Keeping Up With the Jasarevics

Bosnian refugees found safe haven in St. Louis in the 1990s. Many are on the move again -- this time to the suburbs.

"There have been officers who have received calls for people cooking dogs," he says. "I will grant that a goat on a stick turning around may look like a greyhound, but there was never anything to it."

In the five years he's been working the immigrant beat, slaughter hasn't been a real problem, either. "Not to say it didn't happen, but I don't know of any incident where an animal was slaughtered in the backyard," Lalumandier says.

With the backdrop of other misinformation, when an elected official introduces a bill to ban smokehouses, it's a "slap in the face of the general Bosnian community," says Crosslin. Excess smoke from a smokehouse can be corrected, she notes. "You don't outlaw the whole darn thing," says Crosslin. "That says, 'We don't want you.'"

Darko Mruckovski started selling suburban homes to his fellow Bosnians, then bought one himself.
Mark Gilliland
Darko Mruckovski started selling suburban homes to his fellow Bosnians, then bought one himself.
Damir Huskic says the controversy over backyard smokehouses ignores more pressing Bosnian concerns, including crime.
Mark Gilliland
Damir Huskic says the controversy over backyard smokehouses ignores more pressing Bosnian concerns, including crime.

And that's something the city can't afford to do.

"Immigration, long-term, is one of the things that's going to save the city, if anything can," says Crosslin. "When you look at population loss, you're not going to encourage enough people to move back into the city to stabilize the city. The only way you're going to come up with new bodies to be able to repopulate this area is through immigration." In fact, the International Institute is working with the State Department to bring in Bantu refugees from Somalia. Several hundred may arrive from refugee camps sometime this summer. The Bantu may have a different kind of adjustment than the Bosnians' -- they speak the rare Maay-Maay language, and many have spent long periods in refugee camps in Africa, mostly Somalia.

The International Institute directly sponsored about 7,000 of the Bosnians who came to St. Louis. Others arrived here after trying another U.S. city first or came because they had relatives here. In other words, word got to them that St. Louis wasn't so bad.

Compared with the land of Srbrenica and Sarajevo, almost any American city looks like a safe port -- even St. Louis, which has a crumbling public-school system and a history of racial tension and was recently tagged the nation's most dangerous city by Morgan Quitno Press of Lawrence, Kansas. Of course, there have been no ethnic cleansings, no U.N. peacekeepers, no war-crime tribunals.

And in St. Louis there's at least an official recognition that the immigrant community is a critical part of the city's future. "Our population needs to be diverse and willing to work together," Mayor Francis Slay says. The mayor insists that he wants St. Louis to be an "immigrant-friendly" city and points to programs aimed specifically at newcomers, including translation services provided by the health department and business assistance offered to Bosnian immigrants by the St. Louis Development Corporation.

For all its warts, St. Louis is not such a bad blind date.

Nedim Jasarevic arrived in St. Louis from Bosnia on Halloween 1997. For the first few years here, life for the metal worker, wife Azemina and daughter Nezira was more treat than trick.

The Jasarevics moved into a four-family flat in the 3600 block of Montana Street, near the intersection of Grand and Chippewa, occupied by fellow Bosnian refugees, including Nedim's cousin Alija, who was Nedim's sponsor.

Just about the time the usual run of food stamps was to expire, after three months, Jasarevic got a job at Argo Products, located at 3500 Goodfellow Boulevard in North St. Louis. Argo makes what Jasarevic calls "yard machines"; he assists with the welding that is done on the lawnmowers. Jasarevic speaks English haltingly, but he understands the language and can communicate.

At first he tried taking public transportation to his job, starting on the Chippewa bus and transferring to a Hampton bus, but he says it sometimes took him two hours to get to work or to return. Then he relied on Bosnian co-workers for rides until he could afford a car, a 1995 Nissan.

"Three months, I got a job, everything go to better," Jasarevic says. "Four, five, six months I got a car. Upward I go. I go up."

After three years on Montana, the block became troubled. "The last year was getting bad," he says. "Too much criminal, too much drug -- everything."

Just before New Year's Day 2002, a neighbor was assaulted in the alley behind the flat. A carjacker stole the victim's late-model Pontiac Grand Am and pistol-whipped him, putting him in the hospital.

That was enough for Jasarevic. He and his family spent one more night on Montana, then moved in with relatives who lived elsewhere in the city. At first Jasarevic looked for an apartment in the city, but the areas he deemed safer were too expensive.

What sold him on where he's living now -- the Lakeshire community on Tesson Ferry Road, near Gravois Road -- is what he saw as he drove by the apartment building: a police substation next to the apartments.

"When I went to Lakeshire, I saw the police. I make decision I take this apartment," says Jasarevic. "Everywhere I was looking, but when I saw the police, I made the decision. I go there."

With housing and security taken care of, his next concern was education.

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