Bosnians in Chicago

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The Bosnian community is an important community in Chicago, and one of the oldest: Bosnians first settled in Chicago in the late 19th century. Many were Muslims, and in being so, introduced the city to Islam. In 1906, the Bosnians established The Benevolent Society of Illinois, the oldest Muslim organization in the United States. The society was set up to maintain the Bosnian sense of community and traditional beliefs.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia in 1992-1995, around 100,000 people were killed, 80 percent of whom were Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). At this time, around 40,000 refugees came to Chicago to a well existing community.

Over the years, as generations have grown and piled on, Bosnian life and culture has mixed with its American counterpart, often blurring lines.

“When I go [to Bosnia] they call me the American, when I’m here I’m the Bosnian. It’s like this interesting hybrid identity that we found here, and I’m becoming more and more comfortable with that,” said Dijana Hodzic, a 31 year old born in Bosnia and mainly raised in Germany after her family became refugees during the war. “There are few of us, but all of us can identify with that struggle between tradition and this new life we have developed here and the influences that American culture and life has brought upon us.”

While some fear younger generations are at risk at losing their Bosnian culture completely, others are optimistic that traditions and the language will continue to be passed down generation by generation.

Enisa Ogorinac came to the United States in 2001, just before the war started. She said she came with $20 and two words of English: “smile” and “pictures.” Ogorinac has been working at with refugees at Heartland Alliance for a decade. “It wasn’t easy to adjust here: culture, language, money, society in general. It was tough,” Ogorinac said about coming to Chicago.

Ogorinac has nieces and nephews who came to the United States when they were a young age. She said it is important for her that they speak Bosnian in the household and don’t let go of the language and culture.

Being a Bosnian immigrant and raising children in the United States is not always easy, however.

Dino Glogic, a 51 year old Bosnian who came to Chicago in 1998, said he had to make compromises when naming his children. He wanted their names to be acceptable and easy to pronounce both in Bosnia and in the United States. His daughter is named Iris, and his son is named Harris.

Hodzic, who is now living in Chicago and has a baby daughter, does not want to raise her daughter Muslim. However, Hodzic recognizes that other people in her family are Bosniaks, and that she needs to teach her daughter about certain religious celebrations, such as Eid and Ramadan, and why people may wear veils, etc.

Religion is a controversial topic amidst the Bosnian community, and is a topic Hodzic said she doesn’t like to think about. “The younger generation saw what religion did to our families, to our home, to our parents basically, and we are less religious or downright reject religion because of it—at least that’s how I feel” Hodzic said. “Whereas our parents, because of what happened, they are more tightly holding onto [religion]. They’re like, oh you tried to eliminate Bosnian Muslims form the country, so now we’re gonna build more mosques and be more Muslim than ever. ”

Anesa Saric, 15 year old first generation Bosnian-American, said that her mom is not as religious as she used to be ever since she emigrated to the United States. “We acknowledge the fact that we’re Muslim, but we’re not super religious. During Ramadan I’ll fast and I’ll pray, but I’m not super religious to the point where I pray five times a day.”

Just as in every community, the way an individual or a family holds onto traditions greatly varies. Some are more religious than other, some retain speaking their home-countries language while others do not. However, what can be said is that it is inevitable for these traditions, languages and cultures to mix with American society.

“Our life is mixed with United States culture and Bosnian culture. We don’t chose—it naturally come,” Glogic said. “We still want to keep some value from Bosnia-Herzegovina and so we try to find the best of what we can make from that mixture.”

Ramiz Avdic, 16 year old first generation Bosnian-American, said his family, and some others in the community, keep up a tradition from Bosnia where once a year they cook a roasted lamb and have a big picnic. “There’s some people that are like—they’re too American,” Avdic said. “Most of them don’t really go to those picnics; they’d rather go out and go to Chipotle or something or go to the movies.” Avdic said these people who don’t participate in the tradition don’t really know the Bosnian language and its culture, and that they only speak English. “It’s kind of disappointing to see that oh you can’t like have your culture and stuff come with you and be able to share with everybody,” Avdic said.

“Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’ve let any traditions go. I feel like the older I get the more I actually bring the traditions and live those traditions.” Saric said. “My parents say that it’s kind of funny and ironic because I am the only one born here, yet I am the one who holds onto the Bosnian traditions the most from [my three siblings].”

Ogorinac knows of the struggles many Bosnians had to face when coming to the United States during war time, but she is proud of the Bosnian community. “Younger generations now are already grown up—a lot of them are educated,” Ogorinac said. “I’m very proud of them and very proud of Bosnian community...The community is building itself. It goes step by step, it doesn’t go overnight.”