Pass the pogarca! A Bosnian-American ThanksgivingIt was your traditional Thanksgiving feast: roast turkey, pogarca, kisela paprika, home-smoked pork loin and a bottle of something that clearly was best to keep away from children and open flames.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
It was your traditional Thanksgiving feast: roast turkey, pogarca, kisela paprika, home-smoked pork loin and a bottle of something that clearly was best to keep away from children and open flames.
“Dobro vece!” Ivona and Alex Todorovic said, greeting other members of the local Bosnian community to their home in south Grand Forks.
“Good evening,” she said, translating. “And Happy Thanksgiving!”
It was the extended family’s 14th Thanksgiving together here, and about 35 people made it Thursday —about a fourth of the Bosnians who have settled in Grand Forks since the first arrived in the early 1990s, fleeing ethnic wars that devastated the Balkans following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
“One thing that we love about Thanksgiving,” Ivona Todorovic said. “We are pilgrims, and we are blessed to be here — to be in this house, surrounded by family.”
A delayed feast
The first Bosnian-American Thanksgiving in Grand Forks got off to a shaky start.
The Bosnian children were coming home from school and telling their parents about this special American holiday built around a big feast and family. At home in Bosnia-Herzogovina, each family had celebrated a special feast day that resembled Thanksgiving, but it was a different day from family to family.
Settling on one day to bring everyone together made sense, especially for the children. They could go back to school and compare notes with friends about how they spent the holiday.
So at 3 p.m. on that first Thanksgiving 14 years ago, Ivona Todorovic ran out and bought a turkey.
“It was frozen,” she said. “You know what time we had dinner that night? It was 11 p.m.! But we celebrated Thanksgiving, and I learned my lesson.”
On Thursday, she had two first-class turkeys nicely browned and ready to be carved as her guests began to arrive. Sister-in-law Gorana Todorovic brought the pogarca, a savory bread baked in the shape of a sunflower, and the kisela paprika, pickled red and yellow peppers.
Conversation was a blend of Serbo-Croatian and English, as Ranko and Nada Todorovic, Alex’s parents, got caught up with younger members of the family, including Ana Velic, 23, a first-year medical student at UND, and her sister, Martina, 21, who plans to graduate from UND in May with a degree in psychology.
Irena Bobicic, 20, a student at North Dakota State University in Fargo, arrived with boyfriend Glen Marshall, 23, who learned Irena’s language while serving in the U.S. Army, though not in the Balkans.
“Our family was so surprised,” Ranko Todorovic said, “when he came into our house and said ‘Dobro vece.’ He speaks the language fluently!”
Nina Todorovic, 24, was just 7 when her family arrived in Grand Forks. She remembers how hard it was at first to learn a new language, a new culture. She remembers joining neighborhood children playing outside, but she would run home crying because they were all laughing; she thought they were laughing at her. But soon she was laughing with them.
Brother Nikola, 21, was just 4, and all he remembers “is the plane ride over, and me sitting in my mother’s lap.”
They have become American citizens, and they have become engineers, accountants, teachers, bankers, factory workers, with Ana the doctor-to-be and other professionals on the way.
“We were not slacking in the old country,” Nikica Todorovic said. “All we want is an opportunity to prove what we can do.”
He was one of the first to arrive and has since helped many relatives — and a few other Bosnians — settle in Grand Forks. Most are ethnic Serbs and of the Orthodox Christian faith. A few are of Croatian and Roman Catholic background, and some are Muslim.
Does he have advice for new immigrants from other lands?
“Language is the first thing,” he said. “You must learn English. Then you can get the job you have the skills for.”
And leave the old hatreds behind. It may not be easy. It wasn’t easy for him, having spent time in prison camps, first because he was Bosnian and later because his ethnicity is Serbian.
“You came here to forget what happened there,” he said. “Not forget, because there are things I can never forget, but forgive.
“I have helped many come here, and I say to them, ‘I will help you as long as you are living the American dream and you forget the junk from over there.’ ”
“Now we are American,” Gorana Todorovic said as she and others began to coax people to the basement, where tables waited with platters of turkey and scented, braided bread, and where everyone would play bingo after the meal.
“This has become a wonderful tradition for us,” she said. “It’s hard to be alone in a new place. It’s nice to have family around you.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to email@example.com.