This is me, my older sister and brother, and our mother at our ranch before leaving home for a school picnic, circa 1977. Yes, we are all wearing matching “HAPPINESS IS BEING CROATIAN” t-shirts, written in big, bold, blue letters. My dad and mom were used to being in the spotlight, so I guess they thought we wouldn’t mind it either; however, it was hard garnering attention for something about which people didn’t even understand or know existed.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, the largest suburb of the melting pot that is Los Angeles, California, I was often asked what I “was”... what mix of blood and ancestry could I claim proudly while chatting about such worldly topics on the elementary school playground at recess. The other kids would boast about their combinations of Italian, Irish, Spanish, German, Mexican or English... declaring, “I’m 50% English and 50% Irish,” or “I’m half Italian and half German.” When asked what combo I was, I would timidly answer, “I’m 100% Croatian,” to definite looks of bewilderment.
“What is that?”
“It’s what all four of my grandparents and my parents are.“
“What country is that from?”
This answer did not enlighten them further on the topic; they just looked at me funny.
They had no idea what or where Yugoslavia was.
The Croatian people fought for and won their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and more Americans learned about this small nation on the coast of the Adriatic Sea through the news of its war and victory. When their basketball team competed in the 1992 Olympic Games for the gold against the USA “Dream Team,” Croatia was in the spotlight on the world stage of sports; and I was able to share I was Croatian without confusing people.
Over the past few weeks, my half Croatian kids and I have been watching Croatia on another world stage of sports, as their Hrvatski nogometni savez (Croatian Football Federation) soccer team have been dominating the FIFA World Cup, yelling at the TV and jumping up and down each time Croatia scored or won a match. I can’t wait to watch them take on France in the World Cup finals on Sunday, as this 100% Croatian American gal will be watching and yelling and jumping up and down once again for Croatia. ⚽️