SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jasna Trifunovic

No Tree?!

 On the first day of kindergarten, nobody could pronounce my name.  I would repeat it over and over, but the teacher seemed to think she knew better and pronounced it totally wrong!  This had really aggravated me and at that point, I was ready to become the very first kindergarten dropout.  But, I would soon come to find out that this was only the beginning.  Things would get worse, and I was going to have to get used to being somewhat ìdifferentî than the other children.

 She often comes to me often complaining about how nobody can pronounce her name and how she wishes she were ìnormalî.  Her father and I come from a very different background.  We were both born and raised in Yugoslavia and have different beliefs that we try and pass onto our children.

 That day, everyone was in high spirits.  It was the last day before winter break.  Christmas music was playing loudly, but us children were louder.  We were making ornaments to take home to our parents for our family Christmas trees.  Outside it was cold, dark, and gloomy, but that did not keep the smiles off of our faces.

 One of the children at my table began to talk about how he was going to visit his grandparents for Christmas.  The other two children also talked about how they could not wait until December twenty-fifth to open up all those presents that would be under their trees.  I remained quiet.  They then proceeded to ask me if I would be getting tons of presents under the tree for Christmas.  ìWellî, I began to explain, ìmy family doesnít celebrate Christmas until January seventh, and we donít have Christmas trees when we celebrate Christmas.î

 The other three looked at me with great disbelief.  They began to ask what was wrong with my parents, and how could we celebrate Christmas without a tree?  And why on Earth would they celebrate Christmas on January seventh when EVERYONE celebrates it December twenty-fifth?  I told them that my parents were Serbian and that we were also Orthodox, and January seventh is when Orthodox people celebrate their Christmas.  I also told them our Christmas was not really about giving presents.  This was a real shocker for them.  ìBut you HAVE to get presents for Christmas, thatís how itís supposed to be!î  They continued to talk about how weird my family and I were.  Finally, I told them I needed to get some more supplies for my ornament, and got up and walked to the other side of the room so they would not see my eyes fill up with tears.

When I went home that afternoon, I began to criticize my parents.  I kept asking them why we had to be different and why they couldnít give me a ìnormalî name.  I also asked why we did not have a tree when everyone else did.  Those children at my table made me feel as if I had come from another planet.  I stated that I was not going back to school until my parents began to live ìnormalî lives.  I remember feeling as if my whole world had come to an end and that I could never go back to facing those nasty children.  But, I had to be strong and deal with them somehow.

 Today was probably the worst by far.  She came home practically in tears.  She told me how the kids were picking on her because of her religion and the way she celebrates Christmas.  She also tells me how the other kids are telling her she has to have a tree and tons of presents for Christmas.  I try to tell her not to listen to them, that their opinions do not matter.  This is hard for a five-year old to swallow.

 I explain that this is how our religion works and that everyone has a different religion and varied customs.  I also tell her that some people donít even celebrate Christmas.  But of course, the five-year old knows better than I.  She states that is ìnot trueî and that ìthey all celebrate it and they all have trees and lots of presentsî.  There is just no way to convince her that I am right!

 My parents came here in 1974 and had been born and raised in Yugoslavia.  My sister was also born in Yugoslavia, and I am the only American-born one.  Before starting school, my parents would keep me around other Yugoslavians and all of my playmates were children of Yugoslavian descent.  They had wanted to give me a good understanding of where they came from, their cultural practices, language, and so on.  In my home, we only spoke the Serbian language.  My parents wanted to keep their culture alive at home even here in America, taking a sort of ëtransmigrantí approach.

Being a first-generation American born to parents who emigrated from Yugoslavia was hard on me as a child.   Before starting kindergarten, I was constantly around other Yugoslavs, had all Yugoslav playmates, and basically felt the whole world was Yugoslavian.  I could not even speak the English language until a few months prior to starting kindergarten.  Even after I had learned it, I spoke English with an accent for a while.

 When I started attending kindergarten, my parents came across a great problem.  They thought they were doing me good by giving me a unique background and teaching me how to do everything the ìYugoslavian wayî.  When I interacted with other children at school, I rejected my culture.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  The other children all seemed to be the same, share the same culture, and I felt like I was the only outsider.  I wanted to be a part of them, and forgetting what my parents had been teaching me was the way to do it.

 As a five-year old, you want to belong to the mainstream and make sure everyone likes and accepts you.  Therefore, you want to do what everyone else is doing, and be just like everybody else.  As an older and more mature person aware of my religion and cultural practices, I have a different outlook now than that little five-year old did.

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