From time to time, since 1969, it was considered important to organise conventions with the aim of bringing together members of the Maltese community from abroad, to give them the opportunity of highlighting issues, problems, ideas and even make suggestions for improvement of relations between them and the home country.

Since then, Conventions for Maltese Living Abroad have been organised in 2000 and 2010, and we are now approaching the latest convention to be held this month, under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There was a time when it was assumed that once Maltese left the island, they were no longer interested and certainly never encouraged to come back.

They were expected to assimilate as quickly as possible and forget their roots and their background. In fact, of course, this was pure fantasy which was most unlikely to happen.

Now, more than half a century after the original waves – one might even say a tsunami of migrants – left Malta in the 1950s and 1960s, the realities of the situation have become more clear.

Quite a considerable proportion of young Maltese, while born and bred in Australia, still have a very soft spot for Malta

A recent survey being carried out by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria shows that none of the original migrants have changed in any fundamental way from Maltese of the same background who have never left Malta. They still have the same basic culture, eat mostly the same food, congregate with other fellow Maltese, keep their religious and other habits and in practically all respects are Maltese.

Even more unexpected is the finding from another survey relating to the second generation, which indicates that quite a considerable proportion of young Maltese, while born and bred in Australia, still have a very soft spot for Malta, which they visit often, enjoying the friendship of their cousins. Most of them may have lost fluency in Maltese, but many of them keep in touch with what is happening in Malta through the now ubiquitous availability of internet, with ipods, ipads and other instantly available sources of information.

This may come as a surprise to those Maltese who never left the islands. They find it difficult to understand how, after all this time Maltese abroad can still be Maltese.

On the other hand, it is worth keeping in mind that Maltese of the first generation now constitute only about one fourth of all those who have a right to consider themselves Maltese citizens. As in Malta, the new generation is quite distinct from the old, with much better education, often having a tertiary education, and being more appreciative of the technical and social advancements associated with a modern society. It is important to distinguish between the two categories when one speaks of Maltese living abroad. They have a lot in common, but also a lot that is different.

There have been several issues which have been raised in previous conventions and which need to be kept in mind. These include issues relating to the rapidly ageing population, loss of language and culture, issues relating specifically to youth and communications with Malta.

Conventions like the one taking place this month at the Conference Centre, Valletta, are meant to bridge this gap. It allows participants to discuss issues prevalent within the communities they come from. They might even make recommendations for those in authority to examine and hopefully follow through.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs should be congratulated for ensuring that such conventions are held at relatively shorter intervals of five years, in contrast to the much longer intervals between conventions in previous years.

Maurice Cauchi is a former president of the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, Australia.

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