Despite her distinct South London accent, singer Rita Ora is very patriotic about her home country of Kosovo. “I think us, Kosovo as a nation, we are very proud of where we came from,” says Ora, who speaks her mother tongue with a slight Southern twang, knows the traditional dances and loves the local food. Rita Ora was born in Yugoslavia (present-day Kosovo) to Albanian parents in 1990. A year later, her family was forced to flee their home country. Escaping persecution, they sought out a new life in London. Here she shares her story…
“When the conflict started in what is now former Yugoslavia, my parents made the difficult decision to leave. Thousands were killed in the brutal decade-long war, and more than one million people were forced to flee, including my parents, with me and my siblings in tow.
My mom was a psychiatrist and my dad an economist. They left behind their whole lives and had to start from scratch when they arrived in London as refugees. But protecting us was their main priority and I count my blessings every day that they did what they did.
They sacrificed so much and worked so hard for our family. They studied, learned a new language, and raised my older sister, younger brother, and me well. They taught us to fight for what we want, to work hard, and to keep going; whatever your circumstances. They chose London because dad loved the music and the culture, but even still, as you can imagine, adopting a new life was extremely difficult.
It was always tough growing up; there was a lot of prejudice and judgement. I was often called a refugee in a derogatory way, however, I had lots of foreign friends and we all had a great time connecting through being different.
It’s heartbreaking what is going on right now in Syria. I feel such heartache for the people suffering. I always want to do whatever I can to support communities that are going through tough times like this. My message to those refugees is to keep dreaming and loving your journey.
Our family always stuck together and I was lucky enough to have a support system behind me throughout my childhood. The incredible sense of community among Kosovans is something that I will always treasure. While we consider London our home now, I don’t feel English. I feel like I am from London as it’s diverse and I grew up with different nationalities around me in West London.
Kosovo will always be our homeland and we will forever be proud Kosovans. I’m so humbled to now be able to give back to my home country as an Honorary Ambassador. When we have the opportunity, I often go back to visit with my family. I love every little thing about Kosovan culture; it’s so different. The national dress is beautiful and the food is delicious. Baklava is my favorite thing in the world. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it; it’s incredible.
I will forever be a true Kosovan at heart. I’ll never forget my roots and I’ll be forever proud of my heritage – I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia