Whether you find yourself at a Tim Hortons in Toronto, a restaurant in Stuttgart, or a café in Adelaide, chances are you’ll run into a group of Croats, speaking in their mother tongue. They may be older men talking politics, of a younger 2nd generation group of Croats talking soccer and the World Cup.
Around the turn of the last century, a tide of Eastern European immigration dramatically altered the ethnic and religious landscape in Canada. I am 2nd generation Croatian, born and raised in Canada. My parents, like many other Croats who fled Yugoslavia in the early 70’s make up a small percent of the 6.2 million foreigners that call Canada their new home. Growing up in Canada, I was often asked what nationality I was. My Italian, Greek and Polish classmates were often asked the same thing. We were all children of immigrants, and though we were of different ethnicities and cultures, there was always commonality and we could all relate to one another.
(The iconic St. Mark’s Church in Croatia’s capital city Zagreb)
Croatia is a largely Catholic nation, a religion that survived even under the anti – clerical reign of communism. Since it is a deeply ingrained aspect of Croatian life, immigrants brought religion with them. The first Croatian Catholic church was established in 1950, in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario. Shortly after, Croatian immigrants across Canada united and invested for themselves and their children by purchasing old churches, or building new ones in cities across Canada where there was a large Croat population. Services were held in our native language and through informal measures like holiday gatherings and national Croatian holidays, churches were often the center of social functions to preserve the culture. Soccer clubs, folklore and political groups were also established, and most Croatian immigrants were involved in at least one of these branches.
The Canadian Croatian Folklore Festival is a yearly event, held every Victoria Day Weekend since 1973. The purpose of the Festival is to celebrate Croatian Folklore and heritage through Croatian folk songs and dances which primarily attracts the Croatian youth of Canada. Children of immigrants, like myself, gather on this 3 day weekend to celebrate our other homeland, Croatia. Many friendships, and even marriages were established because of this gathering of Croatian youth.
The Croatian National Soccer Federation of Canada and USA is celebrating it’s 50th year of existence this year which also serves as a gathering of Croatia’s youth by hosting a yearly soccer tournament every Labor Day weekend in September. Besides the excitement of the soccer tournament, the event attracts large Croatian crowds which results in many long lasting friendships. Croatian immigrants in Canada involved their children in these events, for love of their homeland, but also for fear that if they weren’t involved, that their heritage, language and culture would fade while assimilating in Canadian society.
(Faith of Croatian workers in the USA – Maxo Vanka)
Hard work and a drive to succeed are very common among 1st generation immigrants. Most Croatian emigrees arrived to Canada with nothing but a suitcase and a couple hundred dollars to begin their new life. Even though some were educated, working in their expert field was very rare, so most had no choice but to be employed at jobs that were very hard and labourous. Many, like my father, were working 2 jobs so that they could financially support the family they were establishing in Canada, and the one they left back home. All of those things combined resulted in a set of values based on hard work, diligence and a drive to succeed. This work ethic continues with 2nd generation Croats who generally outpace their peers, and most have furthered their studies and have become successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, successful entrepeneurs and business owners. Other than the many successful frends and family in my life, another notable 2nd generation Croat that comes to mind is a young, prominent Croatian lawyer born and raised in Chicago, Mr. Luka Mišetić. Other than being a successful lawyer, he is known for defending the well known Croatian general, Ante Gotovina, who accomplished his release from the Hague in Novemeber 2012.
(My friends and I watching Croatia play in the World Cup 1998)
Growing up, most of my friends were Croatian. Of course I had friends in school who were of all ethnicities, but I always gravitated to the Croatian friends I would see every Sunday at church, Croatian school on Saturdays, and Folklore dancing during the week. We were all 2nd generation children of immigrants who had much commonality and we could relate to one another. 2nd generation Croats have an underlying love for a homeland they have never lived in. Aside from visiting our parents homeland, we were mostly taught – either through our parents, or our communities – that we should always love and be proud of the country our ancestors came from.
2nd generation Croatians are quite clear that they are Canadians and are proud of political and national identification. Some find it difficult to hold dual cultural identification, but others, like myself revel in this as part of the adventure that is life. If you had to ask my what I feel I am in my heart, I am a Croatian living and loving Canada and I have the best of both worlds. I am able to visit my homeland every year with my husband and children, but I am fortunate enough that Canada is a diverse and multicultural country that was built by immigrants and I can be who I am.