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Kentucky Life

Bosnian Culture in Kentucky

Bosnian culture has had a significant impact on the Kentucky city of Bowling Green, and a new exhibit at Western Kentucky University explores that culture and influence.

Many Bosnians came to Kentucky in the mid-1990s, fleeing the war at home.

“My parents wanted to just find a better place for us to live because they did have five children who needed to go through school,” says Senida Husić, a member of the exhibit committee. “Schooling was very important, so they wanted to go somewhere where it was safe and where they could get a fresh start and have the opportunity to provide ample education for their children.”

“I was born in May of 1995. The war was on the tail end at that point,” says committee member Denis Hodžić. “The genocide in Srebrenica took place in July of 1995, and so that was really what got the international community involved. Several relatives were killed and several fled Bosnia. We were in Germany at the time and after the war ended, the German government had to revoke our asylum status and so we had the option to either go back to Bosnia and try to rebuild or come to the United States and begin anew.”

Today, roughly 10 percent of Bowling Green’s population has Bosnian heritage. Brent Bjorkman, director of the Kentucky Folklife Program, says that Bowling Green’s robust refugee resettlement center is one of the reasons why Bosnians coming to the U.S. ended up in the city.

“One of the big things was, they really liked the southern hospitality,” says Bjorkman. “Bosnian culture is very much about hospitality and neighborliness.  And that really was one of the things that drove us to create the exhibit. The tragedy of when a war comes, and it becomes neighbor against neighbor, that really goes in the face of those very intimate feelings about the importance of neighbors.”

The 2017-2018 school year at WKU was the International Year of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so the timing was perfect to feature Bowling Green’s Bosnian community in an exhibit through the Kentucky Folklife Program. Recorded oral histories from members of Bowling Green’s Bosnian community are central to the exhibit.

“Anything you see in this exhibit, we wanted to be based on the actual experiences of people in our community, not necessarily speaking for the larger Bosnian diaspora,” says folklife specialist Victoria Siegel. “We’re not trying to speak about what it’s like to live in Bosnia. We’re trying to showcase people’s actual experiences here in Bowling Green. The only way you can do that is through oral history interviews where you learn about someone through their story [and] through their perspective. We would hope that at the very least, you’d feel like you know a little bit more about your neighbors, and you’d feel emboldened to reach out to your neighbors and get to know their stories. Bowling Green has a very diverse community of people with diverse experiences, but it’s what makes our city so great.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2310, which originally aired on April 28, 2018. Watch the full episode.