Maltese migrants – a study in integration?

An edited version of this post was uploaded on The Times of Malta.

This might come as no surprise to those of you who follow my posts on a semi-regular basis, but I greet the results of the latest survey about migration with much scepticism.

The majority of Maltese, we are told, do not believe that migrants pose any threat to our way of life. Almost half, the results continue, do not think that there are too many refugees and migrants arriving in their communities. You can read all about it here: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120710/local/migrant-s-death-accused-granted-bail.428012.

As my grandmother used to say when faced with a fishy situation, “qual’cosa non quadra”.

Judging by what I see and hear around me every day, the above results are extremely mind-boggling. Without wanting to throw bad light on the UNHCR survey in any way, these two findings simply do not make sense. Not when you actually talk to the people in the street on a regular basis.

On the street, the collective voice is pretty strong and undivided: most people I speak to have an almost obsessive fear that the migrants are “too many” for Malta (whatever that may mean) and that they will change our culture and identity.

Like I said in one of my previous posts, most Maltese I know will happily and shamelessly declare that they are “most certainly not racist”. The problem is that they will always finish off with a “but”. And this is exactly what seems to have happened with this survey.

“We are not racist.”

“We do not think that they will steal our jobs.”

“We do not think they will affect our cultural identity.”

All very positive and encouraging results, you will agree. Then you move on to the “but” part of the survey.

“But they should pay taxes.” (What does that have to do with anything?)

“But they should change their ways to be more like us.”

“But they won’t settle successfully in Malta because of their different culture.”

The rest of the findings are certainly no cause for joy. Having half the population (46% to be precise) stoutly believe that a migrant can’t integrate in our society simply because of  a “different culture” would be risible if only it didn’t reflect so shamefully on us.

The shame increases a thousand-fold when you consider that this is coming from a nation whose people emigrated to places like Australia, England and Canada in the 1960s.

All those migrants had no problem “settling successfully” in their new country, of course. Because the lifestyle in Qormi (to pick a place) in 1969 can’t have been too different from that in Soho, right? Or Melbourne. Or Toronto.

When the Maltese left our shores en masse, I’m pretty sure that the culture shock for them was as strong as it was for the people hosting them. And yet, somehow they managed, because if that’s what it takes to survive that is what you do.

And the host countries didn’t kick them out either, not on the basis of introducing cholesterol to the local cuisine through greasy pastizzi. Not even on the basis of taking precious jobs.

They weren’t even kicked out – and this is the most significant – on the basis that the mindset of the average Maltese paterfamilias (women didn’t count) four decades ago was likely to constitute a threat to that country’s significantly more sophisticated, democratic and evolved culture.

58% believe that migrants should “change their ways to be more like other Maltese citizens”.  Again, because that is exactly what the Maltese migrants of yesteryear did, right?

Okay let’s cut the sarcasm here and shoot it like it is: older Maltese migrants typically constitute the most spectacular case of failing to “change their ways” to be more like the nationals of their host country.

We all have relatives in Canada/Australia/wherever and we have all experienced the phenomenon. The older generation – as opposed to the offspring who were born in the new country and who probably don’t think of themselves as anything but Canadian/Australian/whatever – remained very Maltese.

They remained attached to their small-village rituals, to their pastizzi, to their band clubs. They kept themselves to themselves and didn’t mingle much with the locals. You know, in case some bad habit rubbed off on them.

And yet, they were welcomed, they were given jobs and they were allowed to prosper.

Can’t we extend the same kindness to the migrants of the 21st century that we ourselves were extended in the previous one?

I have one last parting shot. Somehow, this worry that migrants won’t adapt to our culture doesn’t apply in the case of fair skinned migrants from the North. Especially if they happen to be female.

The song from folk group Brikkuni, L-Assedju ż-Żgħir, comes to mind: “Staqsejt għaliex ma daħħlunix. Ma weġbunix. U minnflok daħħlu lill-Olandiża.” (I asked why I wasn’t allowed in the club but received no reply – instead, they let the Dutch girl walk in.)

But we are not racist, of course.

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