What happened to the people of Yugoslavia?” a kid in my world history class asked as we learned about WW2 recently. “Oh, that country is now known as Slovenia” the teacher humbly replied. “So what would you call those people?”, the kid then asks. Again the teacher replies “Slavs”.
As class ended and the rest of the school day went on, I kept thinking about that word: Slavs. It played over and over in my head like a catchy song on the radio. What does that mean, and why does it make me feel uneasy? To me, it doesn’t sound like a good word. On the outside, I look like a regular “white girl”, with two white parents, living in the suburb, they fell in love in high school and lived happily ever after -- right? Well, that’s not exactly how it all happened.
My mom grew up in the very privileged Hills; as in big houses with fancy sidewalks and white picket fences. She went to an all-girls, private, Catholic high school, and took horseback riding lessons. What you see in these first few photos is obviously not this, but rather, where my dad was born. Different, right? At seven years old my dad, his three brothers and three sisters, mom and dad literally escaped from Montenegro, Yugoslavia for a better life in America, or at least that’s what my “bobbi” (grandfather) said. They took a small boat to a town in Italy called Trieste. They lived in a refugee camp with other families while waiting for the church that was sponsoring their immigration to have their passports created.
It is hard for me to imagine. They left their home and land that has been in their family for 100’s of years, so they could come to America for an easier life. Or so they thought. My dad told me that it was very hard for them when they first came to America. All of the kids had to go to school, and none of them spoke a word of English! My dad said back then they didn't have ESL or English as a Second Language classes so the teachers just expected you to learn English one way or another.
My dad’s upbringing is a complete 180 to what my mom experienced as a child. Both of her parents grew up in Oakland County Michigan, graduated from high school and college, and had good careers. My Grandfather worked at Ford Motor Company as a director of design (he designed the very first hard-top convertible), and my grandma was an executive secretary for a large architecture company.
My grandma told me she loved working, but at that time, once you had children, you couldn’t keep your job in companies like that, so she stayed at home and raised her family. Even just these few comparisons show how different my parent’s worlds were.
My mom’s very easy and my dad’s pretty rough. This is what brought them together though. They admired what each had gone through, and appreciated the differences. As the product of their differences, I have always struggled to find out where I belonged. Who did I identify with? Mom, dad or both? Because, although I may look “white” or average on the outside, I’m definitely not on the inside. There is one thing I do know for sure: in coming together, my parents gave up everything to give me everything.