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She's A Good Citizen Already

Susan Campbell

August 06, 2008

Along about now, Alisa Dzananovic (pronounced jan-NA-no-vich) is getting serious.

It's not that she's goofed off all summer, but working full time as marketing manager at the YWCA of the Hartford Region, and earning her master's in communications from Central Connecticut, means the 26-year-old grabs down time when she can.

But it's back to the books for now — or, in this case, a booklet, this time to study for her American citizenship test. Dzananovic and her fiancé will take the test later this month, and they're determined to pass.

Dzananovic, who was named for "Alice in Wonderland," was born in Bosnia. She left her homeland with her family — her parents and younger brother — at age 9, when the fighting became too much. In a half-hour one evening, the family was packed and leaving for Germany. Dzananovic remembers her grandfather, who would stay behind, crying as he said goodbye. He understood the finality of their leave-taking.

To her, immigrating was simply a big adventure. Her cousins went to Austria; an uncle moved to California. For a time, family members would lose track of one another.

She cries now when she remembers that, and then she apologizes for crying. You learn to live with whatever comes your way, and other people lost so much more.

Dzananovic went to high school in Germany and came to identify with that country's culture, but Germany's comparatively restrictive immigration laws made life too uncertain for the family. In 2000, they moved again — to start over, this time in Hartford. Her mother became a paraprofessional in the Hartford school system; her father trained and worked as an HVAC technician.

Hartford suited Dzananovic, who enrolled at Bulkeley High, where she was a straight-A student (and where she met her fiancé, also from Bosnia). The English she'd studied in German schools put her worlds ahead of where she could have been, and she worked on her accent.

Her parents did everything for her and her brother, sacrificed and started over — twice. But they couldn't shield her from everything. Because of her English skills, Dzananovic attended her own parent-teacher conferences and interpreted. She also volunteered to interpret for other people in her apartment building. She helped her younger brother with homework. She grew up fast. That made identifying with fellow Bulkeley students — or even her friends at St. Joseph College, later — difficult.

The family eventually moved to Newington. These days, her brother is at Central, studying mechanical engineering. He has an American girlfriend, and to be polite, the family tries to stick to English when they speak at home. Dzananovic has her own condo in Cromwell, where she and her fiancé speak a mix of Bosnian and English, with some German thrown in for spice.

Just this morning, Dzananovic looked over some of the citizenship questions. Her office mates have offered to study with her. They're even sending some of the questions around the office via e-mail to see how people who were born in this country would fare on the test.

Some questions are easy: How many stars on the flag (50)? That kind of thing. And some are tougher: Who elects the president (the electoral college).

If she and her fiancé both pass — when they both pass — Dzananovic is going to ask that they be allowed to attend the same swearing-in ceremony. Home is where your family is, she says. Soon, Alisa in wonderland will be a Bosnian American.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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