To Our Loyal Readers, we would like to introduce you to our new spotlight series where we will interview Croatians in the diaspora community who are passionate about keeping Croatian traditions alive. Our aim is to spotlight these wonderful Croatians and also to allow our readers to connect with diaspora from around the world!
In our first Croatian Diaspora Spotlight Interview, we interview Didi Grbešić, whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Detroit last year at our Uppermoda Pop-Up. Detroit is just across the border from her home town of Windsor, Canada. From the moment we met this beautiful woman, we knew she was someone special! We would love you all to get to know her a tiny bit better through this interview. Enjoy!
Photo: Michael and I meeting Didi for the first time in Detroit
Firstly thank you so much for being part of this Spotlight Series on how the Croatian Diaspora are keeping Croatian Traditions Alive. We are so glad to have you as our first spotlight! ♡ Meagan & Michael
Thank you for asking me to be featured in this spotlight. I would like to commend Uppermoda for contributing to the preservation of our beautiful Croatian heritage in a modern fun way. For as early as I can remember, Croatia and being Croatian has been a huge (if not the biggest) part of my life. My parents immigrated from Hercegovina to Canada in the 70’s and from the start were very involved in the Croatian community in Windsor. Countless summers spent in Croatia & Hercegovina certainly contributed to this connection and passion. Although I was born and raised in Canada, the feeling I get when I land in Croatia, or the emptiness felt in my heart when leaving Croatia cannot be explained.
My love for Croatian folklore came at an early age when I starting dancing at 4 years old, and playing the tamburica at 7 years old. I’ve been involved with KAS my entire life, in some capacity, and today I am the instructor and choreographer for the senior dance group. The folklore group is a huge part of my life and holds a big piece of my heart. My mother spent countless hours sewing and embroidering the beautiful Croatian costumes that our dancers wear and many of my lifelong friendships were formed within the folklore group.
A small group of like-minded individuals who share the same passion and love for our Croatian community established the Croatian Foundation of Windsor in 2015, with our focus being on supporting the Croatian community abroad. We believe that by helping our youth, seniors and new immigrants, we can build a stronger Croatian community in Windsor and in Canada. Our hope is that we advance our culture beyond the borders through fundraising, charitable initiatives, endowments and donations. Our main focus is in our youth where we believe in investing in their education through bursaries, scholarships and awards, as well as supporting our Croatian school, folklore dance, and sports organizations. Personally, there is nothing more rewarding that facilitating the continued legacy of the Croatian diaspora community.
Photo: Didi and her daughters
Although there were many people throughout my life who have contributed to my knowledge of history and traditions, the earliest influence was by parents who educated my sisters and I about our Croatian history. My parents left communist Yugoslavia where they were forbidden to openly identify as patriotic Croats, so they made sure that when they arrived to Canada, their faith and identity was passed on to us. They felt it was important to learn the language and with that, encouraged us to exclusively speak Croatian in our home. Learning about culture and language begins in the home, and I am thankful they were persistent in pushing us to learn the language. My husband and I are both 2nd generation Croatians and we also speak to our children in Croatian as often as we can.
Throughout the years, I have also attended numerous folklore seminars with choreographers from LADO, where I have learned primarily folk dance but also the traditions in each of the regions in Croatia.
Frequent visits to the homeland always involved road trips to historic sites and landmarks. One special memory I have as a 6 year old was when our family went to Tomislavgrad (Duvno) in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I remember my father explaining to us that the first Croatian King, Kralj Tomislav, was crowned a King in the fields (Duvanjsko polje) where we were standing. We had a painting of Kralj Tomislav in our home, so it was that moment in Duvno, which triggered my interest in Croatian history.
Keeping pace with the ever-changing world and present era of modernisation can sometimes make us disconnected from our roots, especially being so far from Croatia. Because of this, I find it even more important to pass on these traditions to my children, as well as the children I teach. Folklore, literature and most importantly language define us as people. Everyone at some point in their life wants to know where they came from, who their ancestors were and how they lived. Teaching our children about our rich cultural history helps them understand their personal identity, gives them a sense of belonging and creates stability in who they are as individuals. The older I get, the more of a connection I feel to my ancestors, and I want to learn more about how they lived. I try to incorporate small traditions into my daily life – whether it be cooking a traditional Croatian meal for my family, baking my baba’s cookies at Christmas, or just listening to Croatian music (which we do alot of) - I want my children to experience the same connection as I do.
Windsor is a unique city, sitting on the US border and distanced from other Croatian communities in Canada. Croatians settled in Windsor after WWII and the first Croatian church in Canada (Sveti Franjo Asiški – St. Francis of Assisi) was established in Windsor in 1950. With the influx of Croatian newcomers in the 70’s, a larger church was needed which prompted the building of our current parish and community centre, which was completed in 1981. Of course there were hardships and struggles along the way, even today, but the determination and hope of our Croatian immigrants to build a community for their children and grandchildren proved to be rewarding in ways I cannot explain. We have a fairly large and active Croatian community where we always have something on the go – banquets, concerts, sporting events etc. Our community was built by Croatian immigrants who wanted something they could call their own. I feel a strong obligation to help keep the community alive and humbly pass on whatever knowledge I have to future generations.
I would encourage those who wish to be more involved to seek what Croatian communities already exist within the city they live in. Whether it be a Croatian church, folklore group, language school, business association, soccer club or political group – see what is out there and get involved. The beauty of us being Croatian and having our Croatian communities is that no matter where you are in the world, you will always feel at home and welcomed because of an invisible and unexplainable bond which ties the Croatian people.
There are so many resources on the internet today, and it is easier than ever to research our ancestry and heritage. Some of my favourite Facebook pages are: Croatian Heritage and genealogy, Croatia Week, Hrvatska Povjest – od A do Ž, Ansambl Narodnih plesova i pjesama Hrvatske Lado and Hrvatska Matica Iseljenika to name a few. If you would like to know what is going on in the community in Canada, the Canadian Croatian Chamber of Commerce facebook page is a good source for information.
Photo: Didi at the C.N.S.C Annual Golf Tourney in Windsor, Canada
She is wearing our Makarska Top!
I am quite active on Facebook where I like to document important events in our communities as well as some touching upon some Croatian history. I like to be out and about in our communities where I try to attend Croatian events not only in Windsor, but also in other Croatian communities in Ontario.
Did's Facebook profile is: https://www.facebook.com/didi.grbesic
We hope you enjoyed our first Croatian Diaspora interview in our Spotlight Series! If you would like to be interviewed or would like to recommend someone let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
♡ Meagan & Michael
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Mirjana Cestar is the President of Croatia House - a cultural association established to promote Croatian performing and visual Arts in Australia. Continue reading to find out how Mirjana has been connecting Australia & Croatia and to find out more about the films Croatia House is featuring at the Croatian Film Festival