Immigrant Song

Immigrant Song

Cody McClain Brown

I’ve just realized that I am an immigrant. Each year my life in Croatia becomes less and less transitory, and more and more permanent. Now, there is a sort of irony to this, given that my family once emigrated from Europe over a 100 years ago. I imagine I’m knocking on Europe’s door somewhere, suitcase in hand, and saying: I’m baaaaack!

When I think of immigrants I think of big steamer ships and a mass of ragged, weary people disembarking in a strange new land, captured in blurry black and white photos. I don’t think of myself getting off of a plane in Split, captured in High Definition color on an iPhone. And yet, here I am. A stranger in a not-really-that-strange-anymore land.  

Run!

I recently came across a powerful passage written in 1892 as a guide to life in the US, by an immigrant, for arriving immigrants.

“Holdfast, this is most necessary in America, forget your customs and your ideals. Select a goal and pursue it with all your might… You will experience a bad time, but sooner or later you will achieve your goal. If you are neglectful, beware the wheel of fortune turns fast. You will lose your grip and be lost. A bit of advice for you: Do not take a moment’s rest. Run.”

This encapsulates so much about the American mindset. We are generally optimistic, focused, and driven in the pursuit of some goal. And this type of ambition is generally admired. When I think back to the uncertainty facing my great-grandparents and the other huddled masses coming to America’s eastern shore, I understand how optimism and focus must have been important skills for their survival. They had to believe that the trip, their sacrifice, their suffering would all be worth it. 

Slowly!

Now imagine a similar passage written for someone immigrating to Croatia. 

“Wait, this is most necessary in Croatia. Forget your customs, drink coffee, sit down. You will experience a good time, it won’t be great, at first, but it won’t be bad either. State what you want for lunch, but eat what is cooked for you, even though you agreed that you would have something else, never mind. Your “goals” will take time and no one likes someone who is pushy. Just wait. Sit. Have a coffee. Sip it slow. A bit of advice: invite people for coffee. Slowly, now.”

Nothing to Fear, but…um Fear?

Honestly, I’m relieved that I’ve immigrated to a country where the pace of life is slower. The idea of moving to a place like the US, even though I’m already from the US, is terrifying. One thing that hasn’t changed over the last century, is that the American wheel of fortune does spin, and even for the locals there is a sense that if you don’t run, you will fall, and fail. There are stories of people who in the course of a couple months went from making 120 thousand dollars annually to making 25 thousand dollars a year. The pervasive fear of falling (and failing) is the palpable difference between the US and Croatia. 

In Croatia I’ve never been scared. Worried? Yes, but fearful of my uncertain future? No. I’ve also been fortunate; however, even without all the unbelievable good luck I’ve had, I would still feel that life here is less terrifying than life in the US. Perhaps, Going slow helps cultivate those relationships that help make sure that when you fall, you don’t fall too far. 

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About me:

A hrvatski zet raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I am frequently shocked, confused, and pleasantly surprised about the differences between life in America and life in Croatia. This blog is an attempt to understand many of those differences. As a member of the English staff of the International Program of Croatian Radio - on the Voice of Croatia, I’m hoping to explain Croatia to the English speaking community, and maybe explain some of the English speaking world to Croatians. I also write another blog with similar themes called Zablogreb. Here is a link to this blog in Croatian.

 

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