Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the Adriatic: Venetians, Croatians, Slovenes, in San Francisco

When my family immigrated from the province of Brescia, they eventually settled along the Montreal River between Upper Michigan and Wisconsin (the Ironwood-Hurley area). Although the Upper Peninsula was largely settled by Finns, Lombardians and Venetians were already well settled there as well, and some of their neighbors were Croatian. Ironically, a century and a quarter earlier, many western Croatians lived under the same government--the Venetian Republic--as did the Brescians. Now here they were, Croatian and Brescian descendants, living in a rural area along the Montreal River.

When my parents moved to San Francisco many years later in the mid-60s, there was a large Croatian-American community there. San Francisco has a similar history of European immigration as does the other big American cities of a century ago, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and New Orleans. A lot of Irish and Italians, except that the "Italians" were chiefly from northwest of the peninsula; as well as Germans, Slovenes, Croatians, Russians, Ukrainians, Scandinavians, Maltese, and others.

Today, with so much contrived turnover, few San Franciscans are even aware of the city's past connection with the Adriatic Sea. There were a sizable number of immigrants from the Tri-Veneto area, as well as the Croatians and Slovenes. Since the Venetians, Croatians, Slovenes, and other groups, long struggled for Trieste and the Istria region, tensions may have been... "warm." If you look at the map above, Istria is the land that is shaped like a little arrowhead at the north end of the Adriatic. It was part of the Langobard Kingdom at one time. I can recall reading that the Langobards teamed up with the Avars to raid some of those nearby Slavic areas, which included a lot of carnage; so I guess this "west Adriatic vs. east Adriatic" conflict goes back quite a long time, with the "east" certainly getting its licks in along the way as well.

My cousin lives in Pennsylvania, in an area with an old Croatian community, and she told me that some still have at least a slight grudge against "Italians" merely because of the historical struggle between Croatians and Italians. This struggle seemed to have started with Venetian aggression, and was inflamed later with Fascist aggression. I had heard that about 60,000 Italian settlers, and perhaps long-standing Venetians, were killed in the later stages of World War II. As a Padanist, I would admit that their issue--or "ours" for that matter--if there even is one anymore, is with "us," and not Southern Italians.

If this issue is still even remotely alive with anyone in Pennsylvania in 2012, then I would speculate that there could have been some tension between the Venetians, Croatians, and Slovenes in San Francisco a century ago. I just think it's ironic in that San Francisco is so far from Trieste. However, it couldn't have really amounted to much. I do know that feuding Balkan immigrants, even today, hold strong grudges against each other in certain cities where they live. Someone once told me even in Phoenix! Phoenix is pretty far from the Balkans.

I always thought that the Balkans and the Italian peninsula had a lot in common. Both were made up of quite a few different nations, with different languages and cultures; at least up to the Risorgimento. The big difference after that was that nobody forced everyone in the Balkans to give up their languages and all become "Balkonians." It probably should be stated that the past Venetian-Croatian conflict is nothing compared to the conflict between Croatians and Serbians, or any other conflict in the Balkans. For whatever it's worth, I only wish that our culture fostered the same type of folkishness and self-identity as does the Croatian.

When I was loosely involved, a few years ago, in the local construction industry; I came across a handful of recent Bosnians and Albanians. There were also some Montenegrins in early and later migrations to San Francisco. For that matter, also some Greeks and south Italian Adriatics as well. I suppose that within the sizable German community, going back many years, there must have been Austians, which is really just a little north of the northern Adriatic coast. Also Hungarians, which weren't too far off from there either; because I recall once on Geary Street in San Francisco, of seeing some Hungarian-American center. There were also Romanians in the Istrian mix, from long ago, and I have come across a few people who said they were of Romanian descent in the Bay Area; a couple old and a couple more recent.



Etrusco-Umbro-Gallic said...

Great posts on your blog, Cammun.

Yes, the Croats are, in my opinion, one of the integral European nations much like the peoples of northern half of the Italian peninsula are. Recall the dark ages and the powerful Croatian kingdom which defeated the Byzantines and Bulgarians and was quite a match for the Langobards.

During the Venetian Empire era, many of its high ranking positions were staffed by Dalmatian Croats.

Renaissance was quite alive in Croatia.

The Croats were also the shield of Europe for quite a while against the Ottoman hordes and provided many "crusader" frontiersman-warriors.

I do not believe they are Slavs, nor do I believe they are "Mediterranean" like Puglesi, or Greeks. They are most likely descended from autochotonous Illyrian tribes.

Now the Serbs are a different story. They do have quite a bit of "Mediterranean" and Middle Eastern ancestry stemming from various events.

Moreover, Serbian culture is quite Middle Eastern in its flavor much like the Albanian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Romanian are. Byzantine and Ottoman rule contributed to this.

This is not to downplay Serbian achievements, of course. They are good hearted people and are pretty brave, I think. But as opposed to the Croats, the Serbs are more analogous to Neapolitans.

Camun said...

Croatians have a similar early history. Alpine tribes, followed by Celts.

Speaking of the Adriatic, when the Langobards first entered Padania to help stop the Goths, they came by boats down the Adriatic Sea.