The vibrant Bosnian community in the Bevo Mill neighborhood might ring familiar to those who frequent the area in south St. Louis, perhaps eating at the family restaurants or shopping at the small businesses.
But for many residents, the textures of an evolving cultural assimilation in town escape the busy pace of our daily lives. This edition of the Post-Dispatch offers an intimate window into the private transitions of the thousands who fled war and genocide in the former Yugoslavia when they were resettled here starting 20 years ago.
“At Home in St. Louis” in the A section, the story and photo package in this Community section and a special online presentation illuminate how Bosnians — who now number more than 70,000 in the region — have established strong bonds within their community, while also adapting to U.S. customs, language and culture. That road is determined but not always smooth.
Unlike many previous waves of immigration, the Bosnian refugees arrived in a concentrated time frame, fleeing brutality and atrocities inflicted on their countrymen, which included thousands and thousands killed from 1992-1995 in Eastern Europe.
“Ethnic cleansing,” mass rape and human slaughter in the bloody internal strife shocked the world before peace was negotiated through the Dayton Agreement. Refugees began to arrive in the St. Louis area in 1993 during the war.
The psychological trauma of human carnage, familial loss and physical displacement from their homeland remains today as the older generations straddle mind and heart defined by a different language, religion and customs.
Younger Bosnians have adopted English and some American lifestyles, as photos depict them rooting on local sports teams like the Blues and Cardinals, a new wrinkle from their national sport of soccer in Bosnia. Like many immigrants, a newer generation bridges two worlds and contributes to both.
Given the national political debate about federal immigration reform, this close examination at how refugees contribute to our community is instructive.
Metro reporter Doug Moore and photographer Laurie Skrivan spent much of the last three months working sources in the neighborhoods to make contacts and gain trust to access the private lives of Bosnians having weddings, worshiping inside a mosque, celebrating at a lamb roast and attending grandparents day at school.
Moore, who joined the Post-Dispatch in February 2000, has covered diversity and demographics, which includes covering the region’s refugee populations, for the last five years.
“Twenty years later, what effect has it had on our region?” is how Moore described the Bosnian project’s mission. “We sought to find people we don’t typically go to.”
While he has covered the Bosnian community before, this deeper immersion showed their new identity. “Many of them see themselves as Americans. I was struck by how deeply rooted that community is here.”
Moore mostly was met with openness and excitement. “They still see the United States as an ideal place to live.”
Skrivan worked diligently to gain access to images that would capture the essence of their personal journeys and milestones. She worked odd hours and days to coordinate with people’s busy work and family lives.
“It was intimidating at first,” she said. “The community is so large, and you don’t want to stereotype people.”
Skrivan, a St. Louis native, graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in photojournalism and a minor in studio art. She has worked at the Post-Dispatch since 1997 and has traveled to Bosnia twice to document St. Louis Bosnians as they returned home.
Online graphics editor Chris Spurlock, a native St. Louisan who the Post-Dispatch recently hired from HuffingtonPost.com, created a special online presentation that incorporates more of a magazine experience with larger type and photos and videos embedded into one story file.
Readers can view the story, photo galleries and videos in one online file without having to close one to access the other. This reader-friendly packaging is a first for STLtoday.com and is available atSTLtoday.com/bosnia.
Project editor Matthew Franck has worked at the Post-Dispatch since 1999 and oversees the education, religion, demographics and diversity coverage. He also edited the recent project on the Missouri National Guard soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
Such quality, in-depth journalism speaks to readers in our region and enhances our understanding of each other. In this case, across language, religion, nationality and borders.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
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