Last weekend, in the Bevo Mill district of south St. Louis (also known as “Little Bosnia”), ground was broken on a new monument to the area’s Bosnian community. This monument will be a replica of the Sebilj, a stone and wooden fountain in the center of Sarejevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This new monument will celebrate the great success of the Bosnian community in St. Louis. Today, St. Louis is home to the most Bosnians outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina; about 70,000 Bosnian people live in St Louis, and another 45,000 live in the Chicago area.
As an immigrant to the city myself, I have been particularly interested in all of the groups who have historically made St. Louis their home. The Bosnians are one of the most recent groups to arrive in large numbers to St. Louis, and they have settled in a part of the city that was traditionally home to German and Dutch immigrants, who built the mill after which the neighborhood is known.
Although small numbers of people from what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina immigrated to the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bosnian immigration to the United States peaked during the Bosnian War (1992–1995). Over 2.2 million people were displaced by the war, the bloodiest European conflict since World War II.
Bosnian immigrants chose St. Louis for a number of reasons. For one, there was already a small Bosnian population in St. Louis during the early 1990s. Furthermore, one activist, Patrick McCarthy, advocated for the foundation of a scholarship for Bosnian students at Saint Louis University, where he worked. The symbolic value of such a scholarship was likely viewed as a positive gesture by Bosnians looking to make a new home in the United States. The availability of jobs and the relative low cost of living in St. Louis were also a big draw to these immigrants. The International Institute of St. Louis played an important role in settling Bosnians in the St. Louis area, a role that continued until 2001.
The integration of Bosnians in St. Louis life has not been without some conflicts. In 2000, there were increasing tensions between black and Bosnian students at Soldan High School, leading to a brawl in which 16 students were arrested. Bosnians have also clashed with local authorities over smokehouses in their backyards.
Today in the Bevo Mill district, signs often appear in both Bosnian and English, and many people still speak Bosnian. Bosnian immigrants have been predominantly Muslim, and the Islamic Community Center is central to the Bosnian community. However, there are also Orthodox Christians and Catholics among their numbers, due to the complex ethnographic makeup of Bosnia itself. St. Louis is also home to the only American-Bosnian newspaper,SabaH, which was started in 1997 in New York, but migrated with Sukrija Dzidzovic, its owner, to St. Louis in 2006. The Bevo Mill neighborhood is also home to Bosnian bakeries and restaurants, as well as tea houses that serve Turkish tea, a common beverage in Bosnia and Herzegovina after centuries of Ottoman rule.
It is hoped that the sebilj will be complete within six months. On Sunday, the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina visited St. Louis and the Bevo Mill district to celebrate the new monument to this vibrant community. The sebilj will also serve as a memorial to the 100,000 people who died during the Bosnian War.
—Caoimhe Ni Dhonaill, MHM volunteer
SOURCE: Missouri History Museum Blog
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