Malta is receiving a lot more attention since Democrat candidate Pete Buttigieg launched his bid to become US president, Maltese people living in the US say.

The openly gay politician, whose late father was from Ħamrun, surprisingly beat fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders in the first poll in Iowa this week in the race to contest Donald Trump on November 3.

“Everyone I know asks if we’re related, because it’s not a very common name here,” says Lisa Buttigieg-LiGreci, whose father emigrated from Paola with his family when he was two.

“I have to explain to them that Buttigieg is a very common surname in Malta and it’s not likely that we are related. But you never know, right? We could be distant cousins!”

The Michigan resident says it has also helped people pronounce her name correctly for the first time in her 60 years.

“Growing up with the name Buttigieg was interesting. No one ever heard of it or could pronounce it. That gave me the opportunity to tell people I was Maltese and my family was from Malta.

“The funny thing is, we never pronounced our last name correctly either. When my father enlisted in the army for World War II, his boot camp sergeant mispronounced his name as ‘beauty-jay’. Even though it didn’t sound anything like it was spelled, my dad said; ‘When you’re in boot camp, you never correct your sergeant.’”

When he got back from the war, her father never stopped pronouncing the name that way, even though the rest of his family said it correctly. 

I would love to meet him some day. Maybe I could make some pastizzi for him!

Somehow, the American pronunciation became Butt-i-gee and/or Butt-i-gig.

“I have no idea how that happened, I guess because that is how it’s pronounced phonetically in English. I always made it a point to tell people of the different pronunciations and that the proper way they say it in Malta is ‘Boot-edge-edge’.

“I think it sounds more like Boot-a-jeej and I plan to tell candidate Pete when I meet him.”

Lisa, who is active in several local Maltese groups around Detroit, says she will definitely vote for the Democrat should he become the party’s candidate between now and June. That has suddenly become a bigger possibility after Iowa.

Pete Buttigieg: Topped the polls in Iowa.Pete Buttigieg: Topped the polls in Iowa.

Lisa is hopeful.

“I am a huge fan of Pete. I think he has a fresh younger perspective on things. I like the way he carries himself. He’s not running a negative campaign. I agree with his policies on income and fair wages. Especially for our teachers and minimum wage workers. He is also pro-environment. However, I don’t agree with his views on abortion.

“I would love to meet him someday.  Maybe I could make some pastizzi for him!”

Another Maltese-American who is desperate to meet the presidential-hopeful is chef Joe Gauci. He is the owner of Malta Joe’s Baked Goods in Arizona and travelled to Malta in 2014 to learn how to make the perfect pastizzi. He now ships the traditional Maltese dish around the US and is enjoying the extra interest Mr Buttigieg is bringing to his restaurant.

“My business is booming,” says Joe, whose parents migrated from Tarxien and Paola in 1950.

“Malta has been living under the radar for so long and now, with the Information Age, people are discovering our diamond in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Like Lisa, Joe, 55, is an active member of the Maltese community in his state – and runs the Facebook Group ‘Maltese of Arizona’. 

He also says he will vote for Pete Buttigieg should he become the Democrat choice.

“We have a robust Maltese community. Through my pastizzi business, I have gathered dozens of Maltese families who thought they were the only Maltese around, but now that is changing.

“I have definitely seen a surge in interest since Mr Buttigieg started his campaign. When people come in to buy pastizzi, they get a lesson in Maltese heritage.”

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