SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2014 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Here I am, chasing Boris, hoping to catch him so he can be it. Inhaling the smell of fresh cut grass, I ran across the cracked pavement and tagged him; finally, I got him. Deep down, I knew this was not the only way I wanted him. Naïve and young, here I was, a sun kissed eight year old from Bosnia wasting my summer, hoping a boy would notice me. The countless nights I spent chasing fire flies, going to the park and looking through the blinds of our one bedroom apartment to see if Boris was outside so I could join him seem so innocent now. He was my very first crush; I adored everything he did.
Boris was like me; he spoke the same language as I did, was from the same area I was originally from and he loved playing all the same games as I did. My family lived in an apartment complex with a group of refugees from the Balkan area; this was nothing new. This is where I met Boris, in the four building red brick apartment complex made up of red bricks in the heart of Carol Stream, Illinois. His family migrated from Germany as well, just as we did in 1999. Watching Boris help his parents unload the truck filled with belongings, I remember wondering if they were like us, different? Would he understand me, because no one else did? None of the other children in the first grade could make out Bosnian, they all spoke English. This drew me to Boris; he was like me. I looked forward to playing house because it meant Boris and I would be “married” and I could pretend he was mine.
The nights and days spent with Boris caught up to me when my father pulled me aside one day and forbid me from ever imagining I could have a relationship with him, “you can be friends with him, but nothing more than that”. He was clearly being irrational and had no validity behind his reasoning, I thought, and so I argued back. “Amela, they are the reason we are here! They are the reason you do not have half of your family” my father proclaimed. I could not comprehend where any of this was coming from and even after being told the war was fought to kill Muslim-Bosnians I thought my dad was being crazy—Boris had been nothing but nice to me, he would never hurt me!
My daughter, at the time was only eight years old and had made friends with the neighborhood kids, which included Serbian children. Amela, my daughter did not understand nor could she comprehend the uneasy feelings I had for these people who had put us in this one bedroom apartment, halfway across the world from our original home. My life had been taken away from me and everything I had ever worked for was gone in the matter of days and now these Serbians in America, their names, their faces reminded me of nothing but what I had lost.
I had been friends with Serbian men and women throughout my life but when the war broke out, my outlook on who they were completely changed. They became monsters, monsters that killed my family and friends for reasons I still cannot believe; ethnicity. Our beliefs in a higher fate were not the same, so that justifies the killing and displacement from my childhood home and land? This is something I could never forget, even if I tried.
As Amela’s father, I forbid her to ever have any feelings for a Serbian boy after I noticed she had been spending a significant amount of time with Boris, our neighbor. Amela and Boris would always be next to one another, whether they were playing catch or getting on the bus. That is something I did not want to see because I never wanted her to accept someone whose family probably fought in the war to kill our people. This is something I could not accept, but something I knew she was too young to understand. In time, I knew she would learn about our history of what Serbians did to our people and would make her own mind up on what kind of relationships she will have with them.
1992 was not only the year I was born, but also the year that altered the rest of my life; Bosnia had declared independence from Yugoslavia, which then caused the reaction of Serbians to besiege Sarajevo with the intention of ethnically cleansing the country of any Bosnian-Muslims. Within Yugoslavia, Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian people lived under the same nation where the only distinction laid upon their ethnicity, which is tightly related to their religious background. Bosnian-Serbs had historically been practicing Orthodox while Bosnian-Muslims related more to Islam. This ethnic difference caused great tension when Bosnia declared independence from former Yugoslavia and wanted its own identity, which then created a shift in the way people saw one another.
We fled from Austria, to Germany to America and countless cities in between before ending up in Carol Stream, a suburb a half hour away from Chicago. Here we were, a family of four, in a one bedroom apartment living through organizational hand outs. I was used to this life; hand me down clothes, food banks and commuting through city transit was the only norm I knew. One thing I did not understand was why my life was the way it was; I had assumed everyone’s life was similar to mine, just in a different language.
I was eight when my father told me not to like someone because of their identity. I had been exposed to numerous amounts of people and cultures, so to be told that someone was wrong for something they believed in made no sense to me. Trying to comprehend that how I felt was not right was mind boggling because I believed what I had felt to be true. So being told by my father, someone I absolutely admired, that I was wrong made me question my own identity. Of course I was young and it was merely a crush, but how could someone I love tell me that a person was never going to be good for me?
Understanding now that people can be categorized through their ethnicity it makes sense that my father feels the way he feels about Serbians; people can act on a belief in such a great manner that others cannot separate the event from the people, just as my father could not separate Serbians from the war.
I came to the realization that this incident changed the way I see not only people, but also life because from that moment on, I questioned people’s identity. Curious as to whom we were based on where we came from drove me to learn about the history of my family. The horror stories of the war seem surreal, and the people who did this are not people to me anymore. What my father had told me when I was an innocent eight year old continues to echo in the back of my mind. From that moment on and to this day, I have created an identity for myself based on the actions of others and what they, themselves mean to me based on who they are. Every day I challenge myself to think outside of those beliefs; to understand that an action does not define the person, and this is incident is the reason for that, and although I believe someone’s ethnicity determines what kind of cultural background a person has, does not mean I relate all of their principles back to that sole reason.
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