Key to Farm in Croatia

My Great-Grandfather, Stephen Cotta, brought this key with him when he immigrated to America in the 1920s. The term of endearment by which he was known to my father was “Cac” (pronounced “Chahtch) after his place of birth, Čačvina, Croatia, a small farming village in Dalmatia. He left his home because he had been asked to serve in the king’s guard, but, being Croatian, he did not want to risk his life protecting the king, who was Serbian. He snuck out of the country in 1922 and embarked on a journey through Italy, France, then across the ocean to Cuba, Mexico, and, finally, across the southern border of the United States, wading through the Rio Grande at night. He entered the U.S.during the first years that the “quota system” was in place, and was among some of the first European immigrants to be qualified as “illegal”. He was quickly discovered,  detained, and deported to Cuba, where he lived for two years. He ultimately made his way to New York harbor, where he re-entered the country illegally in 1925 and travelled to Chicago to his brother Philip. In June of 1927, he met his future wife, Irene Leonard, a legal Croatian immigrant, and by August they were married. Cac never returned to live in Croatia to use the key to the family farm, instead settling in Chicago and having two children, Steve and Helen (my grandmother). The key to his farm in Croatia hangs on the wall of my family’s living room, passed down from Cac to Helen to my father, Daniel Rubenstein. It serves as tribute to the hard journey Stephen made in order for us to live the lives we do today. 

Place(s): Croatia, Cuba, Chicago

– Hannah Rubesntein

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more