Tito’s death was a significant moment in Yugoslavian history that ushered in a new era of ethnic conflict, nationalism, and war. The war was especially brutal. Many Bosnian Muslims were murdered. Houses and apartments were burned. Men were shot in the street. Women and children were forced into detention centers where they were raped, beaten, and starved. Families were torn apart. Children lost parents. Most people saw loved ones and friends die.
The refugees of this conflict, who were able to make it out of the region, eventually settled in other countries. Chicago is now the home of one of the largest Bosnian communities in the United States.
This past year, I had the good fortune to work alongside a culturally dynamic team of health care professionals dedicated to working with members of Chicago’s Bosnian community. Like many social service agencies in the city, the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services is an amazing asset. By providing culturally competent care (through a wide variety of medical, psychiatric, and social services) they meet a vital community need.
While interning at the center, I learned that immigrating to the United States can be a difficult process. For some in the Bosnian community, the desire to go home is still strong. Even after many years in America, it doesn’t feel like home—more like a forced exile. However, for some, unstable conditions, lost homes, and shifting borders have made returning impossible. Equally challenging is processing the feelings, experiences, and traumas they now associate with their country of origin.
Many immigrants from Chicago’s Bosnian community speak of a loss of identity, being unaccepted, or feeling socially isolated. They also feel a loss of life goals and less control of their environment. For those who have committed to American citizenship, taking on a new national identity has also been bittersweet. (See Imagine 2050 blogger Ana Turck’s beautifully written pieces about her personal experience with this issue and acculturation).
The take home message here is that while we need to recognize the service of agencies like the Hamdard Center, we also have a duty to look out for our friends and neighbors in need and say no to anti-immigrant bigotry and hatred.
This holiday season take some time to volunteer your time, donate to a worthy cause, or simply open your heart to those around you.
Don’t let another thirty years go by before you do.