Martin and Rose Santich – Oral History

Martin: I was born the Excelsior District in San Francisco. That starts at Silver Avenue and goes up to Geneva Avenue all the way up the hill, as far as McLaren Park. There were lots of Slav people in the Excelsior District then. I went to Monroe Middle School, and Balboa High School. I graduated in 1932

My parents were born in Postira, on the island of Brac, and came to San Francisco in 1907. I’ll tell you, it was tough living then. My dad and mom had no education. My mother could talk Italian and my father could talk Italian, but Croatian was their first language. Of course we spoke Croatian at home.

My father worked in a foundry. And a laundry. Hard work. My mother never worked. She learned some English from the children and she became a citizen. My father didn’t because he didn’t want to go to school.

Rose: I was born in Oakland. The Oakland Slav community went from Pine Street up to Defremery Park. It was quite a big area. My father came from Makarska, on the Dalmatian Coast. My mother was born in Milna, on the island of Brac.

My mother left home for America at sixteen. She had one brother, who was in the concentration camp of the German army, got TB, came home and died. Her mother thought she would have a better life over here, so she let her come over here and stay with my two great aunts. Well, my mother didn’t want to leave Croatia because she had a boyfriend back there. But my grandmother insisted that she go, thinking she would come over here and find gold growing on the trees. They always envision something greater for their children than what they had back there.

She married my father and had seven children. Eventually two aunts that came over from Croatia, and my mother took them in with us. So we had eleven people at the table every night. And when Martin came over, that was another one.

My father spoke the regular Croatian. You know, anyone from Split, or anywhere on the mainland, spoke the real Yugoslav. The main difference was in the “ss” sound. Now if we say sto, that’s correct. My mother would say so. And Martin’s mother would say cho. And, of course they made fun of each other. Every little town had its own little dialect.

My father was a stevedore, and he had his own, what they call “gang,” a group of men that worked under him. They ate at Jakov Markovich’s Big Ben Restaurant, right on the wharf, in San Francisco. Jakov would cook the bakalar and the boiled beef with salsa, and potatoes … all the traditional foods.

As the oldest daughter, I’m the only one in my family that learned Croatian. Of course, I helped with the cooking, the kids, and everything else … you know how it is with the oldest daughter — you help. So I took an interest in the language. I liked talking to older people in Slav.

I had four brothers and two sisters. Both my mother and father spoke English. My father had to, because of his job. My mother went to school because she wanted to get her citizenship papers. She spoke Croatian, Italian and English.

We didn’t have any musicians in my family, but we all loved to sing. When they had houseparties, everybody sang, even when there wasn’t an instrument.

This is how we met. Martin’s brother was marrying a friend of mine. Martin was one of the ushers and I was the bridesmaid. I was sixteen, and he was twenty-one. I was in high school. I guess he would have married me the next year. Well, I wasn’t about to get married at seventeen. I wanted to finish high school. I wanted to be a school teacher, which I never did because I didn’t have the time. When I was eighteen, we were engaged, and I still didn’t want to get married, because I wanted to get out and see what the world was like. I went to work and everything. So when I was twenty, I decided well I would … you know. Now is the time. We got married at the Old St. Patrick’s Church in West Oakland, where all the Slavs were.

At St. Patrick’s Church we used to have a Slav choir, which I directed. We had dances on Christmas and Easter and Vela Gospa, which is August 15. That was also a holiday back on the Islands, as well as Gospa Carmela, the 16 July, which was celebrated in the town of Postira. They celebrated the Saints’ Days almost more than the holidays.

We celebrated name days instead of birthdays, like Saint Martin, or Saint Rose. Names have quite a significance in our culture. The firstborn male in a family was named after the father’s father. The firstborn girl was named after the father’s mother. And then the second born son would be named after the mother’s father. The second born daughter would be named after the mother’s mother. And so on down the line. My sisters and brothers were all named that way, except for my brother Tony, because he almost died, so my mother named him after St. Anthony.

This tradition of naming comes from way down on the Dalmatian Coast. It was very strictly followed. Martin’s father had three brothers. Every first born was Mary and Jimmy, and so on down the line. So there were four cousins Mary, four cousins Jimmy, four cousins Nick.

Our own children follow the tradition more or less, but now this generation is a little different; they named their kids the more popular names with family names as middle names.

We have four children, three daughters and a son; nine grandchildren, six girls and three boys; and now we have greatgrandchildren, four boys and five girls. They are all in the Bay Area. We get together Christmas Eve– I have thirty-five or forty here. The whole family comes, no matter what.

Martin: We eat first, and then I bring my accordion in and I want all my family around. We look forward to that every year.

When I was a growing up we used to go to the picnics and dances. Most of the time when they had a dinner, they hired Fabris in San Francisco. And I was so interested in accordion, that if I saw an accordion player, I sat right at the stage listening. Because I LOVED it!! I love it!! I love it! More than ever now. When I started playing, my mother sang the Slav songs at home, and I would pick it up on the accordion. I don’t know anybody in this area that plays the old songs like I do. They never knew them. Their folks didn’t have them. My mother taught me to play the kolos and some little dances like quattro passi.

Rose: Quattro passi. That’s an Italian word. Four steps. There was a dua passi, and a quattro passi. These were dances that Martin’s mother knew, and that’s what they did when they were in Postira. They had this button accordion and the gosla, a little one string lute. It went ooo-uuu-ooo-uuu. That was all it did. That’s how simple the music was, but they danced anyway.

Special music and special steps. Duo passi is the half version.

We’d travel to Fresno, to Sacramento, to Watsonville — to ALL the clubs. Martin always played the Slav pieces. Of course he also played the American and Italian also, the polkas and the mazurkas. I would dance with the gals, because there weren’t any men left, these women were all widows. This was fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was about seventy.

When Martin got through playing for dancing about midnight, he would take his accordion over to the table and we’d sing. They loved to sing all these old songs. We’d come home at ridiculous hours — three o’clock in the morning.

The All-Slav group started in Oakland about fifty years ago. It was a purely social club, a way to be together and to have a place to go to dance and sing. A lot of times it was in peoples’ homes. I think we paid some kind of dues, but not much. It didn’t last more than ten years.

We put on dances and Martin would play — he had a four piece band. They played all the Slav pieces, because Martin wrote out all the parts for all the musicians, from ear.

Then John Filcich came into the picture. John was very learned, in terms of recordings and dances — he did wonders. He was getting all these Slav records and tapes. He was responsible for bringing Slav music into the Bay Area. John got Martin into kolo music, too.

Martin: They had a dance at night for the kolo at the City Hall. And they put me in the front of the dance floor and they danced around me! And I played. Oh, I was so happy

Rose: We’ve been involved in the SMBS ever since 1937 and now our children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren are members. I believe we are the only ones who have the four generations involved.

Anyway, Martin was SMBS President for eight years, from 1982-1990. They would have “socials.” And every month of every year for eight years I would cook the food at home. I’d run home from my job and put this big roast on, clean the radishes and green onions and celery, prepare the French bread, make the gravy and take it over to their meeting. Every meeting night Martin brought a “snack.” They ate so well. Sometimes it would be ham, sometimes beef, sometimes pork.

Martin: We had to do that because the members wouldn’t come to the meetings otherwise. If there was food, they would come!

Rose: Do you know how Martin became the president? His uncle came over to our house, and they had to get MY permission that he could be president! They had to talk me into it. They said, “We have to have somebody there who knows something, and has a love of the Club.” Martin’s love for the Club is unbelievable. And he said, “Rose, you [speaking in Croatian ]. I said, “OK, but what do I have to do?” Because, you know, behind the president is always a woman. I said, “fine,” because I was willing to go along with it, and take everything that comes.

Now about the American Slavic Women’s Club, which was formerly the Yugoslav Women’s Club. With all this stuff going on in Croatia and Serbia, we decided to call it the Slavic Women’s Club. To become a member you have to have some Slavic origin, or you could be married to a Slav — Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian — it doesn’t make any difference. We’re trying to keep it so it’s still has a lot of ethnic traditions. We have about 110 members.

We give donations to the Heart Fund, to St. Anthony’s Dining Room, to the Salvation Army. These are some of the things we do, but the college scholarship fund is the biggest. We all feel that education is the greatest thing you can have. So we want to encourage the young people. They have to have a 3.0. That’s in our by-laws, so there is no question. Then when they enter college, they become important people, and they have a Slavic name and origin behind them. That’s the main purpose of our scholarship fund.

Martin: There is also the Napradek Hall in Cupertino.

Rose: And the American Slavic Club and the All Slav Club in Sacramento. And the Korcula Club is in Oakland, and a Blato Club down in San Jose. But, you see, those are dying out, because there aren’t that many older people. The young people aren’t as interested.

Martin had a stroke in 1990, a month before our 50th anniversary. We had everything planned. So I said to Martin, “we’re going call everything off.” He said, “No, we’re not. You’re going to have it without me.” I said, “No way. I’m not having this anniversary without you.” So he said, “No, I’ll be there.”

He told everyone in the hospital, “I have to get out of here for my 50th wedding anniversary.” He couldn’t open one eye. He had a walker. But we got him into the car, got him a tuxedo… Not only did he make it but he EVEN he played his accordion!! And we danced the kolo. It was at Our Lady of Grace Church Hall, here in Castro Valley,. We had a lovely affair. A WONDERFUL time. We danced and Martin played his accordion and all the little kids were dancing and singing. We had a mass and everything. We were remarried. All the granddaughters walked in with roses. It was lovely.

Martin: When I was in the hospital they have a wing next to the regular hospital, Stroke Center Rehabilitation Center. Well, I’ve been playing accordion there for the last ten years, at least twice a year. I always tell them, “when you have a doing, call me.”

Rose: Then they call on Martin to say something because a lot of them are stroke patients. So he tells them, he’s not only had one stroke, he’s had two strokes. And here he is playing his accordion!