Because this project asks for your stories about life in Yugoslavia, you should also know my story and the process that brought me to this project.
My name is Alexandra (Alex or Aleksandra) and I am a first-generation Serbian-American. I was raised in a large Serbian community made up of families who came to the United States during and after the wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution. Deeply embedded in this community and culture, I was often taught our history in a nationalist framework I only came to recognize during my college and graduate school studies.
I studied History for my Bachelor’s degree and wanting to better understand where public narratives of the past come from and how they are constructed, I later pursued a Master’s in Public History. During that experience and through my own research, I came to develop a more complex understanding of the former-Yugoslav region’s history. The nationalist narratives I grew up with no longer made sense, and I began to reject those interpretations. It became important to me that I study this past more seriously so that I could understand my place in it and its presence in the daily lives of the people around me.
This was the start of a very difficult and ongoing process. I was deconstructing the history that had informed my identity all my life. This was messy and confusing. It still is. I no longer understand history the way it was taught to me growing up. This has made me a better historian and has helped me to navigate and understand the social dynamics in and out of my community. But it has made me feel increasingly removed from my Serbian background. I often feel like I’ve betrayed the people closest to me and an intimate part of myself. I only share this to give you an idea of how personal this project is for me too, and the entry point from which I approach it. My shifting understandings of the past and historical research continue to be a tense subject in my personal life, but I stand by them and feel a personal, intellectual, and ethical obligation to keep perusing them.
Every day I grapple with what it means to be Serbian and where I fit into my community. I am ardently anti-nationalist and also contend with the dynamics of being a Serbian-American, but I’m not ashamed to be Serbian. It has made me who I am. To deny it would be to deny how I understand myself and place myself in the world. Besides shaping the food I eat, the languages I speak, the music I listen to, and more, my background is what has brought me to this personal reckoning, intellectual career, and especially to this dissertation and project. It’s also what connects me to other people from the Balkans whose stories and backgrounds are different from my own, and who I continue to learn from and am inspired by.