Bosnians in St. Louis: “Right Skin Color, Wrong Religion”?

We got off to a great start in our trip in St. Louis, meeting the former governor Bob Holden, current mayor Francis Slay (pictured above) and members of many different ethnic communities. St Louis has a multitude of communities, from the French Catholics who settled the area in the fur trapping days to the Jews who came in the 19th century. There is an increasing Mexican population and Italians live on “the Hill.” Then there is the predominately African-American area of East St. Louis, which exists as almost its own entity. The first question people usually ask one another in St. Louis is “what high school did you go to?” which immediately places one in a certain economic and cultural context. With all the different enclaves, we wanted to know: are people getting along? Are they talking to each other? Is there communication?

One of the most fascinating communities we visited were the Bosnians—Muslims who immigrated to the United States in the mid 1990s during the war. The Bosnians, like the Somalis we spoke to earlier in the week, were fleeing almost unimaginable suffering in their country and sought escape and solace in a new land. St. Louis has between 50,000 and 70,000 Bosnians, a substantial population. The Bosnians moved into old neighborhoods and opened businesses. They are widely credited by many in St. Louis with vastly improving areas of the city.

Unlike other Muslim groups we spoke to in St. Louis, the Bosnians have light skin which they said eased their transition to American society. Before 9/11 when Islam was largely invisible in the US the Bosnians said relations with other Americans in St. Louis were largely a matter of culture, but after the attacks a new dynamic entered the fray. As one Bosnian explained to me, the new attitude toward the Bosnians was “right skin color, wrong religion.”

Although the Bosnians said that they had been welcomed by America with open arms and loved their new country, the situation facing Islam in America was putting them on the defensive. When Imam Muhamed Hasic, the Bosnian community and spiritual leader, sought to add a tall minaret to the community center, a website arose threatening to pour pigs blood on it and sounding the alarm that the Muslims were taking over. In an instance of globalization at work the website was picked up by Hindu and Serb nationalists who jointly warned Americans of the coming Muslim threat. The hysteria drummed up by the American media regarding Islam struck many Bosnians as eerily reminiscent of the situation back home immediately before the genocide when Serb media warned that if the Muslims were not stopped they would take over. The media warned Serbs that all Christian girls would soon be wearing the headscarf, despite the fact that most Bosnian women did not wear the headscarf, according to a Bosnian man I spoke to.

Despite these challenges the Bosnians always took great pains to say how accommodating Americans had been, and how lucky they felt to be in America and to have the opportunities it afforded. In a Bosnian mosque after Friday prayers a man in his 50s told me of his belief that Americans were Muslim without knowing it because they treated the Bosnians with such compassion. The Americans, he said, had not read the hadiths where the Prophet spoke of kindness towards others, but they followed them nonetheless. So we heard different views of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in St. Louis, but in general seemed largely positive, although I’m not sure how much mixing actually goes on outside of the enclaves. I’m looking forward to seeing what the situation is like in Dearborn, Michigan, our next stop.

 

Frankie Martin

33 responses to “Bosnians in St. Louis: “Right Skin Color, Wrong Religion”?

  1. You correctly describe the ‘French Catholics’ who first came to St Louis, but then you say
    ‘ the Jews who came in the 19th century’, but don’t say where they came from, as if they were a distinct nationality –they came in the 19th century mostly from Russia and Poland,
    so they were Russian Jews or Polish Jews. Judaism is a religion that people from anywhere in the world can adhere to. Same is true for Catholics, or Muslims or any other religion so it is important to describe the country of origin of any immigrant group, no matter their religion.

  2. This is an interesting article and there is a lot of truth in it. I just wanted to add that I am a Bosnian but not from Saint Louis. I live in Northeast and have had a chance to visit Saint Louis many times only because of the “bosnian population” or friends that live there, however my first impression of this city was segregated, backward, southern ghost like town. Now it is interesting how you explain different nationalities that live in area but my impression was more of three different nationalities or cultures inhabiting this area, white redneck population, african american or black population and bosnian population. However there could be that there was french or any other population migration on these lands back in the day as you mention, but the feel of anything that had to do with that culture could be rather found in Quebec City but definitely not in Saint Louis. Now there is a lot of truth in the revitalization of the city because of the Bosnian population and that is easy to notice, other than that Saint Louis has long way to go. Good Luck!

    • I disagree with the remarks above by the Bosnian from the Northeast. I have lived in St. Louis all my life, there are many different cultures here. And yes they do seem to be more segregated than other cities I have been to. And we do need to break away from that still. But I would not class them in three categories. I am a white woman of German and Irish decent, I grew up in South St. Louis City. I am neither Bosnian nor a red neck nor black. There are people here that accept just as much as any other place in America. Then there are some that don’t. But for one to say that St. Louis is only about that, they are incorrect.

      I now live in St. Louis County in an area that is growing with Bosnian families. I live in a duplex. Next door to me lives a very nice Bosnian family that moved in during the summer that I welcomed with open arms. They are friendly and good people. I like having them as neighbors. On the other side of my duplex a single mom and her two sons have moved in. They are Bosnian as well. I have not yet got to know them but it is winter and people hibernate during this season in St. Louis. I am sure that when Spring comes around I will find a neighbor that I have much in common with being a single mother myself, her being Bosnian will make no difference to me. There are many people just like me in St. Louis. I am friends with many. I do not have friends with racist attitudes, these people I do not associate with.

      So I believe this person has made assumptions of the St. Louis area without really getting around to the areas where you will see the differences.

      To me, if you are a decent person that is friendly and nice and you take care of your home and your surroundings, I would not care what color your skin is, what religion you are.
      To many people are fast to judge.

      • The woman who grew up on the South Side isn’t taking into account the extreme division that once existed between North and South St. Louis residents. As a NorthSider, I certainly experianced a lot of negativity from South Siders when I chose to venture into “their” neighborhood many years ago. I also notice she now resides in South County. What’s wrong with staying on the South Side in the present day? Did the socio/demographic change that has taken place in the past 20 years (making the South Side more like the North) drive you out? You speak of embracing your new Bosnian neighbors, but not persons of color. Look into your heart and decide again if the previous poster was really incorrect.

      • I grew up in STL and traveled to many places. People are MUCH more hateful and separate in most other countries than they are in America and certainly more than in St. Louis. St. Louis is a true melting pot. I don’t know where the Bosnian from the Northeast visited while in STL but like any city, if you don’t know where to go, you won’t see the best. Either you had a bad tour guide, didn’t do your research or just like to be judgmental and snooty because it’s the midwest. My father lives in a neighborhood where many Bosnians have moved into. My dad is very friendly and reaches out to them letting them know they are welcome. But most of them huddle close together and just stare. I understand that they came from war and have seen things I hope I never have to. But after your neighbor extends a warm welcome after 10 years, you would think they’d at least let their guard down and try to open up to their new home and neighbors.
        THere was a large Bosnian family that lived across the street from me. They were timid at first but after awhile, especially the young children, became very comfortable with their American neighbors. They said hello, waved from across the street and we shared neighborly kindness.

        A far as STL being segregated, in some ways, yes… largely the Northside is African America (just like the SOuth side of Chicago is largely so, or certain areas of Harlem or Philly…. ), But South city STL is VERY mixed full of whites, jews, christians, muslums, blacks, asians, mexicans, bosnians, africans, europeans… as much as if not more than many parts of NYC which is supposed to be the great melting pot.

        St. Louis is not backwards. It may seem slower since a lot of people that move here from other lands come from troubled situations and they have little money. It would be difficult for them to afford NYC or SF. St. Louis has many organizations and programs set up for people of all backgrounds and religions ready to help them get on their feet and start experiencing freedom. I don’t think they would consider it backwards here considering the war torn lands they came from. We in STL are very open and helpful to our new neighbors. We do wish they’d chill out a little and see us as friends after all these years. Most do o an extent now, but there is a long way to go.

        Please don’t call STL backward when we are doing so much to help people completely different from what we are used to, to move forward with their lives and set them up and extend a hand.

        Night club options is not a way to judge a city and it seems NorthEastern Bosnian above doesn’t see real need over glitz and glamour.

    • st louis person

      you must be mentally handicapped because not all the whites are red-necks. you will be working for me someday. go back to the northeast you terrorist.

      • st louis person

        and if you ever call me a red-neck again, i will have you deported

      • south side woman

        why would you call someone a terrrorist right after you ask to not be called a redneck?? I think that comment came from someone living in the Bevo neihborhood in south city where there really do seem to be three divisions, white people, African amer., and Bosnian. Sorry to say, but most of the white folks in that neigborhood, not all but many, happen to be uneducated racist rednecks, and crack whores too. They are ruining our neighborhood just as much as bosnians and african americans.

  3. I am a St. Louis Bosnian Muslim, and have been in St. Louis for past 16 years. I call St. Louis home since I came here very young, I visit Bosnia & Hercegovina at least once per year. One thing that suprises me each time I read something about bosnian community is that religion is a very subject that bothers most of St. Louisans the article is true and I had some very bad experiences the one reason we came to USA, we came to live in fredom, where every one is different, where no one but Native Indians are the true Americans. Than why are people still looking at you different if you are black, white, yellow, German, French, Pakistani, Italian, Bosnian etc. why do people scare from the diffent religions, Catholics, Ortodox, Muslims, Jews, Hindu, etc. No Religion Is a SCARRY oh my god religion, no religion will preach about bad but only about good. WHY DO ALL PEOPLE RATE AND PLACE ISLAM ALONG WITH TERORISTS. We are peacefull religion, but very protective of our own, you might find out that if you say or do something directly to one of us that you will get hurt as fast as you said it, but that is not just us EVERY HUMAN BEING IS THAT WAY…. We will defend what is ours and dont think that we don’t know that we are not liked, other religions are able to build up their churches and church bells to ring thru St. Louis area, but we as a community with our mosque are unable to connect our minaret to our main building, our prayer is forbiden to be heard in St. Louis area, THE NEIGHBORS WOULD NOT LIKE IT >>> anyways NO ONE ASKED ME IF I LIKED BELLS, so I am not upset we are peaceful and happy to be alive, we moved to US for that very reason but there: we were getting killed, slaughtered, our childrens heads cut off, our women raped, our grandparents killed our beaten to death, our cusins killed, our aunts and uncles, parents, grandparents killed and thrown in mass graves, we came from a genocide running from these very SERBS that protested us to live here and watch our community and our very way of living disapear, our children don’t speak our language no more, don’t know our traditions, don’t go to mosque. And the very extreme use drugs, prostitute, drink alcohol, fight, etc we say they became amerikanci…. I think that the community needs to do more to accept the very way we are where we came from, and accept us for who we are and not for who they think we are. All I have to say don’t forget where you come from and who you are most likely there is a story why your parents or grandparents came to USA.

    • I am a long time resident in the St. Louis area and I remember when many Bosnian people came here. I have never had a difficulty with Bosnian folks, and while I understand the abject fear many have of anything ‘Muslim’ due to the terrorist acts, I hope that we will grow beyond that fear to understand all Muslims are not terrorists. The Bosnia people are just trying to live and get by. I know the Bosnians have suffered much and I hope that we (Americans) remember that almost all our ancestors came from Europe or other countries before settling here just a few hundred years ago.
      Let’s have respect for other religions and lifestyles and open our eyes – the Bosnian people have helped St. Louis!
      R

    • StL is very diverse. And of course you have good and evil. That is everywhere in the world and likely will be till the end of the human race. Did god make us? Why is there so many evil people walking the earth. By this I mean all the bad things a person can be…..selfish, deciting, mean, hateful, actually want to kill people? Of course there are a few good people but really not many in my opinion. Most people are fake and liars. Religon may sound holy and great while reading the perfect book that you read. I’m tallking about every religon that man made up. Why don’t people understand that religon is a belief system and is not known. But people act like they met Allah or Muhammed or Jesus or whatever god or prophet they believe in and they believe like they know there religon is the TRUTH. If you haven’t seen it for your own eyes why do you act like its factual. So since its just a belief why do people kill over it because its not a known fact. I’m talking to all religious believers of all religions. It is because of your religion that makes you HATE or dislike those who do not be believe in what you believe. So since I don’t believe in your religion I’m gonna go to hell…or I’m evil…or I’m a infidel even though I am a good citizen and do not wish harm on anyone and sometimes give to different charities and treat people of all races and religions nicely and fairly. Fuck off. I’m not religious but I know the real god does not want anyone to kill anyone or be mean to anyone or treat anyone unfairly. It’s really sad when I see a Jesus freak Christian take sides with their Chrisitian buddys like a ignorant child/teenager/adult taking sides with a friend they like more. I have felt this reaction upon myself I am glad I’m not brainwashed like a terriost. I was taiking to a some guy one day and he said if you don’t beliieve in Jesus that you will go to hell. He’s a brainwashed terriost. My point is whatever religion you practice dont get brainwashed and remember its just a belief which means you only think that way but are not really for sure so don’t act psyco about it if someone disagrees with you. I’m sure all the religous believers who read this are thinking the devil wrote this but thats because your mind is closed although you think you’re holy and think clearly. If there is a god he would say to treat others like you would want to be treated and thats it. Life could be very easy and simple with just the understanding of the previous sentence but the human race makes everything complicated. Way do religions have so many unfair or harsh rules. Does god really agree with these rules. Why is a man able to fuck like a whore and its ok but a women can’t even step out side. That’s not fair. Fuck you don’t make a excuse because thats not fair. That’s only one of hundreds or thousands of fucked up rules in religions. I’m sure I wasted my time writing all this since I’m just a simple reguler guy and not of any real signifigance in title and its very hard to change the believers minds like its hard to change a terriost mind. Think about it if you are told that this is great and right since you were a little child all the way into adulthood and your family members practice it you’re not going to change your thoughts. Few will. But I enjoyed expressing my thoughts and hope I opened up a couple minds. Also since I consider myself a fair person. A mosque should be about to have the tall thing but the dude should not be able to announce the prayers a loud for the whole town to hear. Why the fuck would I want to hear that shit. I don’t believe in it. Same goes for the church. No ringing the bells and playing those songs. I don’t want to hear that shit. Feel free to do what you want but keep it indoors and don’t be loud. Things should not be forced upon people like prayers annouced to the whole town or bells ringing all the time. No matter what you believe just treat others like you want to be treated.

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  5. I’m from NYC but work in STL and let me tell you all the whites here are hill billy packer woods i meet wit a few bosnians and they seam to be the only normal ppl in the area

    • It’s funny you use the term hillbilly when your city is closer to the kind of people that come from the mountains than ours. That said it’s ghetto as hell not redneck and just like any place there are assholes and normal people. I’m sure coming from the coast tho it’s easy to just dump this midwest city in the collective backwards thinking that a lot of people assume. Oh and I live on the east coast now and let me tell you that I’ve encountered 10x the “hillbilly” white trash that I ever have in St. Louis. Also your Philly, Jersey and New York accents are atrocious.

  6. south side woman

    We need to settle this terrist issue. Yes there are some evil extremest Muslim groups and good muslim groups, just as there are good christian groups, but has anyone stopped to notice that this country is run by an extremist christian regime?? HELLO!

  7. okay this is hilarious i totally agree with steve above i think its true no religion should be forced upon us . but on the other hand you cannot expect people to listen because their too racist or closed minded and that is essentially what will bring this world to an end. I hate when people preach to me like okay think what you want to think and i’ll think what i want to. I will not say what religion i am but i do not like to treat others unfairly because of skin/religion. I absolutely hate the fact that we hate each other because we dont believe in the same things one minute then the next will be claiming “we are all gods children” then why the fuck cant we marry other people of other religions if we are all gods children and god loves all? This issue makes me so mad because if you meet someone you are crazy about you cannot marry them due to their beliefs. another thing i hate is how all muslims must be terrorist um NO. thats just being stereotypical because if they were all terrorists then everybody would be dead and bombed by now. Their will always be extremists in every religion its just a matter of stopping them before it gets that far. Every religion claims they always get the short end of the stick but really their just greedy for more control and power that they want to get through pity. I wish that there was either one main religion or none at all because most of our wars have been due to religion. The bosnians for example had to leave their homes to come to STL because they were terrorized over there so i can how they would be frightened by others when moving here seeing the things they have seen and had to do is probably unimaginable and will take years to recover from. So if your neighbor hasnt warmed up its probably cause she might be scared for life. i dont know this whole issue is essentially ridiculous one could write a book about all the thing wrong with the world and this would be just a minor chapter.

  8. Bosnians are very good people, my best friend is Bosnian and his family army terrorists. I don’t have a problem with anyone until I actually get to know the person. Bosnians are great people who are just label bad. When the minaret went up I didn’t care, hell I see it everyday but I don’t cringe or spit at it. Still the only problems I have is other minorities treating me bad for no reasons. Plus we white St. Louisans arn’t rednecks, we don’t go around toating shotguns and drinking beer. All I got to say is lay off the minorities they’ve down nothing bad.

  9. Okay I disagree with this completely, NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. We love our family , like helping others just like all you catholics. I can tell you right now, I enjoy every second of being a muslim. I go to the mosque everyday and read the q’uran& It was so disrespectful how you guys burnt the q’uran , Im pretty sure if we burnt your bible you guys would start world war III, Its alright because we all know karmas gonna get you. Now I’d like to tell you to get on somewhere because muslims are the most peaceful people . You guys are making our children.. our 6 year olds hate you americans because of all this you guys started. NO , us muslims didn’t make 9/11 happen. Stop accusing us of everything.Now go burn a q’uran because you guys must be proud catholics when you do that.

    – My name is hanna and im not a terrorist.

  10. saint louis suburbs

    the q’uran burning made me pretty sick. i was raised in christian church over here in the suburbs(which are quite bland) but it’s things like what you speak of that have driven me away. I thought this happened in Kentucky…these people have not looked at the contents of the books they burn it seems. There’s a lot of things going on in the world that I think a large amount of us are hoping become something of the past despite our religion, race, etc. Things like the KKK, murder, rape, or the guy who says things like “you’ll be working for me some day go back to your country…”
    I didn’t read a ton of the q’uran but I found some things that stuck with me. Some of it seemed to tie in with the bible? I thought it had the same garden of eden and everything. When i try to view things from the perspective of a God there’s a lot of things that people do…even in the name of God that would r eally have me a bit confused. From what I’ve read the U.S. has killed way more innocent from the wars they started after 9/11 then the amount of innocent civilians they were killed on 9/11. Like well over twice the amount.
    I don’t get to go to saint louis much but if you want to see something sad you can come to where i live and count like 98% whites ?
    and yes, it’s true this is why i want to move

  11. Hey Im writing from europe and i really want to move to st. Louis, to study. My question would be how many people live in st louis and how many are bosnians cuz ive heard they are making up to 1/3 of whole population there ;O

  12. As of Autumn 2011, metropolitan St Louis is an urban area of about 2.5 million people — it is a big city, spread wide for the most part, but it is a very nice place to live. I lived there 45-years, moved away to a warm climate in my old age retirement, but I still miss that great old city. It has many many virtues, much to offer – business, medical, educational, cultural, musical — whether in the old City or around St Louis or St Charles County the St Louis area has much to offer. I am thrilled that 60k Bosnians have moved there — they help stabilize the old declining neighborhoods and they are most welcome. God bless them and may they thrive!
    JIM/santa fe

  13. Woooooo Go Bosnians!!!!!!
    The Bosnians I’ve talked to who live in there don’t call it St. Louis…they call it ‘Mini Bosnia’..

  14. So when some muslim terrorists blow up a building and kill some people, you start hating all muslims,,,when Israeli soldiers kill people in Palestine EVERYDAY..it’s not such a big deal, you still love them ~_~

  15. I seriously don’t understand why such a discussions. I live in Bosnia and I can tell you that 95% of Bosnian Muslims here act like Christians. Bosnian Muslims practice Islam like people practice Christianity in America; someone cares more, someone cares less, but most of the people don’t care at all. Islam is not an issue in Bosnia (because it doesn’t exist in the real meaning of the word), so why would it be an issue among Bosnian “Muslims” in America. If you come to Bosnia you can’t tell who is Catholic,Orthodox, or Muslim, because we all dress, behave and look the same. Muslims in Bosnia (men and women) drink alcohol, have sex before marriage, most of them don’t even know the prayers from Qur’an, girls dress like the rest of Europe. However, I feel that Bosnian Muslims who immigrated in America might face some difficulties jus because they are “Muslims”, but trust me most of these people are far away from real Muslims, or fucked up terrorists, and there is nothing you should fear about them. In addition, I believe they became bigger “Muslims” once they came to America, but just because of everything they went through in the war.

  16. I will say it again, Bosnians are not Muslims. And the war in the Balkans was engineered by the Illuminati Jews. They instigated the world community against the Serbs. And keep in mind, Bosnians are not the only Muslims who have light skin. So do the Turks, Syrians, Iranians, Albanians, Chechens, and even many Kashmiris.

  17. I just happen to read a book the other day called ” After the Fall ” it is about the war in Bosnia and the lives that they live in St. Louis.. Bosnian’s are no different then any other race religion or anything else. They came to America to better their lives just like everyone else.
    I have lived in Saint Louis for 7 yrs now and I’ve traveled the USA for most of my life as a child and I myself have been an outcast in communities. I’ve been the only white kid in and all African American school. I picked up a lot of interesting things from their culture and how they do things as well as they did from me. I have a lot of friend that are from Bosnia that speak their language. Does that mean i treat them different NO not at all they are my friends. I love the way they live and wish a lot of people in the world were like them they are every understanding and accepting.. They appreciate life, their families, and love one another even if they are not related. So what they are Muslim okay I’m nondenominational does that mean you are go to hate on me. My church still talks about God and everything else. Plus if the want to put up a minaret let them. I don’t always like listening to the bells that chime every single day. They should be able to do anything they want for their religion the state or government or community should have nothing to say about when there is a division between state and church no matter what type of church it is.. And I have to say to any one who reads this that is from another country or another color I am sorry on behalf of this country that we can not get over ourselves and accept people for the way they are.. Thank you

  18. I have read so many replys about Bosnians that I just have to say no matter what religion you are what race you are if you are male or female it is up to you and only you to decide if you are going to hate one person to the next we are the reason this world is so full of hate its time to grow up and stop thinking that you are any better than the next person should we or should we not work together to stop the hate stop the fighting now days it should be about coming together to do what matters and maybe just maybe we can stop world hunger world poverty help people get back in their homes that was lost to them come together and stop child abuse help people find a warm place to lay down at night people just don’t get it you see where I’m going with this so its up to u and only you

  19. I agree with each your word MirOut ,, also we lived with Jewish people for centuries in our small towns and even in this therible etnic cleansing, muslims saved from burning the oldest TORRAH ind Europe from Sinagoga of Sarajevo.. Now we get Torrah again, for peace in the Bosnia. Really Bosnians practise democracy and equaly, open minded before the rest of the world.

  20. I am Bosnian Muslim proud off that I give crap about other views how they see bosnin Muslim

  21. God=Allah=Yahweh=Jehovah=God. I respect all of the major religions and think that it is high time for all People of Faith to take hands and fight the Anti-God or Anti-Theist as they are sometimes called. Islam and Christianity and the other major ones have much more in common than we have to quarrel about.

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  23. I am an proud American with Bosnian heretage, and my oppinion most Bosnian people I met here, have made this country better. They are hard workers, tax payers, and above all peaceful citizens..Who cares for their religion-that is their thing..
    “Live and let live”

    I

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