The Croatian Diaspora

Interview With Tatjana Mustac, Youngest NFCA "40 Under 40" Winner in 2017

By 13 July 2018

A new award program is set to be announced on September the 15th, 2018.

On September 15, 2018, the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCA) will announce the details about the 2nd Croatian American "40 Under 40" program to nominate and then select by early 2019, forty talented Croatian Americans. The NFCA, as a Croatian American umbrella group will work closely with the Croatian Fraternal Union and the Association of Croatian American Professionals to better search for and honor another group of forty rising stars, Croatian Americans activists and talented professionals within our national community. We will announce our first winner in mid-September to officially kick off this program and to generate more publicity for this next go-round initiative. The nomination process will be open on September 15th and run through December 1st!

Today, let me share an interview I did with Tatjana Mustac, one of our forty winners from last year and who happens to be the youngest and only one of two Croatian Americans of college age that were honored in 2017. It has been my ultimate pleasure to get to know so many of our "40 Under 40" winners. I have written feature articles on seven of our previous winners and here's one more about a true Croatian American patriot, Tatjana Mustac, already showing so much leadership, activism and a love for Croatia and yet, only still a teenager.

You were one of the "40 Under 40" winners in 2017 and the youngest within the first ever NFCA intitiative to salute rising stars and role models in the nationwide Croatian American community. Congratulations and what were some of the highlights of that award and did you meet any other interesting younger Croatian Americans through this program?

Words cannot describe how thankful I am for my “40 Under 40” recognition. Through the award, I was able to connect with many of the winners through many events such as the Association of Croatian American Professionals Chicago Conference or in my very own city, New York City. The other “40 Under 40” winners continue to inspire me in all of my endeavors and have become good friends of mine. Since receiving the award, I have connected with so many Croatians living in Croatia and beyond. The best part about the experience was discovering so much talent that should be celebrated and announced to the entire Croatian community.

Please share with us any fond memories and highlights about growing up within the greater New York City Croatian American community and what were some of your activities and influences that inspired you to be more of a Croatian activist?

Growing up in the New York City Croatian American community is something I am extremely thankful for. At home, I was fortunate to grow up with all four of my grandparents whom all came to the United States in hopes of providing a better life for on going generations. My mom’s family originates from the Istra region from the towns of Barban and Labin. While, my dad’s family originates from Dalmatia, from the town of Privlaka. Before starting school, my Dad’s father (Dido) was constantly watching after my brother and I while both of my parents worked full time. Days with my Dido consisted of eating fruit, listening to various Croatian cassettes, watching the older Splitski Festival VHS tapes and listening to my Dido discuss his life prior to coming to America. Having my Dido as my primary “babysitter,” helped me learn the Croatian language and made me fall in love with my culture early on in my life.

When I was old enough to attend school, my parents registered me for Croatian school and folklore, which also produced a love for Croatian culture within me. My favorite memory from growing up in the New York City Croatian community has to be the Croatian Children’s Festival. The Croatian Children’s Festival was essentially a singing competition for the Croatian children of the tri-state area. When I participated, I was always participating as a background dancer/singer. I unfortunately never had the chance of participating in the contest as a singer because it was discontinued shortly after. Hopefully, one day I can help bring it back for upcoming generations!

I am thankful to have countless memories of Croatian events and trips to Croatia, which only made me fall in love with the country and my roots even more. With each day, my love grows. This past weekend I was very fortunate to attend Mladi Fest in Mississauga, Ontario. The festival gathered over 200 young Croatians from across North America. The event certainly exceeded my expectations and has increased my love for Croatia and God.

Please detail and describe for us your educational objectives and specific focus within your future career objective plans and space?

Currently, I am studying at Queens College, CUNY in Flushing, NY. I am aiming to major in Neuroscience with a triple minor in Psychology, Chemistry and Cities & Social Medicine, all while on the PreMedical track. After completing my undergraduate degree, I am hoping to enter an MD-PhD program. I am interested in a dual degree program because I enjoy both scientific research and helping others hands on. With the dual degree, I would love to work both in scientific research and as a practicing doctor either as a Neurologist or as a Physician in the Emergency Room. I will be in school for a very long time however, it will pay off once I am done!

Next, you won some other awards and an even a summer Croatian Language scholarship from the Association of Croatian American Professionals, please share some highlights about this 2017 visit to Croatia and any other honors you have achieved within Croatian American community or with any academic endeavors that you want to mention?

Since “40 Under 40,” I have been blessed with several Croatian awards and honors. As you mentioned, in May of 2017, I received a full scholarship through the Association of Croatian American Professionals to study abroad at Zagreb School of Economics and Management. Although I'm not studying within a business related area, I really enjoyed studying in Zagreb. It was a certainly change from studying in the extremely fast paced New York. It was actually the first time in all of my Croatia trips where I was able to explore all of Zagreb. Since then, I left my heart in Zagreb! Here’s a link to an article I wrote about my experience.

Through the Association of Croatian American Professionals, I also received a scholarship towards my current college program. Unfortunately, attending college is very expensive between tuition, books and basic living expenses. Everything happens to add up very quickly. This scholarship was very helpful to defray some of the cost.

In November of 2017, I received the “Future Leaders” award from the Croatian Women’s Network (Mreža Hrvatskih Žena). This award acknowledges the successes of Croatian women who are 16-20 years of age. The Croatian Women’s Network awards are presented in Zagreb every year on International Women’s Day (March 8). This program has helped me connect with many so many strong and empowering Croatian women both living in the diaspora and in Croatia.

In December of 2017, I had the honor of receiving the Žarko Cuculić Memorial Scholarship from the Croatian Academy of America. I happened to receive the scholarship about a few days before Christmas. It was the absolute best Christmas gift I could ever ask for. The gift of being able to pursue an education is certainly the best gift.

Last, but not least, an honor I have been very excited about is that I will be a STEM panelist at the upcoming Association of Croatian American Professionals conference. The conference will be in Silicon Valley, California from October 18-21, 2018. The conference already has many successful Croatians participating such as Mate Rimac (Rimac Motors), Brian Krzanich (CEO of Intel) and Ivan Đikić (Biochemist). I am very excited to meet more talented and proud Croatians at the conference.

My experience with “40 Under 40” has helped to open up several doors for me within our Croatian community and beyond. I am very thankful for every opportunity it has brought me. I hope I have inspired other young Croatians to go out and participate in their Croatian communities as well.

I hear you will be visiting Croatia in August and what are you most excited about with that upcoming trip?

I am very excited for my Croatia trip! I am excited to relax with my family in the most beautiful country in the world. Every year, I spend my summers in Privlaka, which is about 20 km outside the city of Zadar. I am most excited to go to the beach in Privlaka and to eat fresh fish almost everyday.

Lastly, the NFCA will announcing the next "40 Under 40" program in mid-September with a December 15th deadline for nominees and will announce those forty winners in January, 2019 and would you consider being on the NFCA's "40 Under 40" Advisory Selection Committee?

It would be an honor and a privilege to be on the Selection Committee for the next “40 Under 40” program! The program has continued to bring me so many successes both in my personal and professional lives. My fellow winners have also become great friends of mine. The Croatian community definitely needs programs like “40 Under 40” to share and celebrate our talents with the world. Through this, we can help promote each other to achieve our fullest potential.

Thank you Mr. Rukavina for interviewing me. I appreciate all the work you’ve done for the National Federation of Croatian Americans (NFCA) and overall for the Croatian diaspora.