Maltese American Heritage Day - A Capital Event
On September 20th, 2017, State Representative Darrin Camilleri stood up in the Michigan House of Representatives to propose September 21st, 2017 as Maltese-American Day. His proposal, which was approved by the House, made the 21st the first ever Maltese-American day in the State of Michigan. We asked for a few different views on the day. Today's post is by Lisa LiGreci, who coordinated much of the days events.
My name is Lisa LiGreci, maiden name Buttigieg, and I am proudly 100% Maltese. My father was born in Paola and came to the United States when he was only 3 months old. My mother’s side, the Mirabitur family, was from Sliema. She was born in the U.S. but I consider myself a 1st generation Maltese American because my father was born in Malta. I suppose that’s cheating, but I stand by it.
My parents always instilled a deep pride for Malta in all of us and as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been proud of being Maltese. Growing up, most of my friends were of mixed nationalities, and in America, it’s hard to find anyone who is 100% anything. Being 100% Maltese made me feel special and unique. Especially since Malta was a tiny island nation that no one ever heard of, it seemed so exotic. But that’s about as far as it went. I was Maltese, proud of it, and never questioned why.
I went my entire life not knowing very much about Maltese culture, other than the food and a little of its history. My parents wanted to “Americanize” themselves, so I had a typical American upbringing. Like many others we never learned to speak Maltese. The only time we heard it was when we were at family gatherings or when my parents didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about. I’ve always regretted that.
It wasn’t until I recently went to Malta for the first time that I truly embraced the Maltese culture. As soon as I got there, I looked around and said to myself, “These are my people.” I can’t explain the feeling I had, but I felt as if I were home. I could feel it in my bones and in my soul.
I fell in love with Malta.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my trip or go online to learn something new about Maltese history and way of life.
As soon as I returned, I immediately joined the Maltese American Community Club, (MACC) in Dearborn. The first time I walked in it took me right back to my childhood hearing everyone speaking Maltese. I don’t go as often as I would like to, but I try to get there at least once a month and go to all the special events.
When I saw the post about Maltese American Day on Facebook, I was so excited. I thought to myself, “It’s about time! We have been a big part of this community for nearly 100 years!” I had no idea we had a State Representative of Maltese descent. I knew that I just had to go, and figured others would feel the same way.
The Michigan State Capital building in Lansing on September 20, 2017.
I immediately started asking if a road trip could be organized so we could all go as a group and volunteered to help any way I could. The next thing I knew, there was an announcement telling people a group trip was being organized and they should contact me for more information.
What?! It was a bit of a shock!
So, that’s how I got involved putting this whole thing together. I didn’t do it myself. This trip would have never happened without the help of Mark and Margaret Purdy. They deserve a big thank you!
During Rep. Camilleri’s opening remarks, I sang both the American and Maltese national anthems in the rotunda of the capital building. I even sang the Maltese Anthem in Maltese. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will remember the rest of my life. I was also very surprised and honored that I was called up to accept a Special Tribute to the MACC. It is a framed document detailing the contributions of the Maltese American immigrants and their descendants from the State of Michigan. It was signed by both Rep. Camilleri and Dearborn’s Rep. Hammond. Quite an honor indeed!
The Special Tribute to the Dearborn Club. Both MABSI and MACC received Special Tributes for their community efforts.
During the house session, my chest was so full of pride when I saw 50 Maltese Americans come together from all over Michigan to witness this event. We nearly filled the House chamber gallery. Representative Camilleri spoke so eloquently about Malta and our heritage and history in Detroit that I nearly cried. When the resolution was adopted and I heard that gavel drop, my heart leapt with pride and we all stood up and cheered with joy!
For me, the day was just as much about being together on the trip to Lansing as it was about the event itself. It was about making new friends and the comradery. It was about listening to the stories about what it was like growing up in Malta during WWII. It was about sharing Maltese recipes and who had the best pastizzi making technique (I think I do!). It was about hearing what it was like to leave your entire family to come to a strange new country. It was about learning what it was like to be in a foreign land so young and alone with hardly any money and not speak the language. It was about hearing stories about being persecuted for being a foreigner.
The group assembled with Rep. Camilleri in the Rotunda of the State Capital.
But most importantly, it was about sharing the whole experience together. That is why it was so rewarding for me. I felt it was important for us to go as a group, because I wanted us all to be together to witness this historic event. To see our people’s hardships and accomplishments were finally being acknowledged. That was my goal and I can proudly say my mission was accomplished!
Lisa LiGreci lives in Plymouth and has been a member of the Maltese American Community Club in Dearborn for two years. She will be married 39 years this November with two daughters and two grandsons. She was a professional singer while also working in sales for thirty years. She is now semi-retired, driving for Uber and Lyft.