SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Niksa Nikodinovic

Me Now and Then

    I was born in Yugoslavia in 1981, and lived there with my seven years older brother and my parents.  My father is a member of the Greek Orthodox religion, which made him of Serbian nationality, and my mother is Catholic, which made her of Croatian nationality.  At that time it did not really matter because we considered ourselves Yugoslavians.  Yugoslavia had a couple of Republics such as Serbia, where Serbians lived, Croatia where Croats lived, and the Bosnia where it was all mixed, and that is where we lived.

War in Yugoslavia started in 1992 between Serbians, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims.
During that time we lived in Sarajevo, capitol of Bosnia, the city where mostly Muslims lived, and that is when I and my family started feeling ethnic differences.  My father lost his job as a teacher in school, only because he was a Serbian.  Same thing with my mother, she lost her job only because she was married to a Serbian.  From the beginning there was a feeling of not belonging for my brother and me.  My brother and I experienced a lot of bad things in school, we were called all kinds of names, our friends did not want to hang out with us any more, because we were not Muslims as they were.  Most of the kids did not understand the differences between our nationalities, but they hated us because their parents taught them to do so.  There was also another part of hate that was coming from the families who lost someone during the war, and they thought that all of the Serbs were responsible for their deaths.  It was war and everybody was killing, in order to survive and protect themselves.  My parents had an option to divorce so my mother would stay with Croats, and my father would move to the Serbian side.  But instead we lived in Bosnia till 1997 hoping that things would come back to normal.  The sad thing was that we could not go to the Serbian side of the country because my mother was not Serbian, and the same things would happen.  When people asked me and my brother what nationality we were, we did not know what to say, because we were half Serbian and half Croatian, and we could not say Yugoslavian because there was no more Yugoslavia.  That is why we decided to move to the United States and start new life.  It was really hard to leave our country and start all over again.  First we had to learn the language and understand the culture here, but it was all worth it and I am glad that we are here, and I hope that I will never again have to experience the same discrimination as I and my family did in Former Yugoslavia.

    This incident was the hardest thing in my life, and it will stick with me forever.  Before that I have never been hated by someone, and also I never had felt so lonely in the world.  All of a sudden i did not belong in the city where I was born and raised, not even in my own country.  My friends did not know me anymore, and they so fast started hating me so much only because I was not a Muslim like them.  Hate is strange to me, and in order to try to understand my former friends I found a Muslim guy here in Phoenix, also from Bosnia.  I introduced myself to him as a Muslim too, so he would open up in his conversation, and here is what he said:

    I was born in Bosnia and lived there until 2003, when I got student-exchange visa for United States.  My parents are back in Bosnia and I can not wait to go back.  I don't really like Phoenix because wherever you go there are churches, and there is not a single mosque.  Every single day i pray at noon, for my family back there, and my little cousins.  My two uncles have died in war, Serbs killed them but we have never found their bodies.  I hate those Serbs more than anything, they took all that we had.  I thought that I had escaped from them but now I see them everywhere in Phoenix, too.  They even have their own two churches.  If I only had money or power I’d somehow blow them to Hell.  Even Americans hate us here, man I just want to go back to Sarajevo, where we don't have any Serbians or stupid Americans, and where I can go to the mosque any time I want.

    I understand where his hate is coming from, because he lost someone, but i am not sure that I could hate all of the Muslims if someone of mine died.  I also learned from my grandparents that Muslims, Serbians and Croats fought against each other during the first and second world war.  So we hated each other always, but after the second world war our president Tito united all of us, and he punishes those who would speak about religious or ethnic differences.  That is why I never knew what I was or what my friends were.

    That was one ugly experience that will stick with me forever, but also it was one thoughtful experience, too.  I am really glad that my parents decided to stay together and move with us here to United States.

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