Monday, February 10, 2014

Doručak na granici

"America."  Everybody in the world knows where is "America."  The fact, however, is that "America" is a continent.  Actually there are two of them, North and South.  Still, everybody in the world knows that "America" is the "United States."  Even that is a wee problem because in North America there are two "United States."   There is Sjedinjene Meksičke Države and there is Sjedinjene Američke Države.  Despite those little technical difficulties no one in the world is confused about which one is "The United States," or just "America." 

It wasn't always so.  When the first Croats showed up in the waters around America, America was still America in the broader sense.  Those early Croats shared the continents with Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Muskogee, the Cherokee, the Comanche and others.  What's more, Croatians, along with others,  helped build a few countries in North America like Texas, California, and even the Kingdom of Hawaii out in the Pacific.

With no independent Homeland back in Europe, these Croats were, for the most part, uninvolved in empire building or "colonialism" in the usual sense of that term, but they were having great adventures.  One of those adventures has to do with what I am eating this very morning. 

The histories all show that Napoleon III withdrew French troops from Mexico but hardly a word is written about the Croatian Hussars who were in Mexico with Carlotta's husband even though everyone loves Carlotta.  When the Emperor was captured and shot, the Mexican officers with Benito Juárez asked him what to do with all these soldiers.  Juárez is reputed to have said something like "We have cut off the head, the body of the snake is harmless."

So now, you are a Croatian soldier in a strange land far away from home.  You have no money in your pocket and no way home.  Besides, why would you want to go home? What is there for you? You have little future except perhaps to be a fisherman or a farm worker on some large estate owned by one of the Austrians who run the place.   

You are hungry.   Your belly is crying out to you.  You've managed to steal two eggs out from under a chicken, one stale tortilla, an onion and a tomato.  Beside yourself, you have three companions to feed.  What do you do?

You crack open the eggs and you put them in the mess kit you were issued by the military. As always, te dvije oči jaja su namigujući on you.  Those two eyes of the eggs are winking at you. What next?  You crumble up the tortilla into the eggs, you cut up the tomato and the onion and you mix everything all together in the pan over the fire.

The war was vicious as all wars are.  There is a shortage of young Mexican men. The smell from your cooking attracts the attention of a young Mexican woman carrying water home from the well. You try to explain your recipe to her.  There is laughing and giggling.  She tastes your meal.  The closest she can come to saying all that about the eyes of the eggs winking is just "migas."  Close enough.  A new dish, a new word, and a new love has been born in the same hour.  You are married and you have children.  Your neighbors love your music.  Eventually the community around you forgets that once you were a stranger.

Two generations later, Mexico cracks down on the Catholic Church.  Your grandchildren don't remember exactly why, but they are Catholic among the Catholics and they find themselves across the border in Texas.  They bring with them their Mariachi tradition also born in Eastern Europe. Your great grandson composes a song for his daughter for her wedding but he has been taught that it is not permitted for him to play and sing in church. But somehow a Croatian - American pastor who knows and understands what he is seeing insists that the father serenade his daughter at the end of the wedding service INSIDE the church.  Perhaps he will not forget that day the rest of his life.

I know his daughter has not forgotten because, you see, I was that pastor.  This happened about a decade ago.  My musician friend is Croatian - American in the wider sense of that term. Mexican culture has mostly but not entirely forgotten there ever was such a thing among them. Homero Prado's family knows, and a few other musician families know.  All the average Anglo - American sees when he looks at my friend is one more "Mexican." As a matter of fact, all the average Mexican - American sees is one more "Mexican."

My musician friend is one of those Croatian - Americans like those which Ambassador Joško Paro spoke of a few nights ago at the Croatian Embassy in Washington D.C.  My musician brother knows some about the Croatian part of his roots and he is interested in knowing more.  He is proud of his ancestry and he treasures that part of the culture he retains.  Is he, or any of his extended family interested much in modern Croatia and other Croatian people?  No, not especially.  He is content here in South Texas where he can live his life as he wishes playing his music on special occasions. His children and grandchildren however just might be tourists in Croatia someday.

My friend is an example of one of those ethnicities about which neither Mexico nor the United States have any awareness.  That's not surprising considering hardly anyone except us old ragged grey-haired historian types know about the Jews and the Arabs who also live in North Mexico and in Southern Texas - people who were exported from Spain and who lived under the thumb of "religious police" for several generations. Throw in the descendants of several Indian nations whose states disappeared long before they migrated into this area, a few modern Croats, some Poles, a handful of Polish Jews, and some "Anglos" and you begin to see that down here at the Rio Grande we are a rich and complex tapestry of "ethnicities" even though the statistics want to lump nearly everyone together as "Hispanic" just because almost all of us speak at least a little on Spanish.  

Being Brownsvillian is complicated.  We are not all the same, yet we share a lot in common.  Being Croatian - American is complicated.  We are not all the same, yet we share a rich heritage.  Being Croatian is complicated.  We are not all the same.  Being South-East European is complicated. Being East European is complicated especially when you hyphenate any of that with "American" and then you discover that the US National Security Administration doesn't even know where East Europe is, much less anything about South East Europe.  What hope do we have that they know anything much about Croatia or Bosnia.  God forbid that they should need to know about the Sandjak or the Vojvodina or anywhere else in our neck of the woods. God help anyone from anywhere else.   This is the start of another story ... its important, so I will write about that a little later.  Do stay tuned for more over the next few days.

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,
David Byler a.k.a. Canovals
10. veljače 2014

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