Photo from Split, looking at Marjan Hill
It is easy not to understand this division as an American. After all, our country is founded upon religious freedom. However, Yugoslavia’s president, dictator, Josip Broz Tito knew that even the simple, outward freedom and display of religion could lead to ethnic war, as it, among many other factors, did after his death.
I remember being a very happy young child in Split. Life was uncomplicated. There were no fear of allowing a child to play outside, because bad things simply didn’t happen there. The community, the neighbors always looked out for everyone’s kids—whether it was to keep them safe or discipline them if they saw them misbehaving.
Years ago, in America, Hillary Clinton commented that “it takes a village,” to raise a child. In Split, even though we were a city, we were that village. One child was everyone’s child; it was inconsequential who the parents were.
My father had the choice of Chicago, New York or Houston. He chose Houston because, from the perspective of an outsider looking in, it seemed the safest out of the choices.
My knowledge of the United States came from movies I had seen. I believed all cars were black and the Mafia and murders were around every corner. I suppose I now realize what types of American movies were shown in Yugoslavia.
I was frightened. I cried about having to have a black car (we ended up with a red Caprice Classic). I was not excited to leave my home, my friends, my family, my classmates, my room. I cried for days over having to sell our beautiful, white Peugeot.
Where is the restroom, please?
The day of our emigration came quickly. Equipped with the only English I knew, “Where is the restroom please,” I made my way to the United States and 2nd grade.
It seems so long ago, yet many of the memories are still vivid in my mind:
Overall, I was so fortunate to have incredible and caring teachers. I understood English in less than a month and was speaking it in two. I grew to love my new home and my heart became filled with a deep appreciation of Texas history and everything Texas. My 6th grade Texas history teacher, Mrs. Cabiness kindled a yearning for Texas tales of long ago. I continued to nourish that love by continuing independently to learn about all things TEXAS.
I began to write and win contests in school. My teachers told me I had a gift. I graduated and went off to college. I wrote for the university paper, yearbook and our local town paper and became immersed in our city’s history. I came to know some amazing people who would influence my life then and forever.
One day I realized that this little 7-year-old girl had become a journalist with a master’s degree from the University of Houston in public relations and was selected as one of a handful of students to pursue a PhD in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. I found myself truly interested in the freedom of the press, especially in Croatia as it was now a new country, endeavoring, longing to be the independent, free democracy that it had so craved. I chose freedom of the press as my area of study, graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a PhD in Journalism; I then moved to the Dallas area to be a professor.
The irony of life is that it tends to send us on paths we might initially never see in our future. A little girl, who spoke no English, had now chosen to make words her career, and her life. The beauty, paradox and symmetry of that still makes me smile.