By: Amina Kopik
Kopik remembers Bosnia, her family, and her home country’s history of genocide and war.
Editor’s note: This story was originally written for the writer’s blog. You can find the original post here.
To our parents who were displaced refugees from Bosnia and Hercegovina, to the people who still remain and 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 would greet old friends who stayed back after the war, and each colorful house down the street was busy with neighbors having coffee. I could not walk 100 feet without millions of hellos.
I went to visit in October of 2018, and I had never felt confusion over my identity and roots before. The roads still had people but exceptionally less. People passed away and others moved to different countries, leaving my family’s hometown declining in population. I spent a lot of my time with my grandma and grandpa outside just breathing in the crisp, mountain air.
There is 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 think, believe me, I have never seen a sky so beautiful. A calm breeze sings between the grassy fields and travels between your ears like a hymn.
I grew up in St. Louis with immigrant parents like many of the fellow Bosnians who live here. I know I am not the only one who has had trouble with identity. It’s like you are 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 is dying out. To this day, there are still schools that do not teach students 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 not 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).
All the food tastes better (and that’s not only because my aunt is an amazing cook) but the food is nourished right in my family’s hands. It’s like my taste buds have never felt such stimulation, and I’m on overdrive.
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 love 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, the dirt, the bricks, the buildings, the water, the flowers, the fruit and families of Bosnia.
One never knows true heartbreak until they watch their parents’ sadness when leaving their own mom and dad. 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.
My mom always says, “Everything happens for a reason,” and I believe it with all my heart and soul. I know there is 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 not 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 do not fall in vain, so our father’s fears and nightmares do not go unnoticed and so our family’s deaths do not go unjustified.
Here is a thank you to my parents and your parents and all the 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 are 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.