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Honoring my Croatian dad and the “immigrant mentality”

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

Emma and Darko Puž (Private album)

“Immigrant mentality” is a term often used to describe the mindset or attitudes that are commonly observed in immigrants who migrate to another country. It refers to a combination of traits and values that are often associated with the experience of leaving one’s home country and moving to a new place in search of a better life.

Some common characteristics include a strong work ethic, resourcefulness, a willingness to take risks and adapt to new situations, and, in the Croatian case, a big love for the homeland. 

Croatians who moved abroad to create new lives during the 1900s to places like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South America, often had to work hard to establish themselves in their new country, facing language barriers, cultural differences, and other challenges. As a result, they tended to be resilient and determined in the face of adversity.

Many Croatians contributed greatly to the cultural and economic vibrancy of many countries around the world, and their values and mentality have rubbed off on their children who were born and raised in those places.

Many diaspora-born Croatians are thankful for this rich upbringing they had, as these values and the Croatian culture were installed in them by their parents. One of those who is thankful for that is Emma Puž. 

Although Emma’s father, Darko Puž, was born in Canton, Ohio, he spent his years growing up in Croatia, specifically near Mučići, attending elementary school in Brešca. 

Due to many factors, his family ultimately decided to migrate to the US (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1975, as many Europeans did at that time. 

“Since then, my dad has gotten married, started a family (my brother and I), and made a valiant effort to teach us how to read, write, and speak Croatian. We also read/write/speak the Dalmatian dialect and visit often so that we know where our roots are here in Croatia – nothing beats my dad’s Croatian pride,” Emma tells us, explaining how life posed challenges for her father when he first moved to the US.

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

Emma and Darko on Krk (Private album)

“For example, US colleges did not honor Croatian high school diplomas at that time. My dad attended classes while he worked in an effort to get into college. I am happy to say that he achieved his goals and graduated from Penn State as an engineer.”

Darko also worked hard to instill Croatian values in his children.

“Growing up, my brother and I would have a few hours each week where we would ‘study’ the Croatian language. This included reading and writing, and was in addition to our regular schoolwork and homework. None of our American friends had to learn another language at home, and we just wanted to go play! In hindsight, I am so glad that we gained those skills and that our parents ensured we learned the language fully. In addition to this, the food and music are also very unique. Even now, I continue to introduce Croatian food and music to my friends,” Emma recalls.

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

Emma in Pula (Private album)

Emma says she is thankful for the strong bond she holds with others that have similar experiences to her – growing up in the US, but also recognizing another part of the world as home. 

“I think this translates to many cultures and experiences across the globe. Whether meeting someone new or in casual conversation, finding a common Croatian link is a huge talking point,” she says, before adding.

“There has been a clear generational trend in my family that highlights parents wanting the best possible life for their children and future generations. Values such as strong work ethic, dependability, etc. were instilled in them and showcased by their parents and then passed down to us. This trend is evident as we see it in other Croatians who have since started families abroad and continually go back to visit and share their experiences. We don’t always want to listen to our parents, but they are wiser than we realize!”

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

Emma in Opatija ((Private album)

Emma and her father are on a two-and-a-half-week trip “back home” in Croatia, where they are visiting for Pust or Karneval season.

“We have many family members and friends that we visit here when we aren’t being shown the places he grew up with the stories of fond and fun memories attached. The last time we visited home in spring 2019, our trip was threatened by COVID, and Italy shut down the night before we left. This is our first time returning since then,” she adds.

During the father-daughter trip, they have visited many different places. 

“Our favorite parts have been watching the zvončari and Pust festivities each weekend, traveling to Hum and Pula, and walking through the villages where my grandparents grew up.”

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

In Hum (Private album)

Emma says that it is easy to imagine how her life would have been so much different had she grown up in Croatia. 

“The most impactful stories he has told me surround my grandfather (his father) and how difficult, yet rewarding, life was for him. Throughout this trip, my dad has shown me where my grandpa grew up and spent his life; he said on multiple occasions that he just wants to stand where his own father stood.  On his birthday, February 12, 1919, we went to Male Mune where he grew up to light a candle for him. My grandpa ensured that my dad and his family had a great life in Croatia and subsequently in the US. This is why we come back to visit so often – for all of those good memories and memories we create together as a family,” Emma adds. 

When they are not visiting the homeland, Emma and her dad are active members of Cleveland’s Croatian community, specifically, at St. Paul Croatian Church, The American-Croatian Lodge, and the Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP). 

“My dad has also been working relentlessly to make a genealogy. He has traveled and inquired with many Croatian churches, governmental agencies, and enlisted the help of some friends here in Croatia to get the job done. This genealogy goes back more than 400 years! We plan on sending a copy of this to the youngest Puž in the US once final, so that the roots of our family are not forgotten as time moves forward,” Emma says.

Honoring my Croatian dad and the "immigrant mentality"

In Rijeka (Private album)

Emma and her family plan to continue visiting Croatia and their family and friends indefinitely. 

“With the remote working environment, there is definitely more opportunity to spend a longer amount of time abroad. Ultimately, I would love to retire in Croatia,” she concludes.

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