An Elegy for American Home. . . and American Immigrants

Mary Grabar
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Posted: Sep 28, 2008 12:01 AM
An Elegy for American Home. . . and American Immigrants

            The final issue of American Home, the oldest Slovenian newspaper in the world arrived in my mailbox last month.  The masthead, as always, featured the Statue of Liberty and the slogan, “American in Spirit; Foreign in Language Only.”  It proudly announced, “Serving American Slovenians for 110 years.”  The inversion is deliberate: those of Slovenian heritage living in the United States are American first.

The publishers’ statement under the American flag printed in red, white, and blue specially for the occasion, described the mission of the newspaper: “Ameriska Domovina has tried to acclimate persons of Slovenian nationality into American culture, and relate the customs of our Slovenian heritage to second and third generation readers, while championing the cause of an independent Slovenia, and keep readers informed of Slovenian activities throughout the world.”   It goes the way of other similar newspapers serving central and eastern European communities made up of refugees from the dictatorships of Stalin, Tito, and Hitler.   

The newspaper, some years ago, succumbed to a half-English and half-Slovenian format, for those like me, who did not have access to schools to learn to read and write in their mother tongue.  In the few years that I have subscribed, I have come to appreciate its notices of activities in the city that includes the largest number of Slovenians in the country. I will miss learning about how Slovenian children learned to be good before the arrival of Saint Nicholas or else expect a visit by the devils.  I will miss the corny jokes and recipes, and bragging about American-Slovenians’ accomplishments, like earning advanced degrees, getting academic distinctions, serving in public office and the military, and performing in recitals.  I will miss reading about the various activities, camps, gatherings, polka masses, singing festivals, children’s performances in native costume—coordinated by volunteer efforts, without a cent of tax money.  The newspaper, too, was a “grass roots, independent, and unencumbered newspaper,” according to publishers Jim and Madeline Debevec’s parting statement.   

            The American Home’s pages exposed me to the history of Slovenia, a tiny country with a distinct culture and language, but one that did not gain political independence until 1991.  It had been subject to rule by various monarchies, invasions by Muslims, and finally the communist dictator Josip Broz Tito.  Although viewed as benevolent by many, Tito was responsible for murdering thousands of Slovenians, many of them civilians.  This half-educated man, rising from the status of machine “worker” to war hero, thought that because of his education largely in communist ideology, he knew what should be done to make the world “as it should be.”  As is so typical of his kind, he became far more ruthless, acquisitive, and egotistical than any of the monarchs he and his comrades had condemned.        

Although I sat in classrooms with children of Ukrainian and Polish immigrants, the history of our people was not told in our public schools in Rochester, New York.  While we were treated to the gruesome footage from Hitler’s concentration camps, almost nothing was said about the millions--including kin of the students sitting right there in class--killed under Stalin and other communist tyrants.  But these regimes, allies in the early part of the war, share the same socialist ideology.

So when you’re Slovenian, or another “invisible immigrant,” you have to learn the history on your own. 

In addition to news about various ethnic activities, the American Home led me to contacts in Cleveland, who told me about books about my country.  I bought Joze Rant’s The Slovenian Exodus of 1945.  He begins by answering the question posed by offspring of Slovenian refugees of 1945 about why their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had to leave.  The Nazis invaded in 1941, seeing Slavs as just another group to be subjugated.  The communist Partisans exploited the situation and conducted a “continuous and savage murder spree” on Slovenians.  Resistance to Partisan terrorism arose as self-defense in the form of Village Guards.  The first mass murders of Slovenians took place in 1943, after Italy’s surrender.  This is the way Rant describes it:

            “The Allies ordered the Italian Army to hand over all its weapons and equipment to the Partisan forces.  Because rumors were circulating at the time that the Allies were going to land on the Slovenian coastline and break across Slovenia into Central Europe, the anticommunist forces (Village Guards and Chetniks) were making preparations to aid the Allies in this venture according to their means.  The communist Partisans however had already in advance made an agreement with the Germans to jointly resist any Allied invasion.  The Village Guards found themselves in a very unfavorable position face to face with the Partisan forces that were now armed with Italian heavy weaponry.  The Partisan forces en masse did not aim their weapons at the Germans [as the Western world was made to believe], but on the contrary at fellow Slovenians, the Village Guards and the Chetniks.”

            Weaponless, and then with Ljubljana Province under German occupation, the Slovenian anticommunists were left “with only two choices: either join the communists. . . or accept weapons from the occupier to be able to defend themselves.”   

            The Home Guard arose from the Village Guards.  In the waning days, they fled to Austria.   In 1945, members and their families were told by the British that they were leaving their refugee camps to go to Italy.  But once on the train, they were locked in the cars--and led to their slaughter by Tito’s forces at Cveski Rog.  This fact, of course, was buried under Tito’s educational dictatorship.  Monuments to the Partisans still stand in Slovenia, with a marble monstrosity in the middle of downtown Murska Sobota, my birthplace.   

            One of the Home Guards, a woman named Irena, was responsible for my family getting here after she sponsored my uncle, who then sponsored us in 1959.             

            Many of these displaced persons immigrated to Cleveland where a Slovenian community was already well established.  But Cleveland, like many Midwestern cities is being transformed.  Its immigrant communities were destroyed by rioters at the instigation of those who thought idealistically, as Barack Obama thinks he does, that they know how the world “should be” (quotation from his wife’s speeches).  Mosques are replacing Catholic churches.  The useful idiots see this as a good thing, as an example of “diversity.” 

            Here, in Atlanta, a quarter-mile from my house, I nearly hit a late model Mercedes that had edged out too far from the gas station.  A woman with a full black burka, with only slits for the eyes, sat behind the wheel.        

            I contrast this image of the burka-clad Mercedes driver with my parents and immigrants I knew in Rochester, New York, in the 1960s.  Many, like my parents, did not own cars and walked to church and the grocery store, and took the bus to work.  The photos of our early years in the United States show family gatherings with my father and uncle dressed in suits and ties; my aunt and mother in dresses, heels, and hose; the kids in their Sunday best. 

            But today’s immigrants insist that America change for them.  As I walk through the Middle Eastern Studies department at one of the colleges where I teach, doors plastered with Arabic script and anti “Iraq invasion” posters greet me.  I hear the Muslim call to prayer sounded campus wide, honoring Ramadan.  Entering freshmen think nothing unusual about this.  Workshops on “Understanding Islam” have proliferated since 9/11 and their textbooks, according to a study by the American Textbook Council, overwhelmingly describe the religion as benevolent and peace-loving—in contrast to Judaism and Christianity.  Students tend to see themselves as global citizens. 

            But some parts of the globe are emphasized more in their educations than others.  Students can tell you about some polygamous African chief and the wonders of Islam, but little about Eastern or Central Europe.   But if we read books like Rant’s, we will see that one of the first tasks of each occupying force in Slovenia—German, Italian, and Hungarian—was to instill its own curriculum, with its own language and ideological spin on history, in the classroom.

It’s a sad statement that in the land of the free we need to circumvent our own schools.  But we still have other means.  Please join me in a new forum about the history of “silent immigrants” and our corrupt educational system.  Visit my web page at www.marygrabar.com and sign up to be on my list.    

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