Young Americans

Nine scenes from the lives of new Minnesotans

The couple eventually divorced, but Brodas has stayed here. He earned a degree in civil engineering at the U and is looking for work. But his father's death helped him to see something new about the arc of his life. Straddling three cultures, he now feels that in many ways his 34 years have been about paradox. He has come to believe that the stereotype of a Latino as a strutting womanizer with control over his brood is wrong. Life in Latin America is really defined by women, he says, women like his mother and grandmother: They grow crops, run stores, provide for everyone around them, and, no matter where they are, have a tendency to see themselves clearly.

"My whole existence has been about women," he notes, "and the faith of women." Recently, a woman friend gave him a broken-down motorcycle that had been killing grass in her backyard for 10 years. He set about painstakingly rebuilding it, all the while talking to friends about the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. When he gets the bike running smoothly, he'd like to drive it to Guatemala and give it to someone in one of those rural villages--where, he figures, it could mean the difference between life and death for someone trying to get to a hospital in the city.

"Every time some part of you dies," he says, "there's an internal struggle. Something's born within this struggle. Something beautiful, something objective and yet optimistic." (Beth Hawkins)

Igor and Diana Jankovic

The Jankovics aremoving to Roseville. They've lived in graduate-student family housing for a few years now, and Igor just got his Ph.D. in civil engineering and now it's time to leave. The boxes are stacked in high piles near the door--there's a wooden rocking horse that Igor made and a Nordic Track and a Cardio-Glider too--flanking a new set of white leather couches. Igor worries that movers might scuff these, and is planning on hauling them himself: Standing a shade under two meters and some 260 pounds, he appears game for the task. Luka, who is three years old but looks big enough to be five, sits in the middle of this cardboard horseshoe watching Scooby Doo.

Diana Vakante Jankovic, Igor's wife and Luka's mother, appears slight by comparison. She wears blush low on the cheekbones, and she has come to the point in her English fluency where she is starting to insert articles where Croatian grammar would omit them. "We had the choice to come here," Diana says of her family's decision to leave the coastal city of Split in 1991--in contrast, she says, to the poorer Hmong patients she treats in the Model City Health Center. The clinic is in a low-income and "medically under-served area," and by working there and in the St. Paul Public Health Department, Diana is able to extend her work visa in the United States.

Also at the Model City Health Center are a Pakistani and a Trinidadian; while native-born medical students cluster in the specialized fields with their specialized salaries, it is the immigrant doctors who often staff the messy frontline of American health care. "I see mainly women," Diana says. "I see also children and few elderly. And big prenatal practice. The patients want to get good care and they don't care if you're U.S. citizen or you're foreigner." About a quarter of the patients have no health insurance, and Diana says they appreciate it when she can give them pharmaceutical samples instead of prescriptions they can't afford to fill. When Diana first followed Igor to America she would ask him to make phone calls for her, but she has since overtaken him in a familiarity with the culture. Igor spends the better part of the work day in the computer lab, talking hydro engineering with Dutch grad students; Diana keeps pepper spray in a vinyl case on her key chain.

Igor brings a cup of cappuccino in from the kitchen ("It's my domain," he says) along with a box of hazelnut chocolates, then picks Luka up by his feet and pokes his belly. When Luka gets too rambunctious--as he is now, trying, affectionately, to cover Igor's head with a piece of cellophane--they scold him in English, as does his day-care provider. But Luka will learn more Croatian when they visit Split and the sea for a month this summer; in five or six years, after the Jankovics have saved enough to buy a house there, they'll return for good. They'd like to be back before either hits 40; Diana is 30 now, Igor, 32. "In Split it's the Mediterranean. We work 6 to 2 p.m.," Igor explains. "On a big day, maybe 3 p.m." "Here, you work and you work," Diana adds, "and then six years have gone by and you've been working the whole time." (Michael Tortorello)

GaaFu, Ja'aFar, and Amiin

For the firstsix months after he came to Minnesota, Amiin never left the house. "I heard," he confides, "that people are sick in the United States, and what they do is, they grab you and take a knife and rip your body and take your kidney or something out and give it to someone who's sick." He translates what he's just said for his two buddies, and they all crack up. We're sitting on the concrete steps in front of my house (they don't like to be inside, they say).

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