Sedina Sinanovic is a senior at California State University with a keen interest in Middle Eastern and South-East European affairs. She came with her parents to United States following the war in Bosnia. In the narrative below, she writes about her attachment to Bosnia and her gratitude to America for ensuring her survival.
I was two years old when my family fled to the United States because of the devastating 1992-1995 Bosnian war. We had only two suitcases when we first stepped foot in California, ready to rebuild our lives – which we hoped here in America would not be destroyed as before.
My love for Bosnia and Hercegovina is paramount. I remember a period in my life, which I now see as a late teens identity crisis – when I longed for the life I was supposed to have in Bosnia. I was a part of a diaspora. My childhood, my upbringing, my sense of self, were all displaced by the war in my original homeland. I can never be a real American, I thought, I don’t want to assimilate, the Bosnian population can’t assimilate. If we do, then Bosnia would have suffered much more than war. An entire generation of children who were supposed to continue building the homeland, now stretched all over the globe, oceans a part.
War is not simple, I have never experienced it, yet my entire life was shaped by the destruction spawned by a war. Many American family dinner tables were filled with chatter about the latest sports game or how school/work went. My family’s dinner table often found itself with Burek and stories about a shattered Bosnia divided in a pre-and post war era. Because of this, I decided I wanted to study the discourse of International Relations, with a special concentration on peace and conflict resolution.
I started college as soon as I turned 16 after graduating high school early. Now I am a senior at California State University, Sacramento with a keen regional interest in the Middle Eastern and South-East European affairs. I will soon be going to the UN headquarters in New York for a diplomatic competition with a 13-student delegation, representing our university at the National Model of the United Nations 2017. This is important to me because, even though subject to criticism, the United Nations exists on the basis of unifying nation-states and non-state actors, with a central mission to restore international peace and ensure security.
I spent the summers of 2015 and 2016 in the Middle East, volunteering for a non-governmental organization called Zajel. The experience was incredible to say the least. I, alongside many international students, explored the topics of cultural differences, comparative religion, ethnic cleansing, and nonviolent advocacy.
My dream is to pursue a career that addresses the legacies of past violence and human rights abuse in order to foster future sustainable peace. Recently I received a confirmation to join Summer University Srebrenica this summer with researchers and other students working on projects related to transitional peace, human rights, genocide, and post-conflict resolution. I am looking to continue my Master’s degree in Sarajevo next year.
I was naturalized in early 2015, becoming a permanent American citizen. I’ll be honest, growing up in America, life here is all I have ever known and I didn’t expect to be emotional. The immigration officers working the ceremony asked us to stand when our country of origin was projected on the screen. There were about 500 naturalized citizens that day. Bosnia came up following an alphabetical order, I was the only one standing.
Once all countries were listed, the lights cut and the music cued:
”From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.”
I had emotions I never thought I would have, I felt proud and rooted. I have come realize that identity has many facets to it. I am a woman, Bosnian, Muslim, and an American.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson eloquently stated, “The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources – because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples”. Regardless of my wanderlust tendencies, America is home and Bosnia will always be my homeland. This land is, as George Washington wrote to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp in 1788, “a safe & agreeable Asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”
America gave me a life post war Bosnia could never offer. Bosnia gave me a reason for existence, which America could never offer.