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(E) Croatian New 'pilgrims' give thanks
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/27/2003 | Media Watch | Unrated
(E) Croatian New 'pilgrims' give thanks


New 'pilgrims' give thanks

By STACEY PALEVSKY, Courier Staff Writer

BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photorapher Drajic, Stana and Milan Visnjic celebrate today their second Thanksgiving in America. They moved from Croatia to Waterloo last year.

WATERLOO --- We all know the story of Thanksgiving --- pilgrims, Native Americans, corn, Plymouth Rock and turkey.

But do we remember the reason for this feast?

The meal celebrated the Puritans' successful escape of religious persecution in England.

Last year, more than a million people immigrated to the United States. Today, like the Pilgrims did so many years ago, they will celebrate their new freedom with a Thanksgiving dinner of their own.

Drajic and Stana Visnjic, with their sons Milan and Dusan, immigrated from Croatia last year. Today is their second Thanksgiving in Waterloo. This year they're inviting many people to dinner --- cousins, and friends from English as a second language classes.

For the Visnjics, Thanksgiving is a deeply emotional holiday.

"First, we're thankful that we get the chance to enter the U.S.A. after a very hard and difficult period in our country during the war," Milan said through a translator. "Two, we're thankful to God because we've found here a lot of good people and good friends. My mom and dad have found a good new life."

Stana is in charge of the kitchen, and she will prepare the Thanksgiving feast. She watched a how-to on television, but it was just for reinforcement --- they eat turkey in Croatia, too.

Stana plans to make traditional soup and cookies, and also will serve potatoes and a salad. She'll also offer her guests a plate of cheese, since she likes cheese with her turkey.

Miriam Rincon's family will also modify her turkey recipe. Rincon's mother will prepare the Thanksgiving feast for Rincon's children and her two brothers.

"We cook the turkey in Mexican way, and use some red sauce on the whole turkey," Rincon said. "We'll have rice and beans, too."

She and her husband Domingo Rubio moved to Waterloo from Mexico about 10 years ago. Though she doesn't remember her first Thanksgiving, she does remember being grateful for a better life in America.

"This year I'm thankful for being in good health, that's one of the most important things," Rincon said.

For refugees, life America can be not only a relief, but an answered prayer. After Esaie Toingar left Africa to escape Chad's civil war, his wife, Brigitte, soon followed. This Thanksgiving --- their third --- Brigitte is still appreciative of the peaceful life she has found in Cedar Falls.

"I thank God for the community. I thank him for guiding me, and for helping me get through a healthy birth," Toingar said. Three weeks ago the Toingar's welcomed a second daughter into the world, Joyce.

But Thanksgiving can be bittersweet for immigrants and refugees.

The Toingar's left most of their family in Chad, and though Brigitte is sad to be away from her family on this Thanksgiving, she can't help but be grateful for her escape. Her daughters will be safer in the U.S.

The Visnjic's only daughter and grandchildren still live in Croatia.

"Our biggest wish is to celebrate next Thanksgiving with our daughter and grandkids," Drajic said. "We are living for that."

Still, they are happy to be in the U.S., and look forward to sharing food and their home with others.

"We're thankful over here there is some holiday like Thanksgiving that gives a chance for family and friends to get together and talk about the year," Milan said.

BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photorapher Drajic, Stana and Milan Visnjic celebrate today their second Thanksgiving in America. They moved from Croatia to Waterloo last year.

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