Gezim Kashtanjeva: An Immigrant’s Child’s Appreciation

Gezim Kashtanjeva is grateful to have lived in the United States his entire life but knows what his parents had to endure to get him the life he has today. In his story, he shares what he knows about his home country Albania’s history and his gratitude to the U.S. for stepping in and helping his people. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, 29 years ago to Albanian immigrants. Albania has freedom of religion just like the United States, but the majority follow Islam. During the war in Kosovo (north Albania) in the late ‘90s, my people were victims to mass genocide by the Serbs who claimed rights to our land. Albanians stuck through this by helping one another regardless of religion. Being Albanian and being born in the U.S. has helped me grow and live side by side with people regardless of religious preference.

Life in Albania, even as of late, hasn’t been easy. As recent as 2000, people in Albania were being killed due to their religion. Armed forces walked two-by-two down the streets with military rifles to show that no matter what, everyone was under military law. I remember being a child visiting our home for the summer, before things turned into an all-out war, and I’d see Serbian military personnel monitoring and patrolling all over the city. If you were to look at them for too long they would come over to you, question you and even beat you.

Without the help of the U.S. military combined with NATO forces, Albania would have been just another sad story where thousands of years of history was wiped away because of religious persecution. My mother’s village where she was born lost more than 50 residents to war. One can only imagine the gratitude we pay to America for not allowing things to go further and for allowing refugees from our country into the States to seek asylum.

Listening to my parents’ stories about leaving a war torn country and establishing roots in America allowed me to instantly fall in love with this country. America has allowed my parents to flourish as they follow their dreams. The opportunities here allowed my father to become a business owner and support efforts to make a better living for family in Albania.

The biggest opportunity I have that I am taking advantage of is my schooling and pursuing my degree. After many years of hard work, I chose to go back to university and finish my degree, and here I am today, a senior with six months left until I receive my diploma. This country was founded on immigration, and I believe children of immigrants appreciate America more than most. I hope that trickles down to future generations to come.