Thank you for escaping the bullets and bombs and mines and still being fearless leaders.
To our parents who were displaced and refugees from Bosnia and Hercegovina, to the people who still remain to keep our home country alive, and to the first-generation kids growing up in the United States, this is for you.
The times are changing, generations are passing and I’m getting older. I remember being younger and visiting my hometown of Teslic in Bosnia and Hercegovina with the streets filled with lively people. My parents greeting old friends who stayed back after the war, each colorful house down the street busy with neighbors having coffee. I couldn’t walk 100 feet without millions of hellos.
I went back to visit this past October in 2018 and I never felt as much confusion for my identity and roots before. The roads still had people but exceptionally less. Some people passed away and others moved to different countries, leaving my family’s hometown just declining in population.
I spent a lot of my time with my grandma and grandpa outside just breathing in the crisp mountain air.
There’s something about Bosnia’s air that fills your lungs with peace and pours through your veins. I could sit and stare at the sky and believe me, I’ve never seen a sky so beautiful. A calm breeze sings between the grassy fields and travels between your ears like a hymn. The mountains cover the hilly landscape and all I could think about is who is lucky enough to live on top of the world.
I grew up in St. Louis with immigrant parents, like many of my fellow Bosnians who live here. I know I’m not the only one who’s had trouble with identity.
It’s like you’re too American for the Bosnians but too Bosnian for the Americans.
I wish to keep my culture and language alive, but with each generation passing, it feels like it’s dying out. There are still schools that don’t teach about the genocide and war that displaced over 70,000 people to this area.
St. Louis is the only place I know as home, but I can’t minimize the overwhelming connection I still feel whenever I get to visit Bosnia. My grandparents, my cousins, my aunts and uncles still live there. I get off the plane and it’s like my heart twines with my soul as soon as my feet touch the ground (as cheesy as it sounds). It’s like my taste buds have never felt such stimulation and I’m on over-drive. All the food tastes better (and that’s not only because my Aunt is an amazing cook) but the food is nourished right with my families’ hands. The radio is turned high with old Bosnian music. Little strawberries grow in all corners of the village with the sweetest taste. There are cats that roam around and want some loving and milk. They hide in the long grass fields or in the haystacks, and that kind of country beauty is irreplaceable.
My blood runs deep through the grass and dirt and bricks and buildings and water and flowers and fruit and families of Bosnia. One never knows true heartbreak than watching your parents’ sadness when leaving their parents. Every visit to Bosnia ends with prayers for grandparents to stay alive another year. We work and go to school and work some more and break our backs just to have a blissful month in Bosnia for the summer.
Imagine being 20 (my age right now) and being forced to flee the country. There’s genocide on your front doorstep and you have no choice but to leave into unknown lands.
Go on, start a life with no money to your name, your family left in another land, and you’re all alone. I never could fathom my parents’ strength and resilience. I often get beyond angry at myself for complaining about foolish little things while my parents traveled four different borders to get a second chance at life.
My mom always says, “everything happens for a reason,” and I believe it, with all my heart and soul. I know there’s a bigger reason for all of us being displaced and for our parents being separated from theirs and from their bodies being torn from their beloved soil. There has to be a reason that I can’t see my grandparents whenever I want or why some lost theirs in the war. There has to be a reason so our mother’s tears don’t fall in vain, so our father’s fears and nightmares don’t go unnoticed and so our family’s deaths don’t go unjustified.
Here’s a thank you to my parents and your parents and all parents of refugees and immigrants. Thank you for taking care of us, for sacrificing all known to man, for learning a new language, for taking the shitty jobs to feed your family, for being made fun of because you’re foreign, for loving us endlessly, for keeping our culture alive and teaching our children our traditions, for still sending money to your parents while struggling to make ends meet, for escaping the bullets and bombs and mines and still being fearless leaders.