My essay in The New York Times

On tennis and the search for the meaning of home

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a byline brag. The immigrant behind this newsletter about immigrants’ writing just wrote something about her immigrant experience for The New York Times. My essay, When War Turned My Country Into Chaos, Tennis Gave Me a Home,” was posted today in the Rites of Passage column.

A bit of behind-the-scenes: An editor accepted this essay in December, and I’ve been waiting (im)patiently for it to be published since. The editor wanted to post it during tennis season, which runs over the summer.

If I had to pull a couple of lines out of it, it would probably be this, because my identity struggle is so connected to my immigrant experience.

“There is no box for a Croat born in Serbia while it was Yugoslavia, who has a Canadian passport but lives in the United States. I don’t fit in — in a box or a country.”

Some things got trimmed in the editing process, such as a few lines I had about losing most of my matches in Croatia. And my suggested title for the piece was “No Land’s Woman.” Also, I didn’t see the illustration (by Hannah Buckman — thank you!) until the essay went live this afternoon, but think it’s great when editors commission artwork to help bring writing to life. I’m not sure how my parents feel about this line in my bio, but I know they don’t like storing my crap.

It’s stressful to share a personal story so publicly, but I’m happy to hear a number of readers—especially those from ex-Yugoslavia—said the piece resonated with them. I have been extremely lucky and privileged—I did not live through the conflict and I never felt unsafe. But it has taken me decades to come to terms with the fact that that doesn’t mean I can’t still write about my immigrant experience. And whether I’m writing about tennis, food or something else, the theme about the meaning of home and identity keeps coming back.

I’m deeply grateful to the editor who gave this former ESL student’s essay a home and to everyone who has taken the time to read it.

Vesna

@vesnajaksic