"I was born and raised in Croatia, the former Yugoslavia, and 2017 will mark 20 years since my family and I arrived to United States as refugees. Unfortunately, my story is increasingly familiar in today’s world.
My family fled Yugoslavia in 1997, as a result of the civil war and its aftermath, in search of a better life. 'Better life,' - what does that mean, really? Finding a place where you will feel a little more like a human again? In a place where you will not be judged by religion or ethnicity every day? I was 11 years old when the first signs of war appeared on the horizon and my family started the first of several relocations - at the time we hoped they were temporary. Soon after that, we became refugees. We lost not only our material possessions, but a little bit of our dignity too. Being a refugee is ingrained in your psyche because of everything you go though.
After moving around for a number of years, our big journey to the unknown began. On the airplane headed to the United States I heard my father weep for the first time in my life. A million different thoughts and feelings were roaring in my head all at once. We were on our way to something new with very minimal knowledge of the language, place and people we would find on the other side. Still, we were ready for an opportunity. Thanks to hard work, some luck and amazing people we met along the way, we were able to learn the language, integrate and excel. My parents had a harder time than my brother and I, but I know they did it for us and the future generation. Being a father myself today, I realize just how much parents are willing to sacrifice for their children.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time; maybe my life would have been different if I didn’t have to worry about my religion and race from a young age. Even though many years have passed since I first left my country, I still don’t feel like I have a physical home. Instead, my heart and mind are torn and I feel like a citizen of the world. I was always very silent growing up, and I did not tell many people that I am refugee or what my family went through, most likely because I didn’t want to be judged or pitied. I no longer want to be silent. Refugees are humans just like you. Now I can proudly say that I am a refugee - what I went through made me who I am today."