Daiva Čekanauskas-Navarette, born in Los Angeles, is an honorary consul of Lithuania and the director of Lithuanian World Arts Council (LWAC). Daiva is very active in Los Angeles Lithuanian community, and frequently visits Lithuania. During the US West Coast trip we visited Daiva and her husband Carlos Navarette’s home and sat down to chat about LithuaniaJurgis Didžiulis: Ms. Navarette, what is your relationship to Lithuania?
Daiva: I am 100% Lithuanian. My parents both were born in Lithuania. They escaped during the war – they were still teenagers. They ended up in Germany from there they came to Canada and the US. My mom and dad both ended up settling in the LA area and this is where they met and married and had 3 daughters. All three of us were raised here in California Los Angeles area.
Jurgis: And you, Mr. Naverette, are you in some way related to Lithuania?
Carlos: My brother, studied law in UCLA – as it turns out, all three Čekanauskas sisters attended that university. My brother kept telling me that local Lithuanians are organizing great parties inviting me to come along. Although I didn’t live in Los Angeles at the time, I would visit whenever the Lithuanian parties were organized. I met Daiva at one of them and invited her out. At the same time I was simply impressed with the Lithuanian culture. It seemed that during the events, something very important was taking place – for example, they had brought out an American Flag during one of the events, and people were calm and respectful, but when they brought out the Lithuanian flag, and people just snapped. I was in a different environment. It was extraordinary and I was very fascinated. All of the Lithuanians I knew were upright citizens, very educated, cultured, hard-working and their kids also did very well – I just thought it was an exemplary culture.
Daiva: Keep in mind, that Carlos was born in Arizona, to a Mexican family and only upon moving to Los Angeles he was introduced to the LIthuanian culture. It was completely new to him. Tuscon, Arizona, where Carlos is from, probably has a few Lithuanians, but surely he hasn’t met any before meeting me and my friends.
Jurgis: Did Carlos learn to speak Lithuanian before or after meeting you?
Daiva: When we got married – it became important to Carlos that we were even more part of the community and without me even knowing he signed up for Saturday Lithuanian school -in Lithuanian parish – and he would attend classes with those who don’t speak Lithuanian.
Jurgis (laughing): Hold on, I must hug you – you really did attend a Lithuanian Saturday school? Amazing.
Daiva: Yes, for 3 years!
Carlos: Yes, my teacher was Violeta Gedgaudiene
Daiva: I think he also wanted to learn Lithuanian, because he wanted to understand what me and my mom were saying to one another.
Jurgis: Carlos, how did Lithuanian community accept you?
Carlos: The community, especially ‘jaunimas’ (young people) were very welcoming. They were wonderful.
Daiva: Yes, they were very accepting indeed. The objection was more from my parents as their hope in raising us was that we would marry nice Lithuanian men, and from us three, I was the only one who didn’t.
Carlos: Daiva’s dad was the Lithuanian community leader, but it was hard for me to understand the relative importance of nationality. I was just an american boy who enjoyed Daivas and her friends and sisters company. Now I enjoy a great relationship with my ‘broliukai’ – Daivas sisters husbands. And we’ve become a great big family. Our kids are of similar age. In fact all three ‘seserys’ were pregnant at the same time at one point.
Jurgis: Why is Lithuanian community important to you? it more a sense of duty or does it give you something as well?
Daiva: The way we were raised we only spoke Lithuanian at home. It was a primary language. We learned English at kindergarten, so when I was 5 or 6. Lithuanian culture was instilled from our parents, but then, as you grow and you realize what your likes and dislikes are, you can choose to stay in the community or not. So obviously there was enough love for the culture and people and history, at least in my case, to keep my Lithuanian identity. And although I have a Mexican husband, if we speak any other language at home other than English, it’s Lithuanian.
Carlos: The language is useful- it’s like our secret language. It’s also how we met our best friends, by randomly hearing it in the store.
Jurgis: I know that for some people my age, feeling that you had to be part of the community, pushed them away from the community. Do you think that the sense of duty pushed some kids too hard?
Carlos: Yes, I’ve heard from several friends, that they didn’t appreciate having to spend all their Saturday’s in a Lithuanian school.
Daiva: It was not just Saturdays – it was Sundays as well, often the entire weekend. Monday to Friday – we were in the American environment, in an English school and then your weekends were dedicated to Lithuanian activities. On Saturdays, there would be school and some kind of an event in the evening and on Sunday we’d go to mass at the Lithuanian parish with a ‘minejimas’ or an event happening afterwards.
Carlos: But those Lithuanians had a common goal. They were working towards something very important – towards resistance.
Daiva: Yes, they were united to seek Lithuania’s independence.
Carlos: For that cause, the whole community united and bonded. I was very fascinated, even though I didn’t fully understand it. I think I understood a lot more when I went to Lithuania in 1993.Typical American kid going to Lithuania – understanding what was very different.
Daiva: You say it was eye opening for you – as an American kid – I was a Lithuanian. The country finally achieved independence. We were about to see a place that we had only heard about before, from our parents, read about in our textbooks. And here you land on Lithuanian soil and see the country for the first time.
Jurgis: Was it a strange feeling? Did you fear you wouldn’t be accepted?
Daiva: Lithuania was very inviting. We still have relatives here , the closest being my fathers brother, who did not escape during the war. They saw each other for the first time in 50 years. Beyond the family circle, we mostly felt curiosity, who are these people who came from California? What are they?
Carlos: I was especially fascinated with the stories, that we heard – about what happened in Lithuania, about different things people had to go through. All the Lithuanians we’ve met had something interesting to share, for instance Daiva’s dad’s brother having to change his last name during the soviet times.
Jurgis: Let me ask you another question. Now that Lithuania has regained it’s independence, what is the new mission of American Lithuanian community? Now that the context has changed and there is no need to organize protests, no need for the same level of activism?
Daiva: Yes, during those times, my father was especially active in a group A Captive Nations and Lithuanian organizations that were established outside of Lithuania with a goal of helping Lithuania to regain its independence. But now everything has changed and we have more interesting and fun opportunities to help Lithuania – we don’t have to only ‘fight’.
Jurgis: How about your kids? Do they speak Lithuanian? I, for instance, growing up in Colombia, had to be Lithuanian and speak Lithuanian. How is it in your home?
Daiva: We’re a mixed marriage. We are not both Lithuanian. Having said that, It was important for us that they would be exposed to the language and we ensured they were. Of course, when they met kids and making friends at school and playing on the computer – it becomes a different playing field. The english language definitely takes over. They went to the saturday school, so they have a good understanding of the language. Are they as fluent as me? No. Definitely not, but it is something they understand. My hope and desire is that they continue the Lithuanian tradition but we’ll see, it will be up to them to decide. And that something that Carlos support as well even though he doesn’t come from that background. But he embraced fullheartedly.
Carlos: I think it will all change, when they will travel to Lithuania and discover another world of people speaking Lithuanian.
Jurgis: What is the coolest thing that makes Lithuanians Lithuanian?
Carlos: I think that Lithuanians are brave world explorers. We had an ultra-runner Aidas Ardzijauskas stay with us a couple of years ago, who ran from one coast of the US to another. Also a photographer and entrepreneur Marius Jovaiša, who flew over Cuba, and he’s to thank that Cuba was photographed from flight perspective for the first time. He got a permission to fly where no one was allowed before.
Jurgis: And what would be the coolest thing about Lithuania for you, Daiva?
Daiva: I have to say the arts. A couple of years ago, together with filmmaker Marius Markevicius, we created was a non profit organization Lithuanian World Arts Council. We knew there are so many talented Lithuanian people all around the world not just here in Los Angeles or in Lithuania and there wasn’t really an organization that could introduce them to a wider network, or present them with opportunities in different places. Through that organization we were able to meet a lot of cool artists and help artists who are just starting out. For example, our very own board members – Martynas Levickis who is well known and very talented accordion player was able to sponsor a scholarship for the composer who had attended his workshop in Kaunas. We try to give back to the young community, people who with their own resources maybe wouldn’t be able to take advantages of these kinds of opportunities. So we want to help them financially so that they can take part and grow in their field. And so that their name is more known and that way Lithuanian name is more known in the world. It goes hand in hand.
Jurgis: What the best qualities of Lithuania?
Daiva: It’s Lithuanian people – most talented, smart, hard-working.
Jurgis: Are you saying that people are Lithuania’s treasure?
Daiva: Yes, without a doubt. People are Lithuania’s treasure.
Jurgis: And the last question – what is the one thing that we should should work on in Lithuania to thrive in the 21st century
Daiva: I thinks it’s the question of being united. Even now, the Lithuanians that have come to the United States, are being divided into ‘waves’ based on their arrival time – but we’re all Lithuanians. We should not be dividing people into categories. I love when everyone gathers and spends time together. All are included.