Along with the fifteenth anniversary of the Croatian Emigrant Lyricism event in New York, the celebration of Split’s patron Saint Domnius at the Croatian civic centre in San Pedro there was also a Croatian-Peruvian friendship day staged at the Croatian Cultural Center. Ahead of other anniversaries this year there were many meetings and arrangements on future collaboration with the local Croatian communities.  

April kicked off in the American-Croatian community with a gala anniversary celebration of the Croatian Emigrant Lyricism organisation in New York, where the idea was hatched fifteen years ago to gather Croatians writing poetry in the Croatian language. It was the brainchild of then Croatian supplementary schoolteacher Nada Pupačić. She gathered poets once a year in the Astoria neighbourhood, later moving on to other American cities, Canada, Europe and Croatia.
One of the members of the Croatian Emigrant Lyricism organisation in New York from its inception, Ivan Dobra from the island of Žirje, was this year inducted into the Croatian Writers’ Society. The number of members has grown over time – poets from around the world have joined and the organisation has joined the Croatian World Congress.
This year’s festivity was staged at the Church of the Most Precious Blood in New York’s Astoria, and was opened by the Reverend Vedran Kirinčić, the head of the local Croatian Catholic mission. Welcome speeches were delivered by event founder Nada Pupačić, consul counsellor Davor Kristić, Srećko Listeš DSc, the reviewer of last year’s collection of poetry, Milan Bošnjak, the reviewer of this year’s and the head of the sector for the implementation of programmes and projects of Croats abroad. The gathered were addressed on behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation by Branka Bezić Filipović and Silvije Jergović, the heads of the CHF branch offices in Split and Vukovar, respectively. The old and new members were presented, with the next meeting to be staged in Solin in 2016 – the poets in the emigrant communities wish to continue working on the preservation of the Croatian language abroad.
On the other American coast, in the city of San Pedro, a port area community of Los Angeles, the Sveti Duje humanitarian association celebrated the feast day of the patron saint of the city of Split, St Domnius (Sveti Duje) at the local Croatian civic centre on the last Saturday in April, as is traditional. The gathered were welcomed by the association’s president Duje Tomić, with Dr Mirko Giaconi acting as event MC. Gabriela Brajevich read two of her poems in Croatian, with Branka Bezić Filipović on hand representing the Croatian Heritage Foundation. She read excerpts from Ivan Kovačić’s Smij i suze starega Splita (The Laughter and Tears of Old Split), which details the celebration of St Domnius day in the past. She also presented a letter from Split Mayor Ivo Baldasar. A lottery was led by Joško Ivčević, with musical entertainment provided by Petra Tulić accompanied by guitar. This evening was also a humanitarian event as the natives of Split now living in San Pedro always collect some money for those in Split in the greatest need.
A Croatian-Peruvian friendship day event was organised the following day at the Croatian Cultural Center. A presentation was given by Branka Bezić Filipović on the Croatian community in Peru, with the centre’s president Maya Bristow on hand to welcome the gathered. Along with Peruvian music there was also a performance of Croatian music by the Izvor band. Croatian and Peruvian cuisine was on offer with the festivities lasting late into the evening.
The Dalmatian club of San Pedro is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year in late August and they would like to see a visit from the Hajduk FC football (soccer) club’s veteran’s side. But before the festivities they have been busy organising business meetings. Last week they were visited by Croatian minister of entrepreneurship and crafts Gordan Maras and his aides. It was an opportunity for him to meet members of the local Croatian community and hear them out. Also at the meeting was the recently appointed Croatian consul in Los Angeles Tomislav Vlahutin – the previous general consul Joško Buljević has accepted the call of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović to serve as her national security advisor.
Many pupils of Croatian extraction practice at the Bogdanovich Recreation Center in San Pedro. We met there with Suzy and John Carresi. Suzy is the daughter of Gabriela and Ante Brajevich, both from Split, while John’s father Alex is an Italian and his mother Marijana is a Croatian. They work as coaches of the school sports teams. Active in one of these teams is their youngest son Mateo and two other children of Croatian extraction, Jacob Sutrin and Adi Zulijevic. Their eldest son Anthony Carresi is an American football player in the secondary school league, while their middle son Dominic plays on the elementary school baseball team. Dominic’s coach Mike Frka also shares a Croatian background – his wife Lisa, née Mardešić, is also a Croatian. Dominic’s teammate wearing the number 13 jersey bears the surname Cvitanovic, and it seems at times that we have not left Croatia at all.
The Croatians of northern California are involved in other activities. The Croatian American Cultural Center in Sacramento, the capital of the state of California, has elected a new president, Gary Allen, whose grandfather came to the United States of America from the Croatian island of Korčula. In the coming year the association will celebrate its fortieth anniversary, so the discussion turned to plans for the celebration and of future activities.
It is particularly exciting in nearby Napa Valley, the heart of the California wine-growing region, as the Grgich family is preparing its jubilee Chardonnay tasting in Chicago. The first such event was organised thirty-five years ago and saw 221 exhibitors take part. The Chardonnay from Grgich Hills was then declared the best in the field. This year, on the 7th of May, the event will be opened in Chicago by the Grgich family. In his declaration Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel underlined the important role Grgich has played in Croatian-American history. Violet Grgich, the daughter of Mike Grgich, received the silver key to the city from the mayor with which she will symbolically open the doors to all.
Miljenko Mike Grgich was born in the village of Desne, a part of the Municipality of Norinska in the Neretva valley, in 1923. He studied at the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Agriculture before moving in 1954, first to Germany and then to Canada. When he finally made his way to the Napa Valley in 1958 Grgich could hardly speak a word of English and had thirty-two dollars to his name, concealed in his shoe. At the time the area was known for its production of plums and walnuts and animal breeding. The Los Angeles Times has written that things have certainly changed since then, and that Grgich was one of the people that contributed to that change.
Thanks to Grgich it has been established that Zinfandel came to America from the Croatian coast. He read in a book by Dr Maleš that Zinfandel and Plavac Mali are the same grape variety, and requested a DNA analysis from Davis University. Once Croatian researchers had joined the effort it was confirmed that the Zinfandel DNA was in fact identical to that of the related Kaštelanski Crljenac variety.
The Croatians of America are proud of their Croatian origins and we in the old country are also proud of their success in their new homeland.

Text by: Branka Bezić Filipović

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2 – Branka Bezić Filipović with consul Tomislav Vlahutin
3 – Rudy Svornich, president of the Dalmatian club of San Pedro with Minister Goran Maras
4 – Suzy and John Carresi with their team
5 – Gary Allen, president of the local Croatian association in Sacramento
6 – Violet Grgich with the keys to the City of Chicago
7 – The Izvor band of San Pedro
8 – Participants of the evening of Croatian Emigrant Lyricism
9 – Duje Tomic and Dr Mirko Giaconi at the St Domnius festival
10 – Gabriela Brajevich reads poetry dedicated to her native Split