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.

Jasarevic had successfully navigated the city schools for his daughter, who attended kindergarten at Madison School and then transferred to Dewey School. Jasarevic liked Madison and Dewey -- both are magnet schools -- and chose them after concluding that other city public schools he visited lacked "discipline."

When Jasarevic and his family moved into the Lakeshire apartment, he went to the nearest school, only to discover that it was in a different school district. His apartment, though closer to an Affton school, was in the Lindbergh School District, so he enrolled his daughter in Sappington School. Nezira and her parents are satisfied with the school.

What Jasarevic had not realized was that because his daughter is white, she could have stayed at Dewey as part of the interdistrict desegregation program. He got an application for the magnet program, but by then Nezira was enrolled in the second grade at Sappington. Jasarevic says what his daughter has been through is different than what he experienced when he was going to school in Bosnia.

Mark Gilliland
Anna Crosslin: "Immigration, long-term, is one of the things that's going to save the city, if anything can."
Mark Gilliland
Anna Crosslin: "Immigration, long-term, is one of the things that's going to save the city, if anything can."

"Too much change," he says. "Child, too much change. I not change too much school. I know exactly, when I finish this school, I go in that school, in Bosnia. But in America it's different. My child, in two years she changed three schools. It's hard for me, hard for her."

In Bosnia, Jasarevic says, it was common for three generations to be born in the same village. "But everything different now," he says. "Too many changes."

The one change he doesn't regret is moving to the county, though he misses certain aspects of the city.

"I come back to the city very much. I like the city. But living in the city, I don't," says Jasarevic.

Proximity to other Bosnians is one big advantage the city holds over the suburbs. Living in the county, Jasarevic feels too far from other Bosnians, and he has no yard. On Montana, there was a small yard and a four-family flat full of Bosnians.

"We sit outside in evening when it was nice," says Jasarevic of his years in the city. "I miss it. We were all together. At night, in evening, we go outside; in the summertime, we're talking. Different. Always somebody outside."

Jasarevic thinks finding a house will be the last piece of the puzzle for his family, which now also includes twenty-month-old daughter Nermina.

"I must buy house pretty soon," says Jasarevic. "I lose the money if I don't buy a house. When I come, house was priced around $60,000 and $80,000 in this area. Now cost over $120,000. I lose $40,000, $50,000."

"Safety and school," Jasarevic says, are what's important to him. "School, for my child, is the future."

Darko Mruckovski, like any good salesman, follows the market. Described by many as the area's premier Bosnian real-estate agent, he estimates that more than half of his business is in South County. Just a year or so ago, it was less than a third. Sensing the trend, Mruckovski and his wife moved to South County.

Mruckovski says Bosnians are moving out of the city for two reasons: better schools and fewer hassles with City Hall. Occupancy permits pose a recurring problem for many Bosnians in the city because extended families and in-laws often move in together. And, as Jasarevic learned, even as crime has prompted Bosnians to move westward within the city to safer neighborhoods, prices have spiked beyond their ability to pay.

"The Bosnian community considered a good part of the city the 63109 ZIP code [west of Kingshighway to the city limits, north of Chippewa Street], but the prices went up; it got ridiculous in the last two years," Mruckovski says. "So if they could afford homes in that part of the city, they could still stay. But homes go for, like, $150,000 in that part of the city. It's just ridiculous. You can get a better house in the county for the same kind of money."

Much of the movement to South County is by Bosnians who moved into the city first and rented. Because Bosnians no longer qualify for refugee status, whatever migration that continues to St. Louis will involve Bosnians who are coming here from other American cities, drawn by the growing community and comparatively cheap housing.

As Bosnian students move south and west, school officials are trying to address their needs. City schools have more than twenty English as Second Language sites, a large increase from just a few years ago. Mehlville High School has an estimated 180 students of Bosnian heritage. Crosslin is concerned that adequate ESL services may not be available as the community disperses.

"Just at a time when school districts have to be able to deal with all these massive budget cuts, they're also getting a more diverse population, which means they have to offer more specialty services," Crosslin says, "yet they don't have the critical mass sometimes that's necessary to offer classes affordably."

Although refugees and immigrants put an extra burden on public schools and social services, that burden is often overstated. Lalumandier, the police liaison officer, says that at neighborhood meetings he frequently hears myths repeated about how much government assistance Bosnian refugees are getting:

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