several Maltese skits (farsa u makjetti) for the entertainment of their members. When Mr Calleja left Detroit to take up permanent residence in Malta, the club soon fizzled out having no leadership.
After the death of Mr Fasi in 1965, it was only natural that the Sons and Daughters of Malta joined hands with the Malta Friendship League and formed one organization, known as the Maltese American League with Mr John B. Abela as its leader.
Other small new clubs, like the American Maltese Cultural, Social Society Inc. and the Sons And Daughters Of St Paul, with Mr Joseph Mizzi as President, sprouted upon the scene, but none was ever near the size of the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc., nor did any of them ever have the participation and general support from the core of the Maltese community that the latter continuously enjoyed.
This condition led to the revival of an old idea and the formation of the Can-American Council Of Maltese Organizations. The focal point of rally came about in 1963 when it became necessary for all clubs to join hands and to promote a State dinner to honor Malta's Prime Minister, Dr George Borg Oliver, when he was visiting our city.
Since that time, the Council had as its President, Mr Paul L. Vella LL.D., of Warren, Michigan; Mr John B. Abela of Lincoln Park, Mr Joseph Mizzi of Detroit and Mr Larry Zahra.
As already disclosed, the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc. sprung out of a group of four old clubs whose membership was declining as the result of population dispersal and the call to arms during World War II. It was formed by a group of old Maltese settlers, driven by the need to forestall oblivion, about 1947.
It seemed then that the roots upon which the clubs were built, in the early years of Maltese immigration in this area, were about to perish. Leaders like James Robinson, John Spiteri, John Maistre, Joseph Fasi, Paul Portelli, John Cast, Oscar Gambin and myself who were considered the core and brains of the old Maltese American community of Detroit, combined their talents to rescue what was left of those Maltese clubs, and they succeeded to see the community through a very difficult period.
Thanks to the contribution made by each of the above leaders, and others whom I may have missed, the Maltese American Benevolent Society Inc. Today is well established - it is a haven for old and young Maltese - Detroiters alike. It still endeavors to integrate Maltese and American cultures and is concerned in preserving Maltese traditions and language, but it is much more interested to smooth the fitting - in process of Maltese newcomers to his land.
A new immigrant would, sooner or later, go to this club to learn about the thousand and one things a newcomer wants and needs to know in order to adjust himself to the American life. It is usually at the Maltese American Benevolent Society that these new arrivals from Malta meet and mix with the remnants of the old group. Thus new leaders were stepping up the pace.
Young leaders from the second wave of Maltese immigrants in Detroit, with the aid of old timers who remained active in the affairs of the community, have played a leading role in formulating a new atmosphere that was to be created over the years. It was no wonder that the other club which benefitted from new leadership was the Maltese American Community Club of Dearborn later to be known as Maltese American Community Club.
At the club, there has always been a sharp division of opinion regarding organized political activities on a domestic and national scale. Some old and young leaders acted as if they believed they are responsible for the country's foreign policies, and often allowed issues of wide public importance to pass them by.
As new leaders emerged such as Edward Carwan, president of the Maltese American Community Club and myself, who led the Maltese American Benevolent Society for eight years, they seemed to mould the opinions of members and introduce more activities for the Club such as teaching U.S. citizenship classes and rallying behind some of our more ambitious individuals who were seeking governmental offices in the Senate, House of Representatives, and other City or State appointments.
As our sons and daughters (second generation) grew they took a page from their parents, went to college, and established themselves in the corporate world as well as in government. Proud to say that one of my sons is presently Judge of the Appeals Court of Michigan. Another person with a good educational background is Elizabeth Agius (again second generation) who was just elected as a member of the Dearborn Heights City Council. She has told me that she is looking forward to using this office as a stepping stone to a higher office in the government.
The Maltese people are well regarded in Michigan and are not afraid as were some of the earlier settlers to say that they are Maltese. Even the second generation children are proud to say that they are of Maltese descent.
The Maltese of this Century are well anchored in their family life, love of country, and appreciative of their parent's heritage. As my son was being sworn in as judge with the Major of Detroit and the Governor of Michigan, looking on he said, “I owe all this to my father and mother who came from the tiny island of Malta and instilled in me values that were handed to them by their parents. Respect of other human beings, living by my Catholic faith, and striving hard to make my dreams come true. Only through hard work and love of family and their support, could I have achieved my dream”.
The future looks bright for our second generation and for any of those who want to immigrate to the U.S.A. We are no longer worried to say that we are Maltese. As a matter of fact, we are proud to say so since we are recognized as hard working people, achievers, and community minded.
Unfortunately, the door for immigration to the United States from Malta is almost totally shut. Only if one can be hired in advance by some corporation for a job, that could not be handled by a local person, is he given a visa to the United States.