Marko Zaric

Transcription of Marko Zaric
Interviewer: Sarah Altinbasak
Interviewee: Marko Zaric
Date: February 22, 2014
Place: Edgewater Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbasak
Total Time:

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: So can you tell me a little bit about Serbia?

MZ: It’s a great place. It’s a land-lock country right… pretty much just a hop-and-skip over from Italy, right above Greece,; phenomenal trade, everything from flat lands to mountains to you know, ski areas, the whole nine yards. Beautiful country. Politically it has always had its share of turmoil, a lot to do with because of its location. It’s kind of right at the crossroads of North Europe, West Europe, going down to ***** and everything. So when you go down the main interstates through the capital and what not, there’s just….It’s just full of people traveling through the country, so it’s a huge corridor. What specifically do you want to know?

SA: That’s enough. Ok, so when did you come here?

MZ: I got here when I was about four years old so around ‘86.

SA: Ok. So, do you remember much of your childhood from being there or….

MZ: A little bit, just bits and pieces. Some of the things that stick out the most are just playing with friends, going to school, things like that. But I was only about four and a half when we left. I visit all the time. I mean, just all the time, I’m fluent in the language still, can read it, write it, the whole nine yards. My mom’s entire side of the family is still over there. So, I mean everybody that, you know, communicates with them weekly. Skype has been a wonderful thing.

SA: Sure, yeah.

MZ: But yeah, so I came here fairly early on.

SA: Did you come straight to Chicago?

MZ: I came to Des Plaines. My dad’s mom and stepfather at the time had a place in Des Plaines. And they brought us over here first. Then my other uncles and aunts. So everybody kind of slowly trickled in. We made it here, we made it here pre-war. So that kind of saved us quite a bit, especially considering the fact that while we were here, my dad….Well, the reason that we ended up staying here was because we applied for political asylum because my dad basically while we were here got a draft notice, for what I mean, revving up, for the war gearing up and all that stuff. So it was one of those things. We knew if we went back somebody wasn’t coming out of it alive, out of that. So we fought, we fought, we fought, it took us like seven years, and then we finally were able to establish ourselves here permanently.

SA: So what was the main reason that you originally decided to come here?

MZ: The original reason was to come here, to explore. My grandma and grandpa were always like you know, “You guys should come here. You guys should visit. You guys should move here. There’s a lot better an opportunity etc… etc…” And my dad came for one summer and he liked it a lot. He’s like, “Jobs are plentiful.” He’s like, “You can make a living for yourself. You can have a place to yourself you know, etc… etc…” When we were there they both had jobs but it was like, you know what I mean, the standard of living was so much lower that it didn’t really matter what you were doing. You were kind of just like moving on and that type of deal, And once we came here… the year after that. So ‘86 my dad came here and for the first time. ‘87 we all came together.


SA: Ok.

MZ: And we got here and my folks made a decision they were like we’re not going back. They were like, “It’s too volatile,” like they see what was going on. There were little scuffles here and there between you know, the groups” And they, they, knew what was coming, because of, after ****’s death it just started going on a decline very quickly.

SA: So when you had originally come it wasn’t necessarily going to be permanent?

MZ: No, correct. It was supposed to be….We were supposed to come here. We were supposed to take a look, you know, see what we want to do, you know, do we want to immigrate here? Do we not? I mean it was a no-brainer when we got here. It really was. You know, it’s not like we had millions or anything like that. I mean, far from it. I mean we came here with pretty much nothing but nothing. Here, at that time, was a lot better than a lot of things over there. So….

SA: True. So, how long were you in Des Plaines?

MZ: We were there for about two years I wanna say. And then we moved into the city. And for the most part we initially moved into Albany Park. And then down and uptown near Sheridan/Wilson for about six years in the mid-nineties. Uh, till it was bad down there and then we moved to Edgewater and we’ve been here since ‘96 I wanna say, is when we moved up here. So it’s been a while.

SA: So, you say your whole family came to Edgewater?

MZ: Yeah, yeah. Everybody came to Edgewater. I mean, my folks still live here. They’re down on ****** and Kenmore. My brother still lives in that building too. So I mean everybody is still kind of around each other.

SA: Sure. Do you like it here?

MZ: I love it here. Honestly there, in the U.S. I have my little favorites. You know, here and there but I’ve been to other parts of Chicago. There really isn’t a neighborhood like this.

SA: Yeah.

MZ: I mean it’s funny. I used to be a banker for about eight years, at Chase first then at *** bank, and that was fun. I mean it was my first job out of college, and it feels great to start a career and develop myself and all that good stuff. And the entire time I was in Edgewater and it was funny because not a lot of places in the city do you get to walk home and get stopped by six, seven people that you know, chat about things like, “How are things going?” typical neighborhood stuff. I haven’t seen that in a lot of places in a city and I mean, Edgewater definitely stands out when it comes to that.

SA: Sure.

MZ: You know you talk about a place where people know your neighbors and you know what’s going on, this would be it.

SA: Sure, so, do you ever visit Serbia? Do you ever go back?

MZ: I do actually I was just there last August. I went over there for ….

SA: You still have family there?

MZ: Yes I do. Yes. My mom’s whole side is still there. Yes. We went over there. Well, my grandmother passed away five years ago and after that, you know how it is, my grandpa’s kind of down and what not.

SA: Um, hum.

MZ: So he calls all of us up last year and he goes, “Well as a culture we celebrate a Saint’s day.” For example, for me it’s Saint Peter and Saint Paul. So every year on July 12th, my family - well right now my dad is still the head of the family. I’m not married. My brother’s not married yet. He hasn’t passed off the tradition yet. So for now he’s Saint Peter/ Saint Paul. On July 12th we basically just throw like a big feast, you know, invite family, close friends, family, the whole nine yards. So we have a bread that we make, that we eat. It’s called ****. And you basically take it to church and they bless it. And we as well, you know, the basic things from the bible that you know that they pull, that traditionally part of that like meal. And they … what’s called… and they have people over and what not. And so my grandpa calls and he goes, he’s like, “This year I want all of you to come here. I’m going to take you to my home town where I was born in Serbia.” He goes, “Because over there it’s not just a single family that celebrates it. It’s the entire village that celebrates a single day.”

SA: Very cool.

MZ: So I’m like, “Ok. Times have been tough, you know, moneys been tight you know.”I’m like, “Can we push this off a couple of years? That would be helpful because you know, when you’re traveling over-seas there really isn’t a direct flight anymore. So we have to either layover through Germany or Italy or any one of those. And I mean tickets usually in the middle of summer especially, because it’s a destination, I mean I had to pay $1800 for my ticket, round trip, not to mention….


SA: Right.

MZ: …you know presents and all that good stuff. So, he goes to me, he had this entire thing planned out, you know, he goes, “You know, I’m not sure how much longer I’m gonna live. “ And gave us the guilt trip you know.

SA: Wow.

MZ: Don’t get me wrong, it was great, I’m glad that he did it, because I mean we had my cousins came in from Germany, from Australia, from like random parts of Europe from….We went there from the U.S,. so you know, it was like a massive family reunion at this fest that his home town does. I mean it was a lot of fun. It was so much fun, and it was expensive but it was definitely worth it.

SA: Sure.

MZ: It was an experience.

SA: Very cool. So what would you, if you had to identify yourself culturally, what would you identify most with?

MZ: I would identify myself as American-Serbian. A lot of people tend to put the other culture ahead of their own.

SA: Yeah I was just going to say that.

MZ: The reason I say I’m American-Serbian is because while my roots and everything else is back there, the difference is I grew up here. This is my culture. This is what I grew up. This is who I am. So while there’s a piece of my identity that is Serbian, I’m about as American as you can get. I mean I came here when I was four years old.

SA: Right.

MZ: So, I mean plain and simple, any topic about like you know homosexuality or anything like that, like over there talking to somebody it’s just like “blah”.

SA: Um hum.

MZ: So you might as well be talking to anybody that’s partly over there, but it’s just a total different style of thinking. It’s very patriarchal over there. It’s a lot more liberal over here, and it’s just… I like the idea of - do your own thing as long as you’re not hurting anybody else.

SA: Yeah.

MZ: I kind of like that mentality.

SA: That’s true. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you that maybe you would want the people of Edgewater to know about anything? About the experience? About where you are from?

MZ: Honestly it’s been, it’s a transition for anybody that comes in to the country. I mean, the biggest thing that I hear on TV, and the thing that kills me is they’re talking about immigration reform and all this stuff


SA: Uh huh.

MZ: Like we all know, like it’s just basic fact that this country was built on immigrants.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: That’s what makes us who we are, that’s what makes us the strongest country on the planet. And it cracks me up because you come here and you have all these various groups that are warring with each other over seas but here, they’re totally fine. Because you know they are doing commerce with each other. They’re doing all these things that help them achieve who they are.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: And that’s the beauty of it. Like you get to come here. You get to explore yourself you get to start your business. You get to go to school. You get to do whatever you want to do and to sit here and hear things on TV things like “Oh immigrants are this and immigrants are that.”It’s like… no, I mean you have people that are coming here for a reason. It’s not to scam the system. It’s not to do whatever. It’s to genuinely create an opportunity for themselves and their family.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: I mean, I went to college. My folks didn’t help me pay for college. My brother went to school. I found a job. I’m working for the Alderman now. My brother is an MRI technologist so he’s getting into that. He just finished school about six months ago. So I mean, our parents were able to give us that opportunity that they never got. And I mean they, they busted their butts getting here. It was not easy, not even close.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: When we finally went through the court system and we were….We did the thing you know, back and forth, back and forth, with immigration. The judge basically was telling them, like she was arguing with him back and forth. He’d pose a question and she’d give an answer. He’s, “Why should you be allowed to stay here?” And her basic response was this: “We came here thinking that we wanted to just come and visit. We identified that we wanted to stay here. We paid our taxes every single year, even though we weren’t citizens. We make sure we did everything by the law. We made sure to integrate ourselves to be part of this community, to be part of this culture.” And the lawyer looked at her. The judge looked at her. At one point he said, “You know, you should’ve been a lawyer.” And the only response she had to that was, and I love her response, “Give me a chance to stay here and who knows maybe one day.” So I mean he basically, you know, gave the stamp of approval. We had to go back to Belgrade for the embassy over there, to give us the authorization for permanent residence here, which was weird. I’m not really sure. I guess you have to go back to the country of origin in order to be allowed to come back. I don’t know something like that. So even with that, they told us basically that it was up to the discretion of the embassy of whether they wanted to do it even though the judge here said sure.

SA: Uh huh.


MZ: So I mean we went over there. It looked like we had this care package for Europe. Each one of us had two massive luggages, that we brought with us. So there’s four of us in the family. We had eight massive things completely overstuffed, because we didn’t know if we got there and you know, the embassy was like nope. So we haven’t lived there for half a decade at that point, almost a decade. And we have no clothes over there. I mean we have nothing, I mean we have a roof over our heads from my grandpa’s place but that was about it. So we brought winter jackets, summer clothes, like anything and everything that we could think of that could carry us through for a little while.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: And I mean to come here is, it’s a dream for a lot of people. It really is. Our way of life pisses off a lot of people because we are successful. That’s the way that I see it. Even in the end some of the poorest people in this country are still better off than a lot of places on this planet. And to hear things on TV for people to be like “Oh immigrants this, immigrants that” like I can kind of understand it if you’re coming from the boondocks of wherever.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: but when you hear it in a big city, when you hear it in places where probably that person has had some type of service from an immigrant, has interacted in some way with an immigrant, that has made their lives you know, for better or for worse, I mean I’m not saying that everybody is perfect….

SA: Right.

MZ: But, I mean in general - from your contractors to your builders to people - just stores and what not. I mean you look at Thorndale for example. I was talking with the director for the Thorndale Taskforce. She did a survey of the businesses on Thorndale. I believe she said there were nineteen businesses open currently. And out of the nineteen, eighteen are from immigrants. I mean that’s just a testament to Edgewater.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: But also to….Yeah. We kind of all came here for a common goal, to make life better for ourselves, so how is that hurting anybody? Do you know what I mean?

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: Like you kind of, it its simple logic that drives me crazy with some of these arguments.


SA: Sure.

MZ: Yeah. That’s the biggest thing: that any culture, any neighborhood that embraces their immigrants, that embraces who they are, and embraces their image, thrives.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: I mean we see that with Edgewater. We are one of the most socioeconomically, diverse neighborhoods in the country. I mean you have everything from welfare to millionaires, from condo owners to renters, to ***** to every, all over the place.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: And yeah. We all kind of are ok with each other, you know what I mean? You see each other on the street. You know where everybody is from.“Hey how are you? How’s this?” Yeah, you know, nobody was blessed to have a silver spoon in their mouth. It’d be great but you know, it didn’t happen for everybody.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: So to see that and to see pulling the strengths from every individual from every area of the world I mean, just look at Edgewater now.

SA: Right.

MZ: So, that’s my biggest thing. If anybody ever questions an immigrant, why they came here; why they are here; why they made the effort; why they made the voyage….You have people that literally die trying to get here.

SA: Uh huh.

MZ: And those people should question themselves as to what makes this so appealing that people are willing to put their lives at risk to be here. It’s that they would rather die trying to get here than live in their own country.

SA: Right.

MZ: So, there’s something to be said about that and I hope that never changes here. Like this, we are the strongest country in the world because we are the melting pot, because we draw strings from everywhere; so, let’s hope we continue on that route.

SA: Ok. Was there anything else that you’d want to add?

MZ: No. Do you have any questions?

SA: I think I’m questioned out.

MZ: Ok.

SA: Well thank you for sharing.

MZ: Absolutely.