FROM AN AMERICAN OF CROATIAN DESCENT
Dr. Clement S. Mihanovich on his Croatian heritage
(Dr. Mihanovich, St. Louis, MO, 1913 – 1998)
Most of us have been born in poverty but reared in integrity.
Many of us have illiterate but intelligent and astute parents.
We were taught to be proud and never accepted a dole or charity during the so-called Great Depression.
We were taught to serve God and the country of our birth and to honor the nation that sired our parents.
We were imbued with the vigorous history of the Croats.
We took pride in the beauties of the Dalmatian Coast, the towering peaks of the Dinaric Alps, the deep forests of Lika, the warrior-spirit of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the loveliness of Zagreb, the ancient and glorious history of Split, the splendors of Sibenik and Dubrovnik, idyllic atmosphere of the pear-like islands of the Adriatic.
We listened to and read the epics of the Croats long dead but never forgotten.
We memorized the great title of honor given to the Croats, “antemurale christianitatis” and we never tired of repeating it to our American friends.
We sang the sad and happy songs of our ancestors.
We danced the kolo and played the tamburitza.
We listened to Croatian priests whose spirit of Christianity and Croat nationalism never waned.
We attended a Croatian parochial school, learned the Croatian language and literature, prayed Croatian prayers, and sang Croatian hymns.
We ate Croatian food, drank Croatian wine, attended Croatian festive weddings, joined the Sokol and the Croatian fraternal unions.
We wrote for Croatian publications and acted in Croatian plays.
We spoke Croatian to our parents and friends with a fierce pride in the beauty and expressiveness of the language.
We buried our parents under the tricolor of the Croatian flag, with Croatian prayers on our lips, in a Croatian church, assisted by Croatian friends, and sprinkled their graves with Croatian soil.
We wrote letters to relatives and friends in Croatia and received warmest greetings and deepest expression of love.
We learned the names of our grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, but we never saw them. The warmth and tenderness of grandparental love was denied to us.
We attended Croatian picnics and galas and watched our parents eyes glisten with joy and longing for memories of their youth in the village of their birth.
We were put to bed by rough and loving hands and lulled to sleep by a melancholy peasant lullaby.
We were greeted by “Praise be Jesus Christ!” and we learned to reply, “May He ever be praised!”
We never forgot the thundering expression “Bog i Hrvati!” once we heard it.
Because we were Croats the Americans called us “pollocks” and “hunkies” but we never took these expressions lying down and came home, many a time, with a scratched face, a bloody nose, torn clothes.
We saw our fathers come home from work covered with grime and grease. Sometimes they were brought home with a broken limb. We cried when they cried.
This was our life though most of us saw Croatia only in our mind’s eye. Because of this life, we learned to love Croatia and the Croatians as deeply as we love our own America. We were always careful to see to it that our Croatian name was not only spelled correctly but pronounced correctly.
We learned to fight for the Croatian cause, for the independence of Croatia, for the sovereignty of Croatia and its people.
We propagandized the Croatian position, the Croat plea, the yearnings of our parents, the rights of our forefathers. By doing this some of us became “persona non grata” in what is now called Yugoslavia.
We do not regret one moment of our existence. Our little hardships have strengthened our wills and polished our personalities. We have become a little stubborn and fiercely independent and self-reliant.
We learned the true meaning of independence because we lived in an atmosphere that demonstrated to us what it means to be deprived of independence and driven from your home by a dictatorial foe.
We, the American sons of Croat peasants, dedicated ourselves and our lives to giving our parents and relatives, even though they may now be enjoying life everlasting, the realization of their long dream and fervent yearning an independent state of Croatia so that their souls may rest in peace.
We also dedicate ourselves and pledge ourselves to those Croats now living in and outside the homeland that we will never forget them and the cause that is uppermost in their minds.
We only ask that all Croats forget their provincial and sectional and partisan differences, that they unite into a solid, cohesive group and all of us work for one goal and one goal only the liberation of the homeland.
From Balkania, April 1967.