Lucky me, last born in a family of 6. I was 3 weeks late too, why rush? Albanians are rarely on time. I had countless people to take after growing up. I wanted to adopt as many qualities that I viewed as strengths, so I’d be ready for the punches when they fly in. I realized at an early age I wasn’t exactly built like the crowd, so I felt the need to be prepared. No better or worse, I just had a unique background; 100% Albanian, and therefore, wired differently.
Being the youngest and often mocked by elders, I thought I was supposed to speak the language to be a “True Albanian”, and I actually never spoke it well. Resenting the repetitive jabs, I found solace in the free lifestyle, without judgement in “American ways”. Outsider looking in, I realized how blinded I was. I overlooked how deeply rooted the Albanian culture was with me.
Our ancestors endured the struggle, and our parents and grandparents were dropped in this melting pot of New York with no choice, but to start from scratch, and continue our traditions and creed. Family over everything, back then it was the only way. It had to be tough on those who first landed. It wasn’t until high school, that I realized how much our background was a driving force in my character. We couldn’t ask for a more distinct, developmental experience as the true, first generation. We know it’s okay to get knocked down, but like those before us we get up, go to work, and hold the blessings tighter along the way. I’ll meet your face with a smile every day. With all of their sacrifices, they gave us this good life.
It was not uncommon to meet someone in my late-teenage years, divulge the fact I was Albanian, and hear a stigmatized response come my way.
“My boyfriend got beat up by Albanians,” a random girl would say.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, what did he say to them?
It would be something along those lines, but I despised the negative-tone reaction towards me based on actions of others, and the sweeping generalizations about our people.
I later realized the perceptions of our culture never told the whole story. Never mind them, I don’t think we fully understand the effects of how recently the roots were pulled from the tree. Of course it wasn’t going to be smooth integrating here socially. You have seen the news, and the pictures they painted of us all over TV. It wasn’t always pretty, nor untrue, but today we see new faces, and they’re painting stories of hope!
Raising positive contributors throughout society, credit goes to the progressive 80’s, 90’s, and turn-of-the-century immigrant parents for raising quality, respectful Albanian-Americans. Maybe the first generations here felt the struggle more deeply, a proud representation of persistence over adversity, and a loud voice creating and molding our assimilating culture today.
We see it on the big screen now, so many in the Albanian community with success across industries. Creative talent in music, art, and movies. Successful business owners, executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, and now even political representation in New York. They say we like to brag, but our flag should shine bright when the lights are on. Put yourself out there and inspire who’s next. Culture focused on family, we’re essentially one of the youngest groups here. Why not?
The majority of “us” touched down on American soil within the last 50 years. The American Dream! That’s what our families immigrated here for right? Lord, it seems that’s what people think, but it had little to do with it. It’s what they flocked here to escape from that fuels the burning fire in our collective motive and attitude. Religious and financial freedom was not gifted to us throughout history in the motherland, and living in poverty was hard enough. Here we are now, lucky to have the opportunity to build our foundation on grounds that let us walk, speak, play, and pray freely.
With a natural curiosity for other cultures, I enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life, and finding in them a similar piece to me. Everyone has a mountain they’re climbing, I guess, maybe something to hurdle together. Between the feasts of our saints and plethora of Albanian functions, add in sports and hanging out with the school friends, we could feel the polarizing lifestyle influences in the span of a day or a week. We learn to connect with the energies that level with us. Keep the door open, coming in or going; there’s a lot on our plates, and we’re just trying to eat. Raised to master hospitality, we welcome people with respect, until lost, and wear our heart on our sleeve.
They love us for it. We speak our minds, and if you don’t like it, it actually is your problem. But I think the truth goes missing today. Filled with false connections, it no longer flows fluidly, and so, purity fades. The less we open up each other’s inner dealings, the less we are obligated to day-to-day. Natural reaction of nature. We take the easy way out, because the reality is, society is pulling at our time, and we just always had it easy.
Not so much, right? I am talking about some of the Albanian females. We know even the simple things growing up weren’t given freely, and maybe it’s still no walk in the park. More comments I have heard from people I have met;
“She was Albanian, not allowed out of the house.”
“They have crazy brothers or cousins.”
“I had to drop her off down the street.”
Personally, I haven’t heard any of this recently, all of this was years back. But hold that thought.
I always noticed there would be reasons for peoples actions, deliberately or in-deliberately. People are products of their surroundings. Empathizing with the mentality of the old-school traditional male, head of families. The ideas that were ingrained into their lives were passed on through generations, and became the rules and standards they instilled at home. They were just thinking, naturally, “We’re the best, why fix it?”
Being the latest to the party, I grew up in a more neutralized environment. I witnessed the adoption and transformation towards certain Americanized concepts firsthand. It took a while, but it’s something we should all be grateful for, no matter how steep of a change parents make. Some have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and gratitude is an endless repayment. From these slow reconstructions at home, we see that growth doesn’t spring from comfort, but it falls on us with any change.
As new seasons came along, some more of the old school traditions grew on me. For instance, 600 heads at a wedding, 150 deep at Shpresa’s Sweet 16, 100 at the baptism, and 50 for a gender reveal. It might be “too much” and just know, we will still be there, celebrating along your side with an envelope in our pocket, and a beer in our hand!
We come together like no other in our greatest moments, and in loving support during our darkest. Try to make the most out of every single day. We can’t let this lose it’s authenticity, do we have the time? The price of ambition in America.
Even while fully empathizing with the traditional Albanian thought-process, I still don’t understand the principles that propelled it to the extremes. Some denied a daughter equal love at home, and some lacked discipline in the y-chromosome. It drove a silent wedge between our generations, and to an extent, Albanian males and females today. Another sweeping generalization.
“The fight for freedom at home.”
Isn’t that what forced our populations to immigrate throughout history?
Ironically, with traditions and practices that emphasize marriage and motherhood, to pass down family values and cultural pride as a symbol of strength, girls were neglected equal treatment. Thankfully, strides have been made today, but people are still making family trees with hopes of preserving our lineage, a lineage carried by women. Yet, some dismiss the births of females as an afterthought, only celebrating males who carry a name. Today, you might hear them claim that we are responsible for a fading breed.
“Strong kid, Kelmend genes!” You might hear an older, proud Albanian praise a teenager descending from 1 of the 6 original family villages of the Northern Albanian Kelmendi region. Given warrior DNA, and absolute freedom essentially, discipline occurred for few at home, some on the streets, and most not until provided by themselves. We all felt like men among boys, some treated like royalty before we ever earned a dollar or respect. Tell me you don’t remember laughing in the face of discipline. But true character was found when nobody was watching and work had to be done. We all want to prove we can excel in anything we do.
We all shared this battle. Balancing the extremes of the Albanian and American cultures we may have been speared between. Shaped by the air we breath around us; it’s never too late to exhale and let any of it go, empathize, and speak positively in embrace of our own. With the strength of our fathers, we take after our Mother, just go home and love our families. This world could use some healing, can you spare any change?
Our culture isn’t going anywhere. Proud to be. We know women are the soul of most homes, and divine links to our unborn, our future, and our continued culture, and family legacy. Men will continue to also provide, protect, honor respect, and together alongside, set the bar for our youth so we’ll always be proud to represent.
The Albanian heritage and extraordinary traditions will always be strong, and revitalized with open minds and full hearts. We just have to put our heads together. Like the youngest brother in the family, loving and learning from those who came before him, striving for a dream; how will we write Albanians into the history of The United States of America?
My sister in-law, Diana, is working with a friend on a project that discusses what we feel it means to be Albanian, and how cultural integration effected us growing up. What it means to me can be drawn across every culture. Unity, respect, integrity, toughness, while embracing individuality, and an infinite amount of joy and love with family and friends; all while we climb this American mountain, riddled with greed. Yet, endlessly grateful, this is where we have been handed a dream, along with the freedom to follow it all the way home.
In my visit to Montenegro and Albania last year, the major takeaway I felt was for the local youth, and the scarcity in opportunity that lies ahead for them. Never mind dreaming, they don’t have options there, and it’s something to think about reflecting on what we have here. We all have a certain amount of obligation to carry the traditions and values that fulfill us and our families. Our grandparents, parents, and ancestors risked their lives and livelihood coming here with just the clothes on their back. The least we can do is go forward, maybe not carry their burden, but embrace our relatively simple struggles and continue to strive for all that we wish for. We should be proud of where we came, who we are, and where we’re going. This is our chance to harmonize the best of both worlds.
Thank you for reading. Diana inspired this topic and has been a big supporter of my writing. You should check out the foundation of a project her and Alfie Ljuljduraj are working on in the link above. Maybe at their conclusion, and with a collaboration of collective experiences, we can draw out growth and identify commonalities in the traditions we plan to carry with us in tomorrow’s Albanian-American culture.
*For all intents and purposes, I wrote this towards any immigrant, descendant of one, or anyone that ever felt caught between the two crowds or family. I also took into account a dwindling attention span in 2018. I did not elaborate on the Albanian culture’s effect on multi-cultural relationships, the acceptance of minorities, as well as those in the LGBT community. We have moved in a welcome direction along with society. I think happiness should always be celebrated, and as long as you are happy, those who are truly yours should remain, accept you and those you choose, and let you be. Free!