Ace’s grandparents immigrated to America from modern-day Croatia around the year 1912. They lived in the Midwest, and later permanently settled in Richmond, California, where many Slavic families—particularly those of Croatian and Serbian descent—lived together, working in the coal mines and on the docks during the Great Depression and into the Second World War. Ace recalls the families engaging in political arguments, singing traditional songs on stringed instruments, and navigating linguistic and cultural obstacles in America.
The interviewer met with Ace at his Bay Area home, where he returned after serving in the military during the 1950’s.
INTERVIEWER: So, there were these little phrases that are either… Croatian, or… kind of, mutated Croatian? Over the years that, um…
ACE: Mu-*Mutilated* Croatian.
INTERVIEWER: Oh! [Both laugh] That, that um… that we were talking about a little bit before we started recording—of um… just kind of like, family sayings? Do you remember any of those in, in your family?
INTERVIEWER: Kind of, what they sounded like and approximate translations?
ACE: One of the things that they said every day… “Ako bog da”: “If it’s God’s will”.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, interesting…
ACE: That’s all you lived your life.
ACE: “Ako bog da”. It’s not about your goals [begins laughing] and plans–
INTERVIEWER: [begins laughing] Yeah.
ACE: –and whatever! You know, a-and I, and I thought that was an [unintelligible]teresting [dimension of it (?)] They, they… they, they never thought about the idea of, you know, uh, striving to become successful.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting, yeah.
ACE: Yeah. Their whole life was [shrugs] “Ako bog da”! If God wants to give you children, you’ll have children. If you don’t, you don’t. If he wants you to have… more money, you’ll have more money. You know? Uh, you work hard. You… you know, you honor—you follow the ten commandments. [Yes(?)] so you want to—you got to remember the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is… [You(?)] Catholicism lives by a set of rules, you know?
ACE: Protestantism takes the position, “Well, you know, once I… I have Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior—um, you know—and I believe that, you know, [hand knocks table, microphone]I… that… his grace and, you know, go through all the theological points. Uh, the significant difference is that Catholicism says that “Yes, you’re“… there is this idea of being saved. Uh, I *was* saved, I *am* saved, I am *being* saved [hand knocks table, mic]. It is a progressive process in Catholicism.
ACE: So, you know, “Ako bog da”. [both chuckle] “If God wills it”. You know, you don’t tell God you’re saved. He tells *you*. [begins laughing]
Throughout his interview, Ace related Croatian practices to the prevalence of Catholicism in the Croatian culture. Many of the arguments he recalls between the Croatian and Serbian families living in Richmond were rooted in either politics or religion (particularly a split between Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism). This suggests that Ace recognizes religion as both a force for unity and a force for conflict. Ace also specifically relates this folk saying to an ethos in his family. Personal ambition is always secondary to forces, usually divine, which are outside of one’s control. Therefore, the best course of action is to, as Ace says, “follow the Ten Commandments”, which flow from the same divine source.
Like many folk sayings, “Ako Bog Da” is a piece of implicit advice. Though the saying itself implies the fundamental uncertainty of future life events, Ace’s commentary uses this uncertainty to suggest a call to action. The fundamental uncertainty of future life events, coupled with the assertion that God wills certain events to come to pass and others not to, is meant to compel the listener to “work hard” and “follow the Ten Commandments”. Considering that Catholicism was used as a means of defining a folk in-group (Croats) and a folk out-group (Orthodox, Serbians) among Ace’s community, it is worth considering also that “Ako Bog Da” follows in the footsteps of many folk sayings, as implicit advice to continue practicing the beliefs of the folk group, and therefore maintain its discreteness from others.