Bosnian Americans are Americans whose ancestry can be traced to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vast majority of Bosnian Americans emigrated to the United States during and after the Bosnian War which lasted from 1992–95. Nevertheless, a large number of Bosnians emigrated to the United States as early as the 19th century. The largest Bosnian American population can be found in St. Louis, Missouri, which boasts the largest number of Bosnians in the world outside of Europe. While official census reports from the 2001 Census indicate that there are 121,938 Bosnian-Americans in USA, it is estimated that today there are some 350,000 Americans of full or partial Bosnian descent living in the country.
The first Bosnians settled in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, joining other immigrants seeking better opportunities and better lives. As the former Yugoslavia continued to find its identity as a nation over the last century, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina sought stability and new beginnings in the city of Chicago many intending to return to their homeland. Bosnian Muslims were early leaders in the establishment of Chicago’s Muslim community. In 1906, they established Dzemijetul Hajrije (The Benevolent Society) of Illinois to preserve the community’s religious and national traditions as well as to provide mutual assistance for funerals and illness. The organization established chapters in Gary, Indiana, in 1913, and Butte, Montana, in 1916, and is the oldest existing Muslim organization in the United States.
The Bosnian Muslim community received a new influx of migrants after World War II who were displaced by the war and Communist takeover. This new wave of refugees included many well-educated professionals, some of whom were forced to take lower-skilled jobs as taxi cab drivers, factory workers, chauffeurs, and janitors. As the population increased in the early 1950s, the community invited Sheik Kamil Avdich, a prominent Muslim scholar, to become the first permanent imam (religious minister). Under Imam Kamil's leadership, the Muslim Religious and Cultural Home was established to raise funds for a mosque, which opened on Halsted Street in 1957. In 1968, the organization's name was changed to the Bosnian American Cultural Association, and in the early 1970s it purchased land in Northbrook to build a larger mosque and cultural center. The Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago has remained an important center for Muslim religious activity, serving Bosnian and non-Bosnian Muslims in the Chicago metropolitan area.
The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 brought the largest influx of Bosnians to Chicago. Chicago became the most popular United States destination for Bosnian refugees, and, according to community estimates in 2002, an estimated 40,000 Bosnians settled in the city. The Bosnian community has settled in the northern part of the city, between Lawrence and Howard, from Clark to the Lake Michigan. Victims of ethnic cleansing efforts, many of the refugees suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of gruesome experiences in concentration camps and the death of family and friends. The Illinois Department of Human Services founded the Bosnian Refugee Center in 1994 with the help of public and private agencies to assist the newcomers, and in 1997 it became the nonprofit Bosnian & Herzegovinian American Community Center. Staffed by Bosnian refugees from all backgrounds, the center serves all refugees by providing community services that include educational and family programs, counseling, and cultural activities.
There are approximately 70,000 Bosnian Americans in Chicago. 40,000 of them came as refugees during the 1990s and early 2000s.
1 Poles came to the United States legally as Austrians, Germans, Prussians or Russians throughout the 19th century, because from 1772-1795 till 1918, all Polish lands had been partitioned between imperial Austria, Prussia (a protoplast of Germany) and Russia until Poland regained its sovereignty in the wake of World War I.