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Immigrant Stories: Croatia

Ann Lusicic and Elenora Eaves, Croatian Immigrants

The mother-daughter duo, Ann Lusicic and Elenora Eaves, works to maintain tradition in a modernized Croatian-American society located in St. Louis, Missouri. The Croatian community within St. Louis has begun to migrate away from their cultural hub on the corner and 12th and Russell Avenue. The once lively community hall established in 1968 is now scarcely used and the cultural identity has transformed into a religious one. Elenora reminisces about the days when her father could be heard playing his vidulice from Garden Hall, while the men roasted lamb and the kolos danced long into the night. These days Elenora is much older and struggling to maintain those values in her church, Saint Joseph. She and her mother, Ann, offer free tambura lessons and travel in tamburiza combos based out of the church, in hopes of preserving their heritage in an ever-changing “electrified” world.

Ann and Elenora have led a colorful and vibrant life that has been streaked with moments of hardship. They, alongside other fellow Croatian artists, performed at the opening of the Spanish Pavilion and traveled the U.S. playing at numerous venues. Over time, the costumes, songs, and instruments themselves began to fuse with American culture and Croatian immigrant society itself began to evolve into Croatian-American. The infusion of Croatians into American society is evident in the adaption of the popular “dollar dance” seen in weddings all over the U.S.

The influx of immigrants from Croatia and Bosnia deeply impacted St. Louis in a way that was never expected. The Bayless school district located in St. Louis County had the largest enrollment of Bosnian students in the entire country’s history. This impacted budgets by tipping the flow away from general curriculum and pouring it into ESL programs for student and parent immigrants. English wasn’t the only obstacle they would face. There were barriers within their own language. Dialects still remain a large debate in traditional music and everyday speech.

The youth are now taking over as the historians and preservationists of Croatian society. Ann and Elenora fear that the beauty of their country’s history and folklore will be lost and though Elenora tires of teaching an unappreciative group of American-born Croatian children, she will continue to wake up every day and open her Tambura case in hopes that her passion and story will impact even one child and lead them to a life of discovery. To Ann and Elenora, being Croatian is much more than their origin of birth. It is knowing where your ancestors come from and appreciating the struggles they faced to create the comfortable life that they have today.

Facts about Croatia

The lands that today comprise Croatia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the close of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent communist state under the strong hand of Marshal TITO. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it took four years of sporadic, but often bitter, fighting before occupying Serb armies were mostly cleared from Croatian lands, along with a majority of Croatia’s ethnic Serb population. Under UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. The country joined NATO in April 2009 and the EU in July 2013.

Population: 4,270,480 (July 2018 est.)

Location: Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea, between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia

Languages: Croatian (official) 95.6%, Serbian 1.2%, other 3% (including Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, and Albanian), unspecified 0.2% (2011 est.)

Religions: Roman Catholic 86.3%, Orthodox 4.4%, Muslim 1.5%, other 1.5%, unspecified 2.5%, not religious or atheist 3.8% (2011 est.)

Ethnic Groups: Croat 90.4%, Serb 4.4%, other 4.4% (including Bosniak, Hungarian, Slovene, Czech, and Roma), unspecified 0.8% (2011 est.)

Information from the CIA World Factbook