Identity is about how people or groups see and define themselves and how other people or groups see and define them.

Undoubtedly, the concept of identity is vital because it is only through establishing our own identities and learning about the identities of other people and groups that we understand the commonalities and differences that distinguish us from others.

I think we all agree that every human is not absolutely identical. Therefore, everyone is unique and authentic in some way or another. This brief introduction about identity leads me to a very important and sensitive topic – the Maltese identity.

Many of us sometimes find ourselves asking the question: where have Maltese people gone?

At work, at school, during our day-to-day activities or when we go out with friends, we see and meet many foreign people.

These include tourists but also many foreign people who live and work here. Sometimes we see more foreign people than Maltese people.

The fact that Malta has become much more cosmopolitan and multicultural is very positive. It helps us to open up to new cultures and get out of our small bubble.

However, I also believe that the substantial increase in the number of foreigners living in the Maltese islands in a very short period of time paved the way to a Maltese identity crisis.

For sure, it paved the way for a culture shock among Maltese and Gozitan people because it was not planned adequately.

Against this backdrop, we cannot put the clock back or lament the existing challenge but we need to come up with new ways and methods of promoting and enriching the Maltese identity as one of the ways to cope with this reality.

As Stuart Hall (1992) suggests, every nation has a collection of stories, images and symbols about its shared experiences, which people draw on to construct and express their national identity.

These include our national anthem and flag.

The state, with the help of other local institutions such as local councils, sports entities, schools, youth organisations and the Church, among others, should work together to introduce tailor-made programmes and lessons aimed at foreigners living and working in the Maltese islands.

These programmes should focus primarily on teaching foreigners who live and work in Malta about the Maltese way of life, language, culture and identity.

Many of us sometimes find ourselves asking the question: where have Maltese people gone?- Kevin Mercieca

They should be open to people of all ages, held on a frequent basis and should be obligatory, in particular for foreign employees working in essential jobs.

Employers engaging foreign employees to work in essential jobs in the private sector should also be obliged to send their employees to these programmes.

Ideally, an assessment is held on a frequent basis to check about the progression of those attending these programmes and lessons.

In a related issue, one of the main challenges of elderly people living in care institutions is the language barrier.

For this reason, it is imperative that all nurses and carers working with elderly people in these institutions (both public and private) are able to communicate in Maltese.

It is not acceptable that a Maltese elderly person cannot communicate in his or her own language in a care home institution.

This will be no easy feat but it can be achieved if the government, along with the private sector and the Church institutions, roll up their sleeves and grab the bull by the horns.

What is meant by a Maltese identity? I think that teachers in primary and secondary schools during lessons about subjects like social studies and history should put much more emphasis on Maltese culture and identity.

As I see it, for some people (including Maltese students) Maltese identity is not important or is becoming less important.

I think that we need to revive this subject in schools and we should start this for children when they are still young.

Kevin Mercieca has a first degree in social policy and a master of arts in social studies.

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