Audio Recording of Interview
Born to Bosniak parents in Germany and forced to flee at a young age, Arnela describes her family’s move to America and being raised in Albany, New York. She illustrates the challenges she faced in understanding and embracing her Bosnian, Muslim, and American identities, and describes the spiritual and cultural awakenings that she experienced during her travels to Turkey and Bosnia.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Arnela Mahmutovic
Location: Via Phone
Summary: Born to Bosniak parents in Germany and forced to flee at a young age, Arnela describes her family’s move to America and being raised in Albany, New York. She illustrates the challenges she faced in understanding and embracing her Bosnian, Muslim, and American identities, and describes the spiritual and cultural awakenings that she experienced during her travels to Turkey and Bosnia.
Topics: Adjustment, helping parents, religion, cultural identity, religious identity, culture, art, family
Section 1: (0:00-4:54)
Childhood, Legal Process- Talks about being born in Germany and her parents time in Germany. Her parents were forced to leave Germany and go somewhere else or back to the Balkans. Her mother applied for a green card and was granted refugee status, alongside her family. They came to America and ended up in Albany, New York.
Time in Germany- Doesn’t remember much from Germany, but remembers being around other Balkan people and family. Her family was happy there and has good memories from before they were forced to leave.
Section 2: (4:55-14:05)
Coming to America, Relocation- Can’t remember initially coming to America, but remembers being relocated to Albany and having an English tutor. Shares that she learned English very quickly and lost her German within three months.
Helping Parents- Recalls taking care of her parents a lot, since she learned English and her parents had not yet. Says it was a lot of adjusting to a new environment, since she was adjusting herself while also helping her parents adjust. Says she helped them schedule doctor’s appointments on the phone and helping them navigate to their work.
Knowledge- Says she had no idea what was happening in the Balkans, since her parents never spoke of it. They told her they came here because her life would be better. Says her parents didn’t want to throw the dense knowledge of the war onto a five or six year-old, they just wanted her to adjust and adapt to life in America and sheltered her from the truth.
Adjusting to the US, Religion- Explains that it was really difficult to adjust, as she didn’t have anyone who was like her. Didn’t have any Muslim children around her and called her parents ‘culturally religious’, causing her to struggle with navigating her Muslim identity. At the same time, she had to navigate adopting American culture.
Culture- Describes her struggle with adjusting, gives an example of bringing Bosnian food for lunch at school and American children questioning it. Says in high school, she started questioning her identity and began rejecting her culture and religion. Explains that her culture and religion weren’t celebrated in her high school and her parents didn’t tell her why she should be proud.
Section 3 : (14:06-25:44)
Family, Culture- Describes her support system as her parents, as they initially didn’t have a lot of Balkans in Albany, NY, but more have come and caused her family to feel less alone. Describes how Bosnian families got together to form a Bosnian Community Center, which allowed her to meet more Bosnians and people like her. Describes her shift in feelings towards her religious and cultural identity after going on a trips to Turkey and feeling how strong the practice of Islam was there. In Turkey, she had a spiritual and cultural awakening. Came back and got more involved in the cultural center and met more Bosnians.
Art- Says that she didn’t fully understand her identity and started using her artistic practice to study it more. She started educating herself on her culture and history and began translating it through art. This allowed her to fall in love with her culture again and helped her learn about herself.
Section 4: (25:45-35:52)
Identity- Says her identity is always shifting, as sometimes she feels more Bosniak but at the same time, she feels American. Shares that it’s easy to maintain her American identity, since she lives in the U.S. and experiences it every day. Her Bosnian identity is harder to maintain and takes more work to preserve. Describes her work now in the community center as an educator and helps the younger people in the center. Acts as a resource for younger people to come to so they feel comfortable asking questions and learning.
Violence, Learning- Explains learning about the ethnic cleansing of her people and felt grief and shock. She met a woman who was doing a project in Bosnia and invited her to join. In Bosnia, she visited Srebrenica and visited a school there. She also met her father’s friend and his daughter, who was her age. Describes how the experience changed her and helped her discover her people, her history, and her past. She made the intention to go for herself to learn and make the connections.
Section 5: (35:53-44:13)
Community- Describes her work in the cultural center, as she educates children on Islamic songs and folk dancing. She teaches the children customs and etiquette for mosques and interactions. Her work helps her heal from her own experiences at young age and feels very rewarding. Thankful for her parents as they helped keep her close to her culture at a time when she didn’t want to be. Her mother let her go to Turkey and experience Islam firsthand. Says experiencing her parents’ struggle and seeing their hard work always brought her back to the culture. Her parents are her route to her Bosnian culture.