The Albanian sailor of Saint Louis and the history of an association for the preservation of language and traditions

2024-03-21 10:03:17Dhoma e rrëfimit SHKRUAR NGA ENTELA RESULI
Besian Gjika

We met Besian Gjika these days in Tirana, as he was looking for some documents on the history of Albanian emigration to Saint Louis, United States of America.

He has been living in this US state with his family for 9 years. Every time he returns to Tirana, the city where he was born and raised, he always finds changes.

He completed his studies in the Merchant Marine, the Shipping branch in Vlorë, but today he controls the quality of hydrocarbons in one of the terminals in the country where he lives. He is the father of two daughters and admits that his life within these 9 years does not resemble his past at all.

Leaving Albania was not easy for him, but he thought of the best for himself and his family. Today, after a decade, he does not regret the decision he made.

Although far away, he has always wanted to maintain ties to Albania and Albanians. And how is this done? Together with other compatriots, they opened the association 'ILIRIA'. This group tries to unite the Albanians there for the preservation of traditions, language, holidays and history.

Today at Vox News we spoke with a sailor who has "sailed" to the promised land, but his eyes are always on his homeland.

-Besi, how long have you lived in St. Louis, and how and why did you decide to leave Albania?

I have been living in Saint Louis, USA for 9 years. My departure from Albania came after I got married and together with my wife we ??decided to continue our life and career in the USA.

-What was your education and work in Albania?

I was educated in Vlora at the faculty of the Merchant Marine, Navigation branch, 1999-2003. Then I continued my career in the ships of the Albanian and foreign commercial fleet. During the years, 2010-2015, I taught at the seafarer training center TSTS Albania, in Durrës.

The Albanian sailor of Saint Louis and the history of an association for the

-How were the first months? How difficult was the integration?

The beginning was as intriguing as it was unknown, but I didn't have high expectations. I was aware that every new beginning will have its cost. The environment and people who welcomed me, including relatives, mainly from my friend's family, helped me and had a great influence on my continuation. Almost everyone worked and studied at the same time. I immediately enrolled in college, in order to integrate as quickly as possible into American society and especially on the way to a deeper knowledge of the English language.

-What do you currently do and are you satisfied with this job?

Since 2016, I have been working in the hydrocarbon industry as a petroleum inspector. At the moment I work in a terminal with satisfactory pay and I have just finished my college studies in Business Administration.

The Albanian sailor of Saint Louis and the history of an association for the

- Do you regret leaving Albania?

Difficult question. I carry Albania with me in my heart everywhere, but I have no regrets. In any case, the profession I had in Albania would keep me away from my family and this was another reason to start a career from the beginning.

- Are there many Albanians in St. Louis and what is the history of their emigration?

I don't have an exact figure of the number of Albanians in Saint Louis, but it is thought that they live somewhere around 4000-5000 people. Saint Louis was inhabited early by Albanians and the city once had special importance. Three Albanian newspapers were published (Trumbeta e Krujës, 1911), (Mprojtja Shqiptare, 1916), (E Vërteta, 1920-1923) and also on February 23, 1913, Branch no. 20 e Vatra. In 1918, the Albanian church of Saint Mitri (Dhimtri) was opened. I made this introduction to show that the first Albanian immigrants were engaged with national issues very early, especially from the period of independence until the formation of the Albanian state. Later, things began to fade and the links between the Diaspora and Albania began to break. After the 90s, the activation started again and today a large part of the Albanians here have stabilized and invested in various professions and businesses, being successful.

- You, the Albanians there, have founded an association or not. Tell us something more about this organization and what is its purpose?

Yes it is true. On March 15, 2020, the ILIRIA association was founded, which I today have the honor to lead together with the board of directors. The purpose of creating the association was to strengthen the bonds and identity of the community, making it possible to preserve the values, traditions, and especially our language and culture. Every Albanian abroad should try as much as possible to preserve all these qualities that we carry with us wherever we go. Each of us is an ambassador of the nation and its values.

The Albanian sailor of Saint Louis and the history of an association for the

-Are Albanians related to each other, do you organize yourself?

The connections exist and they get stronger as they come. There are marriages, friendships, business relationships, etc. Taking a personal example, I would say that only from this four-year commitment that I have had in the association, I have created a circle of good friendship and I have met many Albanians, which in other conditions would be very difficult to happen. This is one of the benefits that such commitments bring to the community.

-What are the activities you have done or will do in the future?

After about 4 years, since the foundation, a series of activities have been organized, mainly social and cultural, as well as the commemoration of the national holidays of Albania and Kosovo. Some of the main activities I would highlight is the opening of the Albanian school (August 28, 2021), the creation of a football club for children (October 2022), book promotion (March 2022), promotion of small painters (May 2022), women's and mother's day ( March 2023), the creation of a calendar and cooperation with Albanian businesses in Saint Louis, who continuously contribute financially to various projects. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank them along with all members and supporters everywhere.

Right now, we have an event where Mr. Ernest Nasto is invited, who will give a speech on the American elections and politics, as well as on the Albanian-American relations over the years. In April, Mr. Fatmir Rrahmanaj, First Secretary in the Consular Mission of the RKS in IOWA/USA, is coming, who will mainly meet the Kosovo Albanian community.

-Besi, as far as you know the Albanian community there, how integrated are they and do they stand out from the immigrants who come from other countries? 

Almost all immigrants in Saint Louis are integrated and working. As I told you above, a significant number today run businesses of various characters. This also helps new immigrants to integrate faster and move towards their goals with fewer obstacles. It is worth noting that today a large number of Albanians are educated, even some with scientific titles and high results both at school and at work. I take the opportunity to call on them to join the association and offer professional help in the service of the community. Despite the limited time, we will not be able to make money as a nation if we do not sacrifice something of ourselves in the service of a common spiritual product, such as Albanianness. Compared to other communities, I can say that we are among the few who keep our traditions and culture intact. Our goal is for the generations to come to keep this uniqueness and if our nation needs us and those who will come to come to their side. Maybe these things seem a bit folkloric, but history has shown us that we must be very cautious because things, being human, are unstable.

-For several years, our country has been experiencing a depopulation crisis, many people are choosing to leave Albania. You are one of those who have done this. Have an idea why this is happening. Why is there so much dissatisfaction with life and above all with the future in this country?

Question with pepper because I have to get out of the role of duty that I have, which consists of not getting involved in politics, which we have fanatically guarded together with my colleagues in the association. Anyway, now I will answer as an Albanian citizen and voter. Depopulation or mass emigration is a phenomenon that has been happening in Arbërore lands for centuries. If before it was due to foreign invasions, now that the Albanian state has been formed, no one can be justified anymore. The causes of the problems must be found in ourselves and the choices we make, and therefore in the political offers we vote for. "33 years of transition" is as funny as it is sad. This means that our political consciousness is sailing in shallow waters. As far as we, Albanians everywhere in the world, can give, as a starting point, the possibility of voting for him would be everyone. This would bring serious and responsible engagement, not just emotional politicized fringe opinions with no accountability. If the situation does not change and the majority of voters do not understand the essence of democracy, then we will continue to lose hope and delay opportunities for our future and that of our children, no matter where we live. It is sad and dishonorable to throw away the effort of national rebirth, the blood of our forefathers and the sacrifices of our parents. However, I have hope for the best of our country and Albanians wherever they are... Without sacrifice there is no success!

'Confession Room' exclusive column of VoxNews.

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