Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Mar 04th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Blossoms Into Gold

blossomsintogoldAuthors explore the untold story Croatians in the Pajaro Valley

If you’ve never heard the story of Croatian immigrants in South County, you’re not alone. Their history has been kept fairly secret—until now. Seeking a better life in the United States, some settled in San Francisco, and discovered that they could create business opportunities by transporting apples from the Pajaro Valley to the big city in the late 1880s.

Now, two Santa Cruz-based authors, Donna Mekis and her sister, Kathryn Mekis Miller, tell the story in a compelling historical book titled, “Blossoms into Gold, The Croatians in the Pajaro Valley.” The book is published by George Ow, Jr.’s local publishing house, Capitola Book Company. (The publishing company also published the recent autobiography of Donna’s husband, the local poet, Morton Marcus.) Additionally, Ow’s company also published a similarly-themed book years ago about the immigration and story of Chinese people in the Santa Cruz area, called “Chinatown Dreams.”

Both women will be speaking about their book during two upcoming events: April 11 at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville and April 21 at the Museum of Art & History in downtown Santa Cruz. The events will also feature slideshow presentations featuring photos that appear in their book of the Croatian people in the Pajaro Valley.

How they stumbled across this undocumented history starts right at home. The women’s paternal grandparents came here from Croatia, specifically from an area called the Dubrovnik Republic. According to the women, immigrants came here because in 1808 Napoleon wiped out much of Croatia, and life there was on severe decline. There was little work, little trade, famine and disease were taking over—and then people heard about gold in America. Around 1850 the first group of Croatians came to New Orleans and San Francisco. By 1876 two men had begun apple trading from the Pajaro Valley to San Francisco, and that began the Croatian immigration to our South County neighborhood. By 1920, the Mekis sisters claim that 20 percent of the population in the Pajaro Valley was Croatian.

Nowadays? It’s hard to tell. The Mexican population is clearly in the majority, but according to the sisters, there are still many Croatians left in the Watsonville area. And in fact, the area holds a four times per year dinner where several hundred local Croatians come to gather and enjoy their community.

This book documents their story. Yet it was a long time in the making. Donna, a friend of local historian Sandy Lydon, had been told numerous times by Lydon that the Croatian story needed to be told. Turns out, she and her sister were the ones to tell that story. With the last five years dedicated to unbelievably detailed and extensive research, the women took trips to their homeland overseas, they interviewed Croatians, and rifled through old articles at the Watsonville Pajaronian newspaper so as to understand the story there were about to tell. “It was almost lost,” the sisters say in regard to a history that few knew about and could easily have disappeared  forever.

The results of their labor have turned into 309 pages of fascinating stories. The book begins with an introduction on general Pajaro Valley immigration, and then melds into the Croatian people that arrived here. It then takes a look at “Their Glorious Past, The Dubrovnik Republic.” This chapter discusses the region that the Mekis sisters’ family came from, how that republic came to be and a look at its culture. It includes an artistic look at the republic by way of paintings and photographs. The book then merges into a fundamental chapter “Why They Came and Why They Stayed,” which provides explanations for how the Croatian people came to be here. It then segues into the illustrious tale of the Croatian apple trade in the Pajaro Valley. Building upon that, we continue to learn more and more about their lives here with a crescendo in chapter seven, “Becoming American.”

The sisters have done a beautiful job turning this rich history into an equally rich text. While the book is historical in nature through and through, it doesn’t read like a classroom textbook, rather it feels like a portrait through time, the telling of the immigration of an ethnic group.

Ultimately, “I want the story to be told for our community,” Donna says. “For our children and grandchildren.”


Donna Mekis and Kathryn Mekis Miller, authors of “Blossoms into Gold, The Croatians in the Pajaro Valley,” will be speaking at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 11 at the Henry Mello Center, 250 East Beach St., Watsonville, and at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21 at the Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. Admission for both events is free. For more information, visit blossomsintogold.com .

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Green Swell

Local surfboard company greens up the industry with an eco-conscious business model

 

Two Fish Bound by a Golden Cord

Until March 20, (Spring Equinox), Earth and her kingdoms (mineral, plant, animal, human) experience the influence of Pisces, sign of the World Savior. Whereas the task of Aquarius is as world server, the Pisces task is saving the world—tasks given to the two fishes. Pisces never really enters matter, and as the last sign of the zodiac includes all the signs. During Pisces, having gathered all the gifts of the previous 11 signs, it is a good time to prepare for new initiating plans when Aries (sign of beginnings) begins. No wonder Pisces, like Scorpio, is so difficult (both are ruled by Pluto, planet of death, new life, regeneration, transformations). Both signs (with Scorpio drowning in dark and deep waters) find life on Earth a hardship, disorienting (from the spiritual perspective), at times feeling betrayed. Life is a paradox, especially for Pisces. Each zodiacal sign represents and distributes a different phase and facet (12) of the Soul’s diamond light, Pisces is the “Light of Life itself, ending forever the darkness of matter.” It takes two fish to complete this work (creating eventually an extraordinary human being). One fish turned toward the material world (in order to understand matter), the other fish toward the heavenly world. Around the two fish is a silvery cord binding them together. The two fish are forever bound until all of humanity is redeemed (lifted up into the Light). This is the dedication of all world saviors (Buddha, Christ, the NGWS). Thus the sacrifice and suffering experienced by Pisces. Knowing these things about Pisces, let us help them all we can. Sometimes all of humanity is Pisces.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Seal Change

Celtic selkie lore comes alive in dazzling ‘Song of the Sea’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Teresa’s Gourmet Foods

New owners for Santa Cruz’s leading local salsa company

 

What defines a good dive bar?

It’s slightly dirty, and they serve cheap drinks. Stella Celeste, Santa Cruz, Barrista

 

Picchetti Winery

After enjoying its contents, I couldn’t throw away the empty bottle of Picchetti Winery’s Red Table Wine.

 

Happy Birthday, Manny

Manuel’s turns 50, farmers market steel head pairs with Pinot, and a Birichino Malvasia