Pair of Saint Louis University Employees Pen "Bosnian St. Louis: Between Two Worlds"
Senior Media Relations Specialist
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ST. LOUIS – The story of Bosnian St. Louis: Between Two Worlds runs straight through Saint Louis University.
The book is written by Patrick McCarthy, associate dean of libraries and director of SLU’s Medical Center Library, and Akif Cogo, assistant director of custodial services at SLU and the historian/archivist for St. Louis Bosnians, Inc. It tells the story of how resettled Bosnian immigrants took root in a new home and reshaped the image of their adopted city of St. Louis.
In the 1990s, Bosnia and Herzegovina was rocked by war and genocide, resulting in a mass exodus from the Balkan region. Starting in 1993, thousands of these refugees found a home in St. Louis. Their stories and how the St. Louis Bosnian population drew strength from each other form the backbone of McCarthy and Cogo’s work.
The pair worked individually on projects documenting the stories of the community in St. Louis before joining forces. Cogo’s senior thesis was on the artifacts and history of the Bosnian community in St. Louis.
For McCarthy, his work began in 1994 when he decided to start where he could – here at SLU. He learned of the Bosnian Student Project through the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The aim was to bring university students from Bosnia out of the war zone and to the United States to complete their studies.
McCarthy started a letter-writing campaign to then-University President Lawrence Biondi, seeking to have the University sponsor a student or two. He asked each SLU faculty and staff member who participated to let him know once they had sent a letter; he reached out once the number reached a critical mass.
During his pitch, McCarthy said he noted SLU’s Jesuit mission to care for others and the idea that while the war raged in Bosnia with much of the hate and killing falling along religious lines, the University should show the true tenets of Christianity. One student was admitted and sponsored under the guise of an anonymous donor. Later, the University itself was outed as the donor.
“I think SLU is proud of the association,” McCarthy said. “The person graduated with honors from the School of Business and is a member of the St. Louis community today.”
Since that first student was admitted, many in the St. Louis Bosnian community have followed, becoming proud sons and daughters of SLU.
Telling the Stories
After seeing each other at various events Cogo and McCarthy began to collaborate in 2010. Cogo founded his non-profit, St. Louis Bosnians, in 2011, and the pair started work on the project that became Bosnian St. Louis: Between Two Worlds in 2014.
They started compiling firsthand accounts from residents and business people by walking around the Bevo Mill area. The book uses those account to highlight the solid foundation built by Bosnians in the region who immigrated before the 1990s and the vibrant community that is a vital part of the St. Louis region now.
“This is such a St. Louis success story and one that we like to tell, but I’m not sure people are aware that there was a framework here before the first wave of refugees began to arrive,” McCarthy said.
Bosnian refugees quickly established themselves in St. Louis, bringing with them tight-knit families, a strong work ethic, and a rich cultural heritage that weaves into the tapestry of St. Louis’ strong immigration history.
“There are so many factors that made this work - the existing population, strong housing stock, jobs, and a welcoming community,” McCarthy said. “St. Louis had a need, and the Bosnian community filled that void.”
Today the region’s Bosnian population exceeds 60,000.
Cogo, a Bosnian refugee himself, said the stories in Bosnian St. Louis: Between Two Worlds highlight the struggles of being a refugee caught between a beloved homeland and a welcoming new home.
“These are stories of loss and success and rebuilding,” he said. “There is heartache and there is joy.”
McCarthy and Cogo will participate in upcoming talks and events around St. Louis.
- Thursday, Dec. 1 - 7 p.m. at St. Louis County Library, Grant’s View Branch
- Sunday, Dec. 4 - 2 p.m. at St. Charles City-County Library, Middendorf-Krendell Branch
The book features nearly 100 images and an introduction from acclaimed writer and Bosnian immigrant Aleksandar Hemon. It is on sale at the Missouri History Museum Shop, the University of Chicago Press and at area bookstores.