Friend of Croatia
Pozdravi! I am a new advertiser on CROWN, and a long-time reader of this marvelous web site. Nenad has asked me to write a little bit about myself, as an introduction to his readers. I have enjoyed reading the articles and features on CROWN for quite some time. I learn something new about Croatia every time I log on.
I am an immigration defense attorney (I help immigrants stay in the U.S.) living in Sacramento, California. My husband is also an attorney, working for the State of California as an environmental lawyer. We have a 17-year-old daughter who will be leaving for college in another year. My family has visited Croatia twice, and we absolutely love it. We hope to go back and visit again soon.
I was born in Chicago, Illinois, of Polish ancestry. “Mahoney” is my married name. My family moved to California when I was six, when my father took a job transfer. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended college in San Jose. I came to Sacramento to go to law school and have lived here since 1979. My husband and I met and married here, and our daughter has never lived anywhere else.
I was led to practice immigration law by a series of events. My church, a Catholic Franciscan parish in downtown Sacramento, was very involved in offering sanctuary (help & protection) to Central American immigrants fleeing civil wars in the late 1980’s. I was a new lawyer then, and thought that the best way I could help these immigrants was with my legal skills. I volunteered for Catholic Social Service (CSS) and started out handling asylum cases for them. That led me to other types of immigration cases, working with people from diverse immigrant communities. Finally, when my daughter was old enough to go to school, I was hired as the staff attorney for the immigration program at CSS. I stayed for about 8 years, before the program was “down-sized” for lack of funding. I worked for another immigration attorney for 18 months, and then started my own firm with a friend who had worked for me at CSS before she became an attorney herself. Eventually, we took on a third partner, and that is the composition of our firm today.
Southeastern Europe and Croatia first came to my attention in 1991, when the Homeland War was just starting. I could not believe what I was reading about the Serbian aggression towards Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, and the world community’s lack of resolve to do anything about it. I followed the progress of the war closely, but did not have a personal connection to Croatia until 1994, when I met a client who became a close friend. He was at that time living in the U.S. and needed immigration help. I see only a few clients from Southeastern Europe, living where I do. We do have a Croatian presence in Sacramento, including a beautiful Croatian Cultural Center, which the local community built entirely from private funds, but we do not have the numbers that exist in other parts of the U.S. I connected with this particular client/friend and became much more aware of the personal cost of the war to individuals. My friend was from Vukovar, and his family had lost everything in the war. They managed to get out alive, but lived as refugees in Našice for years, before finally returning to their home and finding it in ruins.
My friend’s experience induced me to learn more about Croatia and about the history of the whole Southeast European region in general. I have read many books on the subject, to better understand the history and culture. I have a Croatian cookbook and music CD’s which I bought in Zagreb and enjoy here at home. I love the Internet because it keeps me informed about what is happening in Croatia and the region now. There are several news source web sites that I visit regularly. And, of course, there is CROWN for culture, sports, human interest, and political articles.
My friend eventually returned to Croatia after his father died suddenly. His mother needed him and by that time, they were able to return to Vukovar and start the arduous task of re-building their family home. About three years after he left, my family made a vacation trip to visit him. We saw all of Croatia, because he kindly drove us everywhere. We landed in Zagreb, drove through Eastern Slavonija to Vukovar, and stayed a few days there. The war damage was heart-rending to see, but it was encouraging to see new construction going on, too. Our friend had completely re-built his home by then and it is beautiful, overlooking the Danube River. From Vukovar, we drove through Bosnia (stopping in Sarajevo briefly) to the Croatian coast. We saw Dubrovnik (very impressive) and stayed at Tucepi, near Makarska, for a few more days. We drove north then, passing through Split, Zadar, and Rijeka, to end in Pula. We concluded our trip with a bus ride from Pula to Venice, then back to the U.S. We were captivated by the beauty of the Croatian coast and wished we could spend more time there. We will definitely go back in the future.
Last summer, my daughter and I made a second trip to Croatia, this time with my father. Our friend was getting married and we were invited to the wedding. It was an unforgettable experience. The wedding was in Vukovar, at the local Catholic church, with the reception at the Dunav Hotel. About 100 people attended. We were the only Americans, and we felt very welcomed. We were honored to be a part of such a special day. The people we met were all wonderful to us, very friendly and kind.
Since our friend’s wife does not speak English, I decided it was time to start learning Hrvatski so I could communicate with her by letter, phone, and hopefully, in person in the future. I started studying in September 2002 and am still learning. Ucim Hrvatski svakog dana jednu satu navecer. Imam tri udžbenika i dva rijecnika, ali ne razred! Nima razredi u Californiji, bar u Sacramentu. Ali, imam odlucan ucitelj koji sam sastala kroz CROWN. Šaljem njemu pisma e-mailom i ispravlja moje Hrvatski. On je Hrvat iz Splita, radi u S.A.D.-i. Puno mi pomože. Znam da sam pocetnica, ali cu poboljsati na vrijeme. Kada se vratim u Hrvatsku ponovo, želim govoriti i razumjeti jezik.
Hvala vam for the opportunity to introduce myself. I very much appreciate being a part of the community of CROWN readers.
P.S. One last thing: remember I told you last week that my local paper had a travel feature article about cities in Eastern Europe that U.S. tourists had to visit? They left out Dubrovnik, so I wrote to tell them about it. They printed my letter, in its entirety, in this Sunday's paper! You inspire me to promote Croatia as you tirelessly do. Every little bit helps.