Saturday, April 13, 2013

25th annual Croation extravaganza

The rising heat of the day had just leveled off as I walked up to the sparsely populated ticket area, through a matte-black cast iron gate. There were few expectations on my mind, as I knew probably less than what could be considered nothing about the people of Croatian ancestry. I had thought little of it before buying the ticket, but as I walked into the crowd my anxiety made itself known. A small part of me was intimidated by all of the strangers who shared a common bond that I did not possess; as if they would discover me as an impostor and send me away. Also, I was afraid that I would break a social norm and draw disapproval my way. Basically, I was afraid to stand out in any way at all. I had brought a guest, but they were even more nervous than me, which provided minimal comfort.
We anonymously mingled our way through the sparse booth area of the Croatian Extravaganza, spending more than a few minutes in front of a booth with tourist information. All materials were in English and Croatian, a combination I hadn't seen before. Any bilingual fliers I'd seen before had been in English and Spanish. At this point I also noticed that it would be unlikely for me to be distinguished as a visitor by physical appearance alone, because the group had extensive variance in that department. On one hand, this somewhat ashamed me, that I was being so timid. On the other hand, I was relieved that nobody could easily pick me out of the crowd.
The Croatian Extravaganza took place at the Croatian-American Cultural Center in Citrus Heights. A band played what I assume was traditional Croatian music on a stage in the middle of the Mediterranean style backyard. The instrument which made the most impact was a string instrument that looked like a miniature animal skin covered hollow body guitar. It's musician switched off between picking and used a bow to create the music in a style similar to the way a guitarist in an American rock band plays the lead.
My guest and I decided to get something to eat. Some of the available entrees were barbecued chicken, roasted pork, leg of lamb, and something called 'meat rolls.' Feeling daring, I decided to try the meat rolls. They were basically lightly seasoned and uncased sausages the size of tater tots, and they turned out to be pretty tasty. There were an assortment of side dishes to compliment the entrees, three of which I was able to try. The pasta salad was made with spiral shaped pasta, sliced black olives and a cold marinara sauce. There was sauerkraut, with a mild flavoring of vinegar and (I think) mustard. My favorite dish was a potato salad, made with large cut red skin potatoes, dill, basil, paprika, and either a light curry sauce that made the potatoes look yellow. I love to cook, and I will definitely be trying this recipe at home. Drawing two chairs into the shade of large oak and palm trees, my guest and I filled our bellies and enjoyed the opening festivities of the late afternoon crowd.
A speaker talked for about fifteen minutes about all the hard work of those who helped put on the Extravaganza and gave some awards. Next up were a series of dance performances in full traditional clothing. All of the troupes had very similar costumes: everybody wore knee-high black leather boots with buckles, the women wore middle-length dresses that swished back and forth as they walked, the men wore long white socks and knicker-like pants with suspenders and white long-sleeve collarless shirts. Some of the men had green hats that reminded me of Peter Pan. All of the dances told folklore stories, accompanied by singing in Croatian. There was a lot of male-female partner dance moves, a lot of hand holding, and even more skipping and hopping in a circle. All the accompanying music was upbeat, except for, oddly enough, a dance about a wedding, that was very slow and depressing.
I made my exit a little more educated, a little more open, and a great deal more confident in myself just how I was. Somehow, seeing people rejoice in their culture helped me be more proud of who I was. Upon immediate arrival, the differences between myself and the outgroup were apparent, and probably exaggerated because my insecurities. But something happened as I immersed myself in the celebrated culture. Certainly, my mind did not falsely adopt itself into the belief that I was Croatian-American. As I listened to the traditional Croatian band play, as I followed the stories told through song and dance, as I watched salutations exchanged in the Croatian language, as I was immersed in the culture through cuisine, a deep appreciation developed within me. By this time it had thoroughly sunk in how completely and easily these people were enjoying a day created for appreciating their commonalities. I was amidst a collection of people who openly celebrated the things which binded them together. I identified with this aspect of the outgroup, and as such felt more confident and capable.

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