Americanisation Committees

While politicians passed racist laws to keep unwanted immigrants out of the USA, a campaign was launched to Americanise those who had managed to enter the country. Many of those immigrants had huddled together in ghettoes where they found solace in the company of fellow countrymen. They survived in spite of a harsh environment.

The Maltese belonged to a minority group. They were found mostly in New York, Detroit and San Francisco where they tried to keep close to each other. Often they had their own priest who could be of service to them in their own language and who, very often, acted as a liaison between his group and the world outside. Since the priest was an educated cleric he was the interpreter and the scribe who wrote and read letters. He also had links with his American bishop and the church was an important means of communication between the Maltese and the Americans. Maltese priests were able to seek the support of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in the USA to obtain help for their people and to press for the relaxation of the Immigration laws passed by Congress in 1921 and 1924.

American Catholics encouraged ethnic Catholics to assimilate. Efforts at assimilation were organised by the "Americanization Committees". Such Committees provided volunteers to teach the English language and to introduce immigrants to the American way of life. Immigrants hailing from countries disturbed by Bolshevism were taught to appreciate democracy and to cultivate a patriotic feeling for their adopted land.

The "Americanisers" were trained to seek out trouble makers and those tainted by European revolutionaries in order to convert them, or at least, isolate them. Foreigners were expected to revere the principle of Free Enterprise, the right of business to flourish without too much interference and the freedom of speech and conscience. Finally, the "Americanisers" were to teach the foreigners the basic ideas concerning personal hygiene.

The industrial city of Detroit had the largest Maltese colony which by 1924 probably counted some 5,000 members. Most of the men worked in the car industry. The Americanization Committee of Detroit established a Maltese Information Bureau which printed a circular letter in Maltese. The letter contained important information on many matters which would interest those who had just arrived in the city. The Bureau was under the direction of a Maltese immigrant, Mr. Ed Camilleri. This gentleman was active in his community and in 1927 he was given the responsibility to help in the process of Americanizing the Maltese by giving them all the help they needed to assimilate. Mr. Camilleri wrote the circular letter and in it he stated that the Americanisation Committee of Detroit was chiefly concerned with the process of adjusting peoples of an alien race to the requirements of the American environment.

The newspaper "Detroit News" of November 3, 1922, carried a report on the work of Americanisers among the Maltese immigrants living in Detroit. According to the report the women who attended the Catholic church of the Holy Trinity had set up a Trinity Club which was carrying on Americanization work among the Maltese, all of whom were Catholic. The women of Trinity Club began sponsoring social functions meant to bring Maltese closer to American Catholics. The first of such activities was held in November when a dance was organised in the Knights of Equity Hall which was situated at the intersection of Fort Street with Second Boulevard.

In that same hall social activities were held in which American functions alternated with Maltese ones. Many Maltese were thus introduced to American friends. The "Detroit News" mentioned the fact that American Catholics were very willing to help the Maltese. Committees were set up to meet newcomers from Malta and to invite them to their socials.

Meanwhile immigration officials at various ports of entry began enforcing President Harding's restrictive measures, thus causing untold hard-ship to many people who had just arrived in American waters. About 1,500 Italian migrants were marooned on steamers arriving at New York because Italy's quota had already been exhausted by May 28. That was only nine days after the First Quota Law had become effective.

There was one story involving Italy and Malta which, although distressing, ended on a happy note. The "Daily News" of New York reported on November 7, on an Italian pianist who was detained on Ellis Island because of his youngest son who was born in Malta. The pianist was a certain Cesare de Lancellotti. Because of his talent Cesare was able to free not only himself, but likewise his wife, his daughter and his son Edward from the fetters of immigration legalities. He celebrated his release from Ellis Island feasting at the house of his other son Louis at 340, 116th Street, when legally, he and his family should have been deported.

Edward, the youngest son, was the bone of contention. The youngster had been born in Malta. The quota for Malta under the new law had been exhausted when the de Lancellotti family arrived. According to the law, Edward could not be admitted and under section 18 of the Immigration Law, the rest of the family had to be sent away with the boy as "accompanying aliens".

But Cesare, like the great Roman warrior of old, determined to win the battle. The report went on:"Polite as Chesterfield, in perfect English, he told of his conquests. His agile fingers at the piano had won over the Palace of Malta, including members of the British Royal Family. He conquered Ellis Island too. A musical genius must enjoy exemption from the Immigration Law".

Not all emigrants from Malta were musical celebrities. Seven years after the enactment of President Harding there were two hundred and eight families still waiting their turn to join their men in the USA These families represented the total number of five hundred and twenty four persons'

In June 1928 the American Consul in Valletta received a telegram from Washington directing him to revise the waiting list in order to give priority to unmarried children under twenty-one years of age and to wives of Maltese men already legally domiciled in the USA In the meantime many such dependants in Malta were subsisting on handfuls given to them by local charities when in Detroit alone, there were only thirty eight Maltese women to every one thousand men.

Mr. Henry Casolani channelled all his efforts at easing this great moral problem which was destroying so many marriages through enforced separation. The Superintendent of Emigration was helped by successive American Consuls residing in Malta and by influential contacts he had in Great Britain and in the USA Eventually the Maltese were allowed to share Britain's quota when that quota was not fully used. This meant that at first some sixty Maltese were allowed to proceed to the USA but eventually this figure was raised to ninety-six until in 1925 the annual intake from Malta was permitted to go up to two hundred.

In 1929 there were some relaxations which greatly increased the British quota. The share of that quota allowed to Malta was then three hundred and eighty. Eventually, by 1930 the total of Maltese immigrants had gone up to five hundred and forty per year. However, in that same year, the number of intending emigrants who wished to settle in the USA was no less than two thousand.

The efforts of Mr. Henry Casolani to obtain some concessions for the relatives stranded in Malta were greatly seconded by Monsignor George Caruana who in 1921 had become bishop of Puerto Rico and by Mr. Bruce Mohler. Bishop Caruana was born in Sliema, Malta and had arrived in the USA in 1910. He had worked in parishes with Italian and Maltese immigrants and in 1923 he had told the American Bishops' Conference held in Washington of the hardships cause& to the Maltese by the Immigration Restrictions of 1921.

Mr. Bruce Mohler was the director of the Bureau of Immigration of the National Catholic Welfare Council of the USA He had contacted a prominent Congressman, Mr. P.H. Kelley, who used his influence to obtain some reprieve for the Maltese. Both Bishop George Caruana and Mr. Bruce Mohier were in constant touch with Mr. Henry Casolani. In his book published in 1927, Mr. Casolani described the two men as great friends of the Maltese migrants and he acknowledged their help in making it possible for his Department of Emigration to share the quota allowed to the British.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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