Clubs, Visitors and Activities in NY

Mr Mason Mitchell was a very popular American Consul stationed in Malta in the twenties. In January 1923 the Consul received a letter from the USA signed by Dr. William Hornaday who was the director of the Zoological Park of York. Dr. Hornaday told Mr. Mason Mitchell that his son-in-law had engaged a worker from Malta in 1922. The worker, whose name had never been recorded, had done excellent work in decorating the house of the son-in-law and Dr. Hornaday described him as a conscientious man who spoke excellent English.

Dr. William Hornaday had kept in touch with the worker from Malta. After the Maltese immigrant had finished his job at the house he had found work in an iron foundry where he worked as a moulder. Unfortunately an accident happened in which the immigrant suffered horrible bums and had to stay in hospital for more than three months. By the time Dr. Hornaday was writing his letter, the Maltese worker had fully recovered and he had sent for his family to join him in New York.

Mr. Mason Mitchell was very willing to publicise favourable comments on the Maltese, particularly by fellow Americans. It was precisely at this time that the American Consul was helping the Maltese Government to obtain some respite from the harsh impositions made by the First Quota Law of 192 1. The fact that the Maltese did manage to enlarge their quota was in no small measure due to the support given by him. The wife of the Consul happened to be a very popular lady in Malta's social circles and the Mitchells were welcome guests at most social gatherings.

It was with great consternation that the Maltese public learned of the attempt on the life of Mr. Mitchell on December 12, 1922. On that fateful day, the American Consul was walking towards the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, when an assailant shot at him from very close range. Fortunately the bullet passed through Mr. Mitchell's coat and caused only a flesh wound above the Consul's hip.

The Consul's attacker was a frustrated emigrant who had returned from the USA. His name was Lorenzo Bonello and he hailed from the village of Birkirkara. It transpired that Bonello had served in the American Army during the War of 1914-1918 and had been dishonourably discharged because he had disobeyed superior orders. On his return to Malta, Bonello had expected to receive a pension for the period he had served in the American Army. His claim had been rejected and he felt that Mr. Mitchell was responsible for this rejection.

Fortunately Mr. Mitchell recovered from his superficial wound and he and his wife were visited by many well wishers who expressed their deep regret for what had happened to the Consul. When the Mitchells went back to the USA they left behind them many friends. It was with deep regret that Mr. Mitchell's friends learned of his death in USA on June 16,1930.

Among the many clubs active between the two world wars, the Maltese Club of New York in Astoria was very popular with immigrants who had just landed in the USA In 1931 this Club introduced the commemoration of Malta's National Day on September 8. In that year the lifting of the Great Siege of 1565 on September 8, was remembered. Six hundred Maltese took part in the celebration. There were two special guests: the Rev. Joseph Demarco who was pastor at St. Rosalie church and later at St. Leo's and the Rev. Elias Velia from the Bronx and who had been interviewed by Jean Piper in 1925.

The two priests presented flags to the Club on this occasion. Father Demarco presented the American flag whereas Father Vella presented the Red and White flag of Malta. The orchestra of the Club provided the music. The premises were ably decorated by joseph Azzopardi who hailed from the town of Vittoriosa which itself was the headquarters of the Knights of St.john and where the lifting of the Great Siege of 1565 took place.

joseph Azzopardi not only was artistically minded but he knew the history of Malta very well. Those who admired his decorations stated that ... "his knowledge of old armour and weapons of the type used in the Great Siege is a valuable asset. Our ballroom resembled the Palace Armoury in miniature".

The Maltese in New York were fortunate in having among them a very cultured gentleman who was an immigrant like themselves. Mr. Charles S. Frendo had left Malta in 1915 after having finished his law studies in Malta. He first settled in the Bronx and worked for some of the major banks in New York. Seven years after his arrival in New York he decided to return to Malta but was back in the USA in 1926. He then took journalism as his career and was a regular contributor to the "New York Herald Tribune" and to the "New York World". Mr. Frendo was conversant in five languages and in 1935 he was working as a reader for the scenario department of M.G.M. in New York.

On November 10, 1929, the "Herald Tribune" published an article written by Mr. Frendo which was meant to familiarise the American public with the island of Malta. The article went under the caption: "Historic Malta As British Naval Base". In that article Mr. Frendo gave a comprehensive historical account of Malta which he described as rich in milestones of history. He also dwelt on the strategic importance of the Island to the British Empire. The article was illustrated by fine photo-graphs of Malta's Grand Harbour.

Bishop Michael Gonzi of Gozo, who was in North America in 1926, made it a point to visit the Maltese in New York. He was accompanied by his friend Monsignor P. Galea. While the bishop felt it his duty to visit the Maltese immigrants living in Detroit, New York and Toronto, the Monsignor had more time on his hands, and he decided to write a book on what he had seen and heard during his trip to North America. Mgr. Galea arrived in New York on June 16, 1926, on the passenger ship "Martha Washington".

In his book Galea commented on immigration procedure: "It is no easy matter to disembark in New York. We had to undergo various medical checks while we were still on board. Those who showed certificates that they had already undergone the required tests were ordered to submit to those tests again. Women with long hair were inspected rigorously and had their hair disinfected. In spite of the fact that we had our passports in order we were interrogated at length. One of our party was detained because someone suspected him of planning to stay in the USA He was- left on Ellis Island and was only released when strong representations were made on his behalf by influential clergymen in New York. Such tedious process reminds me of what an American Senator once said; that it was easier to enter heaven than the U.S. Somebody once remarked that if Saint Paul himself were to apply for a visa, the immigration authorities would not grant him that".

New York was worth the trouble. Mgr. Galea was impressed by so many people, reputed to be over eight million, who lived and worked in that city. Every seventh New Yorker possessed a car and these cruised along the streets at the incredible speed of twenty-five miles an hour. There were times when Galea did not think that he would survive that kind of fast going.

The good priest published his book about his trip to America in Maltese under the title: "X'Rajt u Xi Smajt". Translated this means "What I Saw and Heard". Among the things which disturbed the author was moral licentiousness. Divorce was common and easily given by courts whose legal advisers were far too liberal. Parental control in 1926 was weak. Galea was shocked to learn that children over sixteen could leave their parents and live on their own. He thought that such a false pride in an exaggerated form of personal freedom was bound to undermine the American family and ultimately the nation.

The American girl did not escape the puritanical sanctions of the clerical observer. Girls were much too free and they went out of their homes unattended. Some took on regular jobs and went to work every day just as men do in other parts of the world. Moreover their skirts were too short as was their hair. Some girls cut their hair so short, that were it not for their make-up, one would think they did not belong to the gentle sex. The most frightening thing however was, that some bare-faced girls dared go out into the streets wearing short pants! Others would even dare take out small mirrors and do their faces on trains and on buses in the presence of gentlemen. This they did without being in the least embarrassed.

The book on what P. Galea "saw and heard" in America in 1926 is important for two reasons: it gives a human insight into everyday life in New York and it also points to the many culture shocks Maltese and other aliens had to undergo when they tried to start their new life in a heterogenous society like the American one. Foreign women found the challenge more difficult than their men did. Many of them decided to stay at home rather than cross the Atlantic and make the effort of taking on a new way of life.

Single men in America did not find it easy to approach American girls. The men found it easier to gather in clubs with other men who understood them and spoke the same language. The love of soccer brought many Maltese and other Europeans together. In 1930 two Maltese clubs in Brooklyn joined hands and formed one Maltese soccer team. The first club was the Maltese Union Football Club of Brooklyn which had previously won the Eastern District Open Soccer Cup Com-petition "B" Division. The other club was the Melita Athletic Club. This amalgamation brought about the Melita Union Football Club and was registered in an Open Cup League which was recognised by the U.S. Football Association.

In September 20, 1931, the newly formed team, affectionately called by its supporters simply as the "Melita" played against the League champions of the Cosmopolitan District at Ulmer Park in Brooklyn. The match ended with a victory for the "Melita" against the Italian defenders with the resounding result of nine goals against three. One Maltese spectator wrote back to his friends in Malta: "The continuous and vociferous cheering of the "Melita" supporters was unparalleled in any previous encounter. An interesting preliminary match between the Maltese and the Spaniards ended with a Maltese victory with the result of three scores against one".

Towards the end of 1931 the "Melita Union Football Club" had two teams, the White and the Green. The two teams had been recognised by the Brooklyn League. 1931 ended on a very positive note for the Maltese team. One correspondent wrote on November 26: "While baseball still ranks as the principal sport in the U.S., soccer football is fast gaining adherents and our countrymen in the USA are giving their share in making popular this game". In that same year the "Melita" were leading the Brooklyn League with a margin of four points.

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

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