Sanela Mesic and Patrick McCarthy

Recorded September 11, 2005 Archived September 13, 2005 54:06 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX000535


23 year old woman interviewed by her 44 year old friend about her memories of growing up in Bosnia and moving to the U.S.


  • Sanela Mesic
  • Patrick McCarthy

Recording Location

MobileBooth East


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00:00 Okay.

00:04 My name is Patrick McCarthy, and I'm 44 years old. Today is September 11th, 2005, and we're out in front of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, and I'm talking with my friends. So now I message.

00:23 My name is sin Ellen message. I am 23 years old to September 11th of 2005 were in St. Louis, Missouri, and I'm talking to my friend Patrick.

00:37 We got our preliminary information out of the way, and I wanted to ask you. When did you come to the United States? I came?

00:49 It was November 28th of 2019 95 we had lived in Germany for about 2 years when the war started in Bosnia. We moved to Germany first.

01:12 It was the issue in Bosnia was getting settled or so, the International Community thought and the visas for the immigrants to Germany were beginning to expire. So it's either going back to Bosnia or going somewhere else and since my uncle lived in Chicago, he sent his papers to come here.

01:32 And why did you leave Bosnia originally?

01:39 There was a war that broke out some call it a civil war some call it a genocide. It was just not safe to stay there, especially in the area that we were in.

01:51 Do you have any memories of the time when you left?

01:56 I do remember I'm the first day that I realized there was something wrong me and my mom were outside and our front porch and there was another house in front of us. And right after the house was a it was a straight that led to our school and I noticed tanks army soldiers marching to her school and that was kind of exciting. I was just watching people marching and my mom didn't think so. She was very worried. My dad jumped in his car drove up for there to warn his family and I was just trying to realize what was going on. I think I was nine almost 10 years old.

02:38 The next day we had packed up stuff and one or two suitcases. We try to get to the airport to leave.

02:48 The airport at 10th and taken over by the other soldiers Serbian soldiers. We couldn't leave we came back. We spent two nights in the basement of our neighbor. I think most of the neighborhood was there you just kind of fun.

03:05 Huddle together there was sand bags over the walls. And I do really don't understand what was going on. The kids are kind of making jokes and we were trying to saying and everyone's trying to quiet us down. We could hear guns and bullets going off in the distance the next day. We got in a bus Woodrow for a few hours.

03:30 And then we got a knot on a train and we'll check the train went up in Germany.

03:35 And the neighbors who took you in where they of another ethnic or religious group?

03:46 In this was probably May of 1992, okay.

03:54 When you think back on that time, what were you feeling when all that was going on?

04:03 I think the biggest emotion was just confusion. I really didn't know what was going on.

04:12 I know it's kind of exciting you're getting on buses and trains and you're in an airport and I are in Germany. And I remember when we got there my dad took us to am I German restaurant and I was sitting there eating french fries and I was kind of exciting and it wasn't until several weeks later. They realize that I'm not going home. And I think that's when everything kind of settled in and

04:36 But the gravity of the situation that people were being killed in Murder just because of their religion their ethnicity didn't settle in until much much later as a kid. You just don't understand and even if you were told there's a war you don't understand why I understand that you're not going to go back or see your old house your family. It just doesn't register. So I think my I don't even know how to describe the emotions that's partly a function of being very young when those things occur. So you don't have the life experience to really put it into a context for understanding when you think about where you grew up. Where do you consider if you think about that question, where did you grow up? Do you think about that being in Germany or in the United States or in Bosnia? How do you make sense of that when you think about it as a memory?

05:29 I think it has to have been the United States out of all the three countries by the new Germany in the u.s. I've spent the most time here. I spent nine years involves two years in Germany and almost 11 years here. I think I spent I was 12 when I moved here and

05:55 I think when you're 12 years old, I think that's when you kind of start really growing and remembering things. So most of my memories and

06:04 How I developed is when I was here in Germany. I just remember a little kid playing in the park visiting houses that had these refugees and them seeing family and friends and buys a member of the same thing. I remember playing and I'm staying with my grandparents playing on the farm. I just I don't remember anything except that but then when I think about my experience here, that's when I think I started really growing up earlier memories sound like their little glimpses or or little specific memories that you have. What was it? Like when you first moved here to the United States?

06:48 We flew into Chicago airport. Remember the first thing I was thinking of up every floor at the airport head out at the team name or logo some kind and remember my cousin so it comes to pick us up trying to remember what for the head parked on and saying that we park for the Cubbies are the Cubs are or where we park where the Bears are and I just completely understand but I thought that was cool looking at those symbols driving to the streets and seeing the flat houses that was interesting than going to our apartment. That was a new experience. I'd never the structure was a bit weird and funny and there were these bugs in the on the floor and I'd never seen them before they're really cute. I think they were cockroaches, but I had never seen them before I went to school. That was a interesting experience.

07:48 Did you speak English at this point? I taken two years of English classes British English in Germany that was required was so I could say basic things like food and that I need to go to the bathroom or something like that. But despite what people say about inner city schools. I felt that they really understood where we were coming from and I had some of the best teachers there. I had one in which Professor teacher she was on 7th grade. She was amazing and I think we we had ESL teachers in the ones you go to top of your homework, but I think without this lady, I don't think we all could have caught on so soon in English, and I think there was another girl that came with me from Germany on the airplane and then we actually went to the same school in Chicago and we caught on

08:48 It's just within six months. We were doing our own homework and not having to go to the Sol and

08:55 And do you think part of that was because there were other Refugee and immigrant students in the school system, but they were a lot I believe there are a lot from Mexico on a lot of the professors were from from Mexican descent. And I think they understood what it was to not be able to you know, speak the language they were very

09:25 They took really really good care of us.

09:29 What's your best memory from this time in your life?

09:36 The best memory

09:38 I I tried to try out for the soccer team in Chicago and just you just allocated understand that you were different and that you in though, you don't speak the language. You still don't catch on and in such a school where there's so much diversity. You don't feel out of place even though you're not speaking the language really well and

10:00 You have those.

10:04 I don't know. I just the whole experience. I think out of all the schools. I've been to an all of all the areas that first one here has left the biggest impression on me.

10:15 Uncle Gelish me more, preacher Tina wasn't scared and as you know what I just said was if you want we can speak in Bosnian as an American from Bosnia your life really exists in two different worlds ones American and the other is buys man with a lot of areas that overlap. Do you agree with that? Definitely when you think about yourself and your own identity, how do you regard yourself? Do you think of yourself as American or Bosnian or combination of the two?

10:52 I think it has to be a combination of the two. I think when I when I was younger it was it was kind of like a yo-yo effect. First. I was Bosnian and then as I learned English and live in an area where there weren't a lot of bosnians, I was completely immersed in the American culture. I spoke nothing but English so then I was more I caught myself saying when we talked about something I said, we as in the way Americans and then when I moved here and I kind of got touch back with us and Community it was

11:28 I'm still Bosnian, but another hand it was I'm still connected to the American people. So it was very I think both ways.

11:42 Do you sometimes feel like someone who doesn't have a home country or do you have conflicting loyalties between being Bosnian or being American?

11:55 I wouldn't call them conflicting loyalties, but I think when someone asks me where I'm from.

12:02 Isam I'm from Bosnia in Bosnian

12:07 But I think my loyalty is still pretty equal. It's hard not to be loyal to a country where pretty much grew up.

12:19 And it's kind of hard to give up on the country was born in because there's so much culture and send my parents their big roll. I mean, they they lived in that country. They grew up in that country. So

12:32 I don't feel like there's conflicting loyalties. I think it's just

12:38 It it almost feels like it's better to have both than just one.

12:44 What customs and traditions from Bosnian culture have been kept alive in your family?

12:52 Well, they're traditional and both just cultural ethnic and then there's the religious ones. We still don't eat pork no matter where we are. I remember I'm going to McDonald's and asking them. You know, what are your hamburgers? Is there pork? Culturally? We still eat the same Bosnian Foods we go to the Bosnian restaurants. Listen to the Bosnian music. I have taped CDs that have Bosnian music American music all kinds of music on their religiously. We still go to the mosque pray and my dad is still very much involved in making sure my sister and I keep up with that. Make sure we learn about the religion being able to teach our kids.

13:44 But my mom has also kind of started incorporating more American food into it, you know when she cooks so it's kind of going both ways.

13:54 We're here on September 11th the day that there was an attack on the United States in 2001 that generated a lot of anti-muslim sentiment among the people of the United States. Have you experienced any anti-muslim bias or Prejudice personally know but the way that that people speak of of Muslims or those from Arab countries, sometimes people don't even know that I'm not from here and sometimes they're more open to discussing their views with me because they don't know why Muslim was it or not? I'm from Bosnia or even if they know that I'm from Bosnia. They don't know that I'm Muslim.

14:40 There are people who believe that.

14:47 Anybody who's different? Not just Muslims don't belong and I think more than it September 11th earning.

14:57 Are we increasing the prejudices against the Muslim population? It almost feels like it has a negative effect of all minorities in the United States. So you have a more of you just have people staying away from somebody that's different. It doesn't matter where you're from. It could be that your Arabic could be that you're from Bosnia. I could do that. You're from Mexico to be that you're Russian. They're just kind of afraid because I thinking we let you in something like this happens. Maybe it's best if we just kind of turned back and kind of close ourselves in

15:35 I agree. I think it has increase the suspicion that people have about those who are different.

15:43 How did the war change the war in Bosnia how to change you and your family?

15:51 Had the war not happen. I wouldn't be here. I doubt that. I would have gone to school and in college and if I did I probably wouldn't have picked political science and human rights as the things that was going to study.

16:09 My family, I think they would still be in their Hometown. My dad had plans of starting a construction company because he was working for other countries. He was a guest worker. So he was gone for three months back for a month stuff like that. So had we stayed he probably would have opened something local and been able to spend more time with us. It's really kind of even hard to imagine because that's most of my life that would have been different so I can't even guess.

16:37 Do you think that you will ever go back to live in Bosnia?

16:44 Maybe I'm not sure. I think I would miss a lot of stuff that stuff. But when I go to visit, I almost have that feeling that it would be so cool if I stayed because he still have that connection. You have your family you have you can speak Bosnian you hear the music, so maybe it's a good question.

17:06 How is your life here been different than what you imagined?

17:16 I don't even remember how much how I imagined it? I never really thought.

17:22 That I would fit in.

17:26 And I guess when you're a little kid all you're trying to think of is how do you just get past that first step, but even even then I didn't even think about it. It was just you just take it one step at a time and

17:41 When when you were younger and you thought about your life in the future? What did you think your life would be like when you are older?

17:54 I think I almost kind of imagined that the whole war in Bosnia and us being here was a temporary thing that you know any day now, we would Dino pack up and go back and kind of resume and pick up life. I didn't realize that we would stay here and this was kind of be my my home.

18:17 If you could do anything now any kind of job or any kind of activity, what would you do and why?

18:26 I would do I would love to have a job that I work for.

18:37 Any type of organization that brought awareness of of genocide ethnic cleansing because it hasn't just not impacted Bosnia has impacted other parts of the world Rwanda Sudan a lot of Asian countries. So it's not that it was just a European thing and I think a lot of people shy away from that when you say genocide or when you say, oh it's just a civil war are there, you know, they've always been killing each other. Well, it's not true. It's an excuse people use not to get involved and I think

19:12 Even with a genocide or War it doesn't affect that region. The Bosnian War has affected everybody in the world and its continued until affect them. It's changing international law. It's changing the way country to deal with immigrants refugees. So I think it's really important to shed light on that. What are some of the ways so you think you can build that kind of awareness among people I think having a

19:40 A political agenda having having the politicians take the matter. Seriously having the media covering more having the school teaching. It's I mean, I went through high school not learning much about the war in Bosnia. It was just something. Oh, it happened or their yes. There was a war in your kind of move on but it wasn't until I start taking classes in college that you got to the point of it was a genocide and it was in the first genocide. I went through four years of high school without learning about Rwanda about learning. You know, what you you you hear about World War II and the Holocaust but people kind of they almost make you think that that was the first and last and nothing has happened since it isn't until much later in life. Even if you want to study at that you find out that so much more has happened. So I think education needs to be really crucial undigested in colleges, but High School swell.

20:40 One of the ways that a lot of people learn about the second world war in the genocide against Jews and others in Europe at that time was to read The Diary of Anne Frank and from that very particular experience of one person something Universal is revealed. How do you think what are some of the lessons personally that you've learned from your experiences that you think would help people better understand the reality of the war and genocide in Bosnia?

21:12 I think people look at it in abstract terms you have this war one religion against another.

21:21 But with people almost kind of fail to think of is that there's people involved there. It's not just this abstract concept with hundreds of thousands people dying. It's just like and Frank was able to connect your diary. It's one single person being impacted. I think when people meet those people meet that that one person that's been affected by it.

21:45 They almost take it to heart. Whereas if you see it on the news or just read it somewhere that says this one wore. It's almost like no people were involved.

21:58 I also wish people would understand that this was not.

22:03 I hate where it stays evil people killing other evil people. It's that it's you have this political climate that's manipulated. You have people whose economy just crashed starving no jobs, and then you have these politicians coming in and then kind of manipulating it and then turning it into it a genocide and people always look for someone to blame or have total victim in 1 total instigator and through that you miss so much and then you come out of the war with so many more problems than before and you can fix them because all of those

22:42 Those those problems were made during the war instead of kind of jumping in the middle and trying to solve those problems. You're just instigating them part of the result or human consequence of a war like the one in Bosnia and Herzegovina was large numbers of refugees displaced to places where they never imagined. They would go and we're here in St. Louis where there now fifty thousand refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina including a lot of people with experiences like your own where they have one foot in two different cultures and in a way have created something unique because it's a combination or a fusion of the old traditional culture and the new American culture. What are some of the ways that you've seen that either in your own life or in the experiences of your friends where the two cultures have Blended together to create

23:42 Something that's unique.

23:45 I think when we speak or when we try to communicate instantly you tell a person that's something out there something that right there will start often and Bosnian English words will take an English word and pronounce them in Bosnian creating a whole new word. I think the way we dress the way we talk I think our tastes and

24:09 Music I mean, it's really interesting that even the the singers in Bosnia are kind of picking up on it. You have somebody like being a Medellin who was a very traditional Bosnian singer is now doing an almost a jazzy type of of songs or you have somebody like specially choose very very traditional kind of folk songs who comes out with these hip hop songs that even you know, somebody that I can listen to

24:39 So you have this mixture of different flavors to?

24:44 Come up with something new.

24:47 What is the future hold for you?

24:51 No idea. I have no idea. I can't even begin to ask that answer that that's kind of a wrap up type question. Is there anything we didn't talk about today that you'd like to add?

25:10 No, I think that just saying there's a lot of people who come here from different countries bosnians. It doesn't matter who who really want to fit in badly and sometimes people they encounter struggles against it and if you struggle for so long you end up and you just give up and then there's so much animosity but yet there's those people that I guess we're lucky in the friends. They mean the people that mean they're so accepted into the new culture that they just turn around become a new person that he will speak the language that to the customs and I think everybody comes with an open mind. I doubt there was any one person who comes here and says, I will not at the ACT. I have no intention of learning the language. I've no intention of changing anything about myself but I think after months or years of accounting and coloring those obstacles, I think

26:08 They they said back in into the original fears, but maybe I have not want to hear.

26:14 So I think if anybody doesn't counter person who doesn't speak their language, the first thing you do is you either yell or Raise Your Voice, you know, it's not that they don't understand you is they're trying their best to explain themselves to you. And I think having that open mind when you do encounter someone from a different culture goes a long way not just towards you but the way you're going to shape them and I think that's really important. It's not that they're not trying their hardest if they just need kind of help and an open mind to do it.

26:47 I think that's a great insight and sounds like the perfect note on which to end our discussion. Thank you very much. Thank you.