Croatian film director Matko Petrić’s movie Drops of Sea, Drops of Sun (Kapi mora, kapi sunca), with a brilliant screenplay by Renata Baretić and the verse of Jakša Fiamengo read by Ivica Vidović, was shown at the Croatian Culture Center of Greater Los Angeles, in San Pedro, home to many Komiža natives, followed by showings in Las Vegas and Houston.

San Pedro, a port district in the city of Los Angeles, is celebrating 125 years in the film industry, not just in Los Angeles, but also of Hollywood. Every year San Pedro is host to the San Pedro International Film Festival (SPIFF), whose director Ziggy Mrkich is of Croatian extraction.
The Festival took place at several locations in early October, and Croatian film director Matko Petrić’s movie Drops of Sea, Drops of Sun (Kapi mora, kapi sunca), with a brilliant screenplay by Renata Baretić and the verse of Jakša Fiamengo read by Ivica Vidović, was shown at the Croatian Culture Center of Greater Los Angeles. The film was screened there and in other American cities thanks to the efforts of the Split branch office of the Croatian Heritage Foundation. Happy with the audience turnout, president Maya Bristow said that the Center was open to all Croatians from around the world and invited them to promote their work on the US west coast where the Center’s doors are open to them.
Matko Petrić’s film is a very poetic take in the small town of Komiža. Among the many excellent movies screened at the festival, most American productions, this was the only film without violence, blood and shooting. It was an opportunity to dedicate an entire evening to Komiža, which was right on the mark, as San Pedro is home to many emigrants from the Adriatic island town. The programme was opened and moderated by the Center’s vice president Frane Jerković. It all kicked off with the preschool Children of Scola Croatica singing Paun leti (A Peacock Flies) accompanied by Suzana Tkalčić. Ljubica Perhat and Ines Kordić read the Komiža dialect poetry of Joško Božanić Pepe. The Klapa Izvor a cappella band was also on hand to sing songs of Komiža, and there was also an exhibition of graphic art on Komiža to view. The event closed with a recital by Gabriela Brajević of a poem in memory of the late Anka Burmaz of San Pedro, a poet born in Komiža. On hand on behalf of general consul Josip Buljević was his wife Nives.
There were other events in Los Angeles around the same time. Also in San Pedro natives of the coastal city of Zadar celebrated Zadar Evening featuring performances by Petar Tulić and Mate Carić, while the renowned University of California in Los Angeles in the western part of town was host to the European Jazz Festival. The festival was promoted as the first EU event in which eleven jazz bands participated from ten countries, including Croatia, the initiator of the event. The Europeans demonstrated their take on this American form of music. Croatia was represented by Borna Šercar’s Jazziana Croatica. Speaking at the opening at the Italian Institute was Croatian general consul Josip Buljević. An exhibition of the art of Croatian painter Roko Ivanda was also presented in the lobby of the University.

The small communities of Las Vegas, San Diego and Houston
We had to move on – to Las Vegas, home of the Croatian Club of Las Vegas where Tomislav Buntić serves as president. The club has no premises of its own and the small community gathers on various occasions at the homes of its members. That’s how it was this time when the movie Drops of Sea, Drops of Sun was screened at the home of Elvira and Ratko Šoda, natives of Tisno. Adding to the company was San Pedro’s Gabriela Brajević, also a member of the Croatian Emigrant Lyricism association (founded in New York thirteen years ago). Zoran Sova is also a member of the association, and the vice president of the Croatian Club in Las Vegas, and the two recited their poetry before the screening.
Another small Croatian community lives in the San Diego area, in the deep south of California. These are younger emigrants, most refugees of the 1990s war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and are not organised in an association. They gather at the local church in the town of Escondido, close to the border with Mexico and with a predominantly Mexican population. Contact with the homeland is maintained during masses in the Croatian language served by Don Mate Bižaca. Gabriela Brajević read her poetry to them as well, and from now on consul Josip Buljević has decided that they will have consular days.
The film moved on, this time to Houston in the state of Texas, the home of the Lone Star Croatian Club led by its president Mladen Sic. The association is very active and its members have taken it upon themselves to revamp a once dilapidated unit to serve as the premises of their folklore group – a regular participant of the Slavonian Festival in Houston, which showcases the folklore of several European nations. They also organise the Croatian-American Ball in which Croatian honorary consul in Houston Philip Berquist takes part. Also active in the frame of the association is a Croatian language school attended by pupils in three age groups. Don Mate Bižaca also drops by when he is able, so that Houston also celebrates mass in the Croatian language. The members of the group are largely Croatians from Bosnia, some of who have been here for twenty years now. The association has been around for twenty-nine years, but the Croatian community in the area is much older.
The first Croatians to come to southern Texas were fishermen and oyster farmers. These settled on Galveston Island back in the late 19th century. The island is now linked to the mainland by a bridge and is about an hour’s drive from Houston. Some of the people coming here from Croatia are physicians, staying for short or longer periods in this leading hub of American medicine for specialisation.
The Lone Star Croatian Club, which took its name from the symbol of the state of Texas, organises a picnic for its members every year. Everyone looks forward to this occasion when they can socialise, enjoy spit-roasted lamb and pig, play football (soccer) and enjoy Croatian music. We screened Matko Petrić’s film on one such occasion, with an introduction by very active association member Danijela Miškić, a Sarajevo-born Croatian. She also sees to the upkeep of the association’s web site on which the activities are announced through to the end of the year.

With the Croatians of Louisiana
The close of the tour saw a visit to the Croatian community of Louisiana in the city of New Orleans. Croatians first settled in Louisiana in the mid 1830s with the arrival of sailors from Dubrovnik and Boka Kotorska. By the end of the century people had begun to arrive from the Pelješac Peninsula, the islands of Korčula, Hvar, Brač and others. They came as fishers from the Dalmatia region to work in Louisiana in the hard work of oyster farming. The greatest number settled in the parish of Plaquemines, located to the south of New Orleans on a highly indented area near the Mississippi River delta. Men came for the most part, many of who remained unmarried, unwilling to take French or Irish wives, and their social life was confined largely to bars and saloons. Some were fortunate enough to have wives coming from the old country. The parish was devastated in 2010 when oil escaped from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, a blow to oyster farmers.
Life in the city always offers more possibilities. 139 years ago the United Slavonic Benevolent Association was founded in New Orleans, working on the principles of all emigrant benefit societies of the time. In return for their membership fees, members received a meal on days when they were without work, and were insured against disability, and were buried in a common grave in the event of their death. The grave still exists at the municipal cemetery, where burials are performed above ground as the city is below sea level, which proved to be a great problem when Hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005.
Today much of New Orleans has been rebuilt. Buildings have regained their old lustre and serious work is being done to reinforce the levees so that a similar situation does not occur again. Specialists warned that the levees were is disrepair before Hurricane Katrina struck, which was made evident when the tragedy hit. Part of the work on the levee is led by construction engineer Randy Oustalet, a member of the Croatian American Society (CAS), whose wife Barbara’s maiden name is Cvitanovich – she draws her roots from the settlement of Igrane. As an active member of this Croatian association Barbara Oustalet has joined Tricia Lincoln, and the two have now staged two consecutive annual Croatian Ladies’ Luncheons. They were joined at this year’s luncheon by a group of Croatian women from Biloxi in neighbouring Mississippi, and a return visit is planned. The satisfaction of the ladies present is a sure guarantee that this gathering will become a traditional one. Within the association Barbara Oustalet has been proud to organise promotions of Croatian wines and the beauty of the Dalmatia region in southern Croatia. The CAS has a property with premises at which they gather and organise picnics, but unlike in Houston, they roast oysters rather than lamb.
Speaking of roast oysters, we should no forget to mention a popular restaurant that has earned its fame with its own roast oyster recipe. Drago’s restaurant has been inducted into the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame. The restaurant is owned by Klara and Drago Cvitanovich whose specialities are enjoyed by Hollywood celebrities. Patriots and humanitarians, the Cvitanovich’s provided aid to Croatia during the Homeland War of Independence and to their fellow citizens during the hurricane Katrina tragedy, distributing thousands of free meals for the victims. The restaurant was opened in 1969 by the now 88-yea-old Drago Cvitanovich of Igrane and his wife Klara. The still vital Klara, who says the secret ingredient of their recipes is love, is leaving more and more of the daily operations of the restaurant to their son Tommy.
The active community gathered in the Croatian American Society welcomed the famed music duo 2Cellos, who’s US tour moved to New Orleans after a performance in Houston. Drago’s restaurant was their heartfelt host on this occasion, where they sampled excellent Louisiana Cajun cuisine and some treats from the Dalmatia region.

Text by: Branka Bezić Filipović