Joe Mitaj

Transcription of Joe Mitaj
Interviewee: Joe Mitaj
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: February 8, 2014
Place: Edgewater Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 12:20 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I’m interviewing Joe Mitaj from Albania. The date is February 8th, it is 10:25, and we are at the Edgewater Public Library. You were born in Albania, were you born in a small town…

JM: Small town.

ML: Small town. What was, what was that like?

JM: It was like a farm…it was very good, but what with the Communists come, you didn’t have too many choices to live over there. All the time was Communists were behind us all the time.

ML: When did you move to the U.S.?

JM: 1991.

ML: 1991. What brought you into…?

JM: I don’t like… refugee.

ML: OK, so you have refugee status.

JM: Yes.

ML: Ok.

JM: I passed the border from Yugoslavia from Albania to Yugoslavia. Walk nine hours and go long way because if the army catch you at that time they shoot you. They kill you.

ML: That must have been really scary.

JM: Yeah. Was 1990, July crossed the border to Yugoslavia.


ML: Ok.

JM: We start. We didn’t know…were dark. After one hour in the morning we get by the border. It was four people.

ML: Were they members of your family, or just friends?

JM: Just friends. We decided to leave the country for reason Communists.

ML: Was Chicago the first place that you moved to?

JM: Yeah, first Chicago.

ML: And did you move directly into Edgewater?

JM: Yeah, I was in Edgewater all the time.

ML: Do you feel a connection to Edgewater after living here for so long?

JM: Yeah, I feel like I’m home, almost.

ML: So you would call Edgewater home?

JM: Yes, yes, yes.

ML: Are there a lot of other Albanians in Edgewater?

JM: There are…not too many. They live in suburbs. But not too many from Albanian, Albanian poor. There not too many.

ML: Have you felt a connection to Edgewater because of how diverse it is?

JM: Yeah…it’s good. It’s a good…Edgewater, take care of the people. They work for…take care of the community.


ML: Do you feel safer here?

JM: Yeah, I feel safer. If you…you have to watch, you know what I mean? But it’s not big problem. If you don’t get in trouble with people, it’s not problem. It’s safe.

ML: When you left Albania, you said you walked into Yugoslavia…

JM: Yeah, for nine hours. It was fourth July, 1990.

ML: Was the U.S. the ultimate goal, or were you just trying to get out of Albania?

JM: No. It was the Communists, we can’t live there. Because some part of people in Albania were against the Communists and the Communists were behind. They even burned our house, 1944, my father’s house, the Communists burned it. So after that, we just…the government looked at us like we do something wrong, we just leave.


ML: Was there any particular reason you didn’t want to stay in Yugoslavia?

JM: No, it’s because where I was in Yugoslavia, immigration was in Yugoslavia, in UN embassy, and they pick up refugees in Yugoslavia. We stay in hut in Yugoslavia, this country pay for everything for seven months and because sponsor from here in Chicago, they sponsored us.

ML: Ok, so you got sponsored from somebody in Chicago…

JM: Yeah, was a church. Was a church.

ML: Was it a particular religion…a particular denomination of a church?

JM: Yeah. Was because they said we got, maybe… we got need for…. They say we got refugees. We need a couple of nights. We need to stay, hold… put home for a couple of nights… and [unintelligible] then come in the family. They pick up four people from Albania. We stay in their basement for a couple of days. And afterwards we find an apartment.

ML: Did you…do you feel a connection to that church for being able to get you out of Albania?

JM: Yeah, was good to us guys because what this people do for other people here and all. You know what I mean. Was nice to them. Was good.

ML: There’s a philosophy of what’s called “the stranger” in a particular group. Did you feel like a stranger when you moved into the US?


JM: Yeah, maybe I was, I mean but after you couple days or after month, two months, a year, you’re used to this…it’s not too bad.

ML: Did you find it easy to assimilate or join the U.S. culture?

JM: Yeah, I was going around, see the people, how they do, good ways, bad ways.

ML: Was Edgewater easy to join as a community because it’s so diverse?

JM: Yeah, it was good. Was good all the time. I work fifteen years in same building.

ML: Wow.

JM: It’s a senior building, [unintelligible] building. I graduate and I work…


ML: Do you feel a connection to your neighbors as a community?

JM: Yeah, yeah. They know me, I know them. They’re good. They live, look like a family, I mean. Help another one.

ML: So you consider your community like your family?

JM: Yes, yes.

ML: Why is that?

JM: Well, because you meet a lot of nice people. They help with one another. I mean I live a long time here. That’s…I’m safe more.


ML: I know you fled Albania for safety. Overall, how was the immigration experience coming into the U.S.?

JM: It was good. They help us. They helped us very well. I’m proud. I feel safe from that.

ML: Would you consider yourself an Albanian who lives in the U.S. or do you identify more with being an American?

JM: I identify myself now American now. They threw the (unintelligible) at me. [laughs].

ML: Is Albania still Communist now?

JM: No, 1992…it’s such a Communist now. It was democrat there for ten years, a couple years, but again…they take it over.

ML: Do you find a lot of Albanians coming into the city?

JM: In here?

ML: Yes.

JM: No, I not find anybody. In first time I come here I don’t find anybody.

ML: That must be lonely.

JM: Yeah.


ML: Do you connect with other people who are…first generation immigrants, who were born in another country and moved into Edgewater?

JM: Yeah, I think that there are people who…Yugoslavian, Mexicans…is a lot of people. Croatians…

ML: Do you find that that helps you mesh into, like you said, a family? Because everyone has come from somewhere else?

JM: Yes, somewhere else. It’s true, but that’s….It’s like people - it doesn’t matter where you’re from, good people is good people, you know what I mean. Even here, over there, everywhere. They help lots. When they see you come in first time, people try to help you. And they tell you what is good way to work…what is to do for living.


ML: So you’re saying that you felt welcome from day one?

JM: Yeah, yeah. Was very nice. They respect us, was good.

ML: Do you feel like you would have had that if you had gone to another city, or do you think Edgewater is especially welcoming to people?

JM: Well, Edgewater…is good. Is good. Is special. They help you, with work, they help you lots.

ML: Do you still communicate with friends or family back in Albania?

JM: Yeah, yeah yeah.

ML: Would you ever go back to visit?

JM: Yeah I was three times.

ML: Ok. How were those trips?

JM: Was, was good. Was…so-so.

ML: So-so? [Laughs] Would you…have you ever found yourself pushing friends to move here, rather than stay in Albania?

JM: Yeah, I wish all my family be here, when they have chance. I wish. Because there is, is worse now. Very bad. [Unintelligible] is problems over there, even government. They… it’s…how do you call it? It’s corrupted back in Albania. And they buy the votes, they push people to vote for them. It’s not like here - free will to [unintelligible].


ML: Overall, you said you’ve been here for fifteen years, right?

JM: Well, almost twenty.

ML: Almost twenty years, ok [laughs]. Overall how would you rate your experience of, of living in Edgewater?

JM: It’s good, it’s good. Yeah. It’s safe, it’s safe. Now every place have a few people, they not good, but it’s natural.


ML: In the future, could you see yourself moving out of Edgewater, or do you feel like this is going to be your home?

JM: No, I don’t like to move anywhere [laughs]. I don’t [unintelligible]. If I move from here…but look if I’m coming from another country, I would like to stay in here.

ML: Have you reached out to other people who have moved from other countries, especially fleeing dangerous situations? Have you stepped in to say that you’ve done…you’ve been in that situation before?

JM: No, no.


ML: Do you find that the Edgewater organizations, the neighborhood organizations help promote activities within…

JM: Yeah, they good. They have a, they have a meeting every, every month. They tried to make it, the place, better. Every time. Was worse, but now it’s the best, better. Not too many people that be around.

ML: So over this amount of time that you’ve lived here have you seen it evolve and get better?

JM: Yeah, it’s better. It’s better now. Lane Smith is the best. Maybe you know her?

ML: Uh…no, I don’t.

JM: That lady. She’s good for that.

ML: If you could send one message to people who were still in Albania what would you say to them?

JM: Tell them to come here [laughs]. It’s the best place.

ML: Ok. Well, I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing your story. Thank you very much for taking the time.

JM: No problem.