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2015: Julie O'Brien

When I was a kid, at Seattle Junior Tamburitzan performances, Johnny Morovich would go down the line introducing all the many –ich last names and when he got to me, an O’Brien, I wanted to be an –ich too. I went home many times and asked my mom to change my last name to her maiden name of Ruljancich. Of course it never happened, but I think it says a lot about how I have felt about my heritage and about where we are in American society, when a kid wants to go from a socially common last name to a unique, and not to mention hard to pronounce, “ethnic” name.

Over the 20th century of American history, many people intentionally have played down their culture when they move to the US in an attempt to assimilate, but after a few generations of this, the American melting pot notion starts to lose its charm. Now in the 21st century, what I have observed, is that the more I have discovered, exposed and embraced my Croatian heritage, the more unique and interesting I have become from the average American perspective. I have a cultural identity that I am proud to share and learn about and find comfort in through music, dance, food, and costume. I can track it all back generations, connecting me to people and places far away. This is something many Americans do not have. Thus, every day that I put on my dance shoes, eat a pizzelle, or get to break into song around an accordion, I remember how lucky I am. I am forever grateful for the Croatian in me and for the Croatians that surround me and for the infinite joy all this brings me. My name might not be Croatian, but my heart sure is. -Julie O’Brien

Julie currently lives in Seattle, where she dances with Vela Luka dance Ensemble, plays brac with Kisobran, and is a math teacher at Franklin High School, where she graduated in 2002. She got her music and dance beginnings with Seattle Junior Tamburitzans in 1994. She has Ruljancich and Marolich family throughout Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Astoria, and her great-grandparents on her mother Carol O’Brien’s side come from Split, Mali Lošinj and Vis, where she still has relatives.

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