Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Communism on Culture: Another, Different Kind of Immigrant Experience

By | March 9, 2017 Last Updated: March 13, 2017 @ Epoch Times

A recent Publishers Weekly newsletter listed “10 Essential Books About the Immigrant Experience.” None are about my kind of “immigrant experience,” nor have they ever been.

When I escaped Yugoslavia at age 2 with my parents, I was too young to remember what it was like to live under communism.

But even in the land of the free, in Rochester, New York, communism was a presence. It was the backdrop for conversations around the table on Sunday afternoons. In my parents’ dialect of Slovenian, and of others in Slovenia and throughout Yugoslavia, I heard varying tales of escape from my parents, aunts, uncles, and their friends. These are murky, for I was a child-eavesdropper. Men talked about running through forests to get across the border. We had fled in the middle of the night, I on my father’s shoulders, wading across the river to Austria.

There were also tales of war: Of soldiers coming to village houses demanding food, and something worse, if girls were around. Of so and so in the village who had been tied up and shot.

I began a novel when I was 12. In it, the three of us—my parents and my toddler self—hid and slept in barns while bombs exploded all around. But it was 1959 when my parents left Tito’s regime. We, my Polish and Ukrainian classmates, did not learn this part of history in school.

Much later, I learned that we had crossed the Austrian border and had been sent back. My aunt and uncle, who were in an Austrian refugee camp waiting for sponsorship, sent word about where to get help. They had gotten there by simply dropping their farm implements one afternoon in a field near the border, when the guards were chasing another couple.

We were refugees for nine months.

Somebody once remarked that my parents must be very conservative. No, repression breeds anxiety and apathy. From having to slaughter the illegal hog (above the quota) in the middle of the night, my parents learned anxiety. From knowing that communists might be eavesdropping, they learned political apathy.

I retreated into books and eventually earned my Ph.D. in English. I also write.

A few years ago, I wrote a novel based on my immigrant experience. My manuscript received flattering remarks about the writing from agents, but there was no “market” for it.

The publishing world, especially in fiction, is overwhelmingly liberal. They don’t want to hear about European immigrants who have fled communism

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., edits, and is currently a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute in Clinton, New York.

No comments: