To be or not to be an Aromanian?! To hide or to openly declare your Aromanian nationality?! To help a little bit for the recognition of nationality, heritage, history, language, religion, traditions, and other ethno-cultural aspects of Aromanian people, or to go out unnoticed?! To work that the arumanism, as an important principle of Aromanians, to strengthen, or to remain indifferent ?! That is the question!
Memories! Memories! Memories! They worry me so much, especially during the two days of the week-end, when the man relaxes and simultaneously gathers strength to start the new week. How could I possibly shrank somewhat the emotional impact of memories? Maybe if I will be able to write some of them on paper, they will not continue to disturb me so much!
Dare the truth, I am in a difficult position to write my biography: I do not know where to start! I do not know how to start! I do not know what to write! I do not know what not to write! However, something is clear to me: My life was deeply shaped by the fact that I was and am a representative of the Aromanian people!
I, Spiro J. Shetuni (1949-), belong to the Aromanian Shetuni tribe. This tribe is originally from the village of Murfat of Epirus: a geographic and administrative region of Greece, which lies in the northwest part of it. Most members of the tribe still live there. My grandparents, representatives of the Shetuni tribe, came to Albania around the year of 1924. From the father’s side, George S. Shetuni, I had two uncles: Apostol N. Shetuni and Christo N. Shetuni. I also had two half-uncles: Christo A. Zharkalliu and Leo A. Zharkalliu. Whereas, from the mother’s side, Vala J. Shetuni, I had three uncles: Nicholas, Leonidas, and Ianaq Kristaqi (Samarai).
My mother, Vala J. Shetuni, has told me that I was born in the mountainous area of the Shpat, in a place called Buffalo Neck. (This place is located in the south-east of the city of Elbasan.) That morning, dated May 16, 1949, Aromanian Shetuni tribe, along with a number of households of the same Aromanian stan, was leaving with his cattle the Shpat highland zone. Being in the pilgrimage, my mother could not hold me, and therefore, a niece of her, Tula, a 11-year-old girl, held me for hours on. My parents could not find any registry office to record my birthdate. They were able to record it only three months later, at the Office of Civil Status of village of Rabije (Librazhd-Albania). So, officially, my birthdate became that of August 16, 1949, whereas my birthplace–Rabije.
In this article I will write briefly on only one aspect of my life: the immigration.
On September 20, 1992, as the winner of a Fulbright scholarship, I left Albania forever to live in the United States of America. This important date in my life I have always associated in my memory with the words that my 66-years-old Mother told me, when she saw me off at the “Mother Teresa” airport. She expressed her troubled spiritual state through these words: “Spiro! Spiro! Spiro! You are left with a suitcase in hand!”
After about a month, it was possible for the other family members to come to America, as well: my wife, Lulieta, and my two sons: Brandon and George. We rented a small apartment in a neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles, near the University of California at Los Angeles, where I was going to work for a year. The whole family already started a completely new life in every respect.
Being an immigrant at 43-years of age is not an easy job. The man is put in a situation that, in an age so big, to resolve issues which can be resolved only at a young age! They are numerous and difficult, some of which perhaps could be formulated as follows:
- “What would perhaps be the first issue to be resolved?”
- “What would be the second issue?”
- “What would be the third issue?”
- “The fourth one?”
- “The fifth one?”
- “Oh, their number is as great as the very number of issues that human life involves!”
- “Stop: Here it is spoken only English! You will only survive if you master well English!”
- “Stop: Here there is no scientific or educational institution that need your specialty as a researcher of traditional Albanian music! You will only survive by extending expertise to suit the requirements of the country!”
- “Stop: Here you do not have any acquaintances! You will only survive by making friends from scratch!”
- “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
- To ease somewhat the big stress, to purify somewhat the mind, to increase somewhat the moral strength, more often, we used to call for help on the wise advices of our dear parents! In other cases, incidentally, were born lyrics with humor and optimism notes as, for example, the following lyric, which, no doubt, lies within the Lab traditional style of versification:
O hard-working woman,
I will sing a poem for You:
Be careful of Yourself,
Do no worry too much!
Just look at our sons,
How happy they are:
Doing well with the school,
As if born in America!
Simply look at Your husband:
Night studying, day–teaches,
Car, computer he works,
English troubles him not anymore!
But better you see Yourself:
What you had in mind, you did,
With English, with car,
With full aromatic dish!
Be careful of Yourself,
Do no worry too much!
However, in many respects, the first years of my stay in America, I would like to characterize as really dramatic years!
For many years, an acute problem has been that of the status of my stay in America. My first request to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service authorities was not approved! Such an event caused a mood of fear and anxiety for all family members! By letter that US authorities sent, they gave me two months to make another request. Alternatively, together with the family, I had to return to Albania! To prepare my request, this time, I hired a lawyer: Mr. David Bloomfield. He enjoyed a good reputation in the city of Columbus (Ohio). (Later, he became a lawyer of many other Albanian immigrants who came after me.) We waited many years to get the answer. Finally, the answer came: American Immigration and Naturalization Service authorities allowed us to stay in America. The joy was great!
Over the years that I had not yet acquired permanent residency status in America, some of my beloved people I had in Albania, passed away. Among others, died my loving and unforgettable uncle: Christo N. Shetuni! Also, died his wife, Georgia G. Shetuni, my rare aunt, which my brother and I used to call “Mother,” because she cared for us like for her children! Then, one after another, died my other two uncles: the great uncle, Nicholas J. Kristaqi, and the younger uncle, Ianaq J. Kristaqi! My sorrow for the loss of loved ones was made sharper due to the fact that I had no opportunity to give them the final farewell. (With no proper documents, I could not go to Albania!) So, whenever I recall such events, tears do not stop!
With all the difficulties we went through to get permanent residency status in America, our sons, Brandon and George, continued systematically school without any obstacle. They finished high school in the city of Columbus (Ohio). Then, pursued university studies: Brandon went on to study medicine, and George–English language and literature. Meanwhile, my wife, Lulieta, after she took a range of exams, was able to become a substitute teacher in grades 1-12 of the public school education system. Also, she translated into Albanian language The Great Gatsby novel, by the great American writer, Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), who is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. Translated into a clear and elegant Albanian, the novel was published by the Amazon’s CreateSpace Publishing House.
All along, besides the status, a thorny issue was my employment. After one year at the University of California at Los Angeles, I did not know where I would work. It was clear that this institution had no employment opportunities. My colleague, Professor Tim Rice, suggested that I write some universities to look for work. I did just that. Maybe I wrote to over 20 universities. They began to respond without delay. Only that their answers were negative. Finally, one day of May, 1993, the phone rings. It was Professor Margarita Mazo: a former professor of the Moscow Conservatory, now a professor of the history of Western music and ethnomusicology at The Ohio State University School of Music in Columbus (Ohio). She said her university could offer me a job as a music instructor.
Indeed, after several days, arrives the official letter, which was signed by Professor Martha Mass: Head of the Department of Music History. A critical first step towards my employment was achieved! However, the time showed that such a position was only temporary. The issue of employment was finally settled after I gained a Master’s in Library and Information Science.
Thus, during my stay in America, I worked at a number of universities, such as: the University of California at Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California); the Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio); Prairie View A&M University of Texas (Prairie View, Texas); University of Miami (Coral Gables, Florida); and, finally, Winthrop University (Rock Hill, South Carolina), where I am today. In this context, I would like to point out that my academic rank was constantly increasing: in June, 2001, I won the academic rank of Assistant Professor; in January, 2007, I won the academic rank of Associate Professor; in July, 2015, I won the academic rank of full Professor. Moreover, in July, 2012, Winthrop University awarded me tenure or permanent employment.
PROFESSOR OR SAINT
One day of March, 1994, Mr. Thomas F. Heck, Professor of Research Methods course, offered me a ride with his van, from the Ohio State University Music and Dance Library to my apartment. (During that time, I used to commute with bus to and from my work place.) I was as surprised as I was delighted: An American professor had found time to give me a ride with his van to my apartment!
Obviously, Mr. Heck had long noticed that I was in a stressful situation. With his big heart and his deep soul, fully tactful, he asked me: “’Mr. Shetuni! If you have decided to stay in America, what profession do you think will you exercise?” “I will teach music.”—I answered immediately–. “Listen!”–says Mr. Heck–. “America has no great need for music teachers. Look at me: I have received a doctorate in musicology from Yale University; my grade point average has always been an A+; in addition, English is my mother tongue. However, I work as a Director of Music and Dance Library, and at the same time I teach at the university. I would suggest to you to receive a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. Thus, you will be able to have a secure job. Meanwhile, you can teach.” As of this moment, I started to be more relaxed, I started to sleep, I began to feel more at ease! It is needless to say that I did exactly as Mr. Heck suggested. As I received a Master’s in Library and Information Science, as noticed above, my continuing employment was entirely possible.
Of course, I survived in America–in this country that has scared me every single morning–, thanks to the wise leadership of Mr. Heck, to his invaluable assistance, to his rare care. Thinking about him, I am constantly trying to define the nature of this noble and generous man. For this reason, I have I asked myself: “What is Mr. Heck? A professor or a saint?” I think he is both a professor and a saint! No doubt, the many such people the human society has, the sound it will be.
The exile to the United States of America, initially, dramatically slowed down my research activity in general. However, as time passed on, I felt that, for various reasons, my research activity should not had been limited neither simply on the musical culture of the village of “Andon Poçi” (my initial project) in particular, nor simply on the musical culture of the Aromanians of the Balkan Peninsula countries in general (my later project). It was time for the scope of my research activity to expand as much as possible, including the history, life, and culture of the Aromanians as a whole. Thus, instead of a single manuscript, titled Village of “Andon Poçi:” Musical Culture, the subject of which was relatively narrow, it was born the six-part series, titled My People: The Aromanians, whose subject is too wide. Involving so many years of research, the writing of this book, served well the slow and painful process of adjusting to a new way of life!