Praised as “the town that loves refugees” in a 2005 issue of Refugees, a periodical publication of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, Utica appears to be a unique city. From those I have spoken to in the last few days I have seen passionate responses regarding the settlement of refugees here, many have worked and helped refugees personally through various charities, others are simply happy to recount the positive effects the refugee community has had on Utica’s economy and spirit. This is owed in big part to the famous and respected organization Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR), who have done remarkable work in helping thousands of refugees to resettle since 1981.
Bosnians, who arrived to Utica in the 90s fleeing the tragic war that raged in Former Yugoslavia between 1992-1995, make up the largest migrant refugee community here. They have done notably well in their resettlement, flourishing in businesses and making a real home of this town. I feel strangely at home myself here, as I walk and cycle through the streets I hear Bosnian music echoing from cars and cafes and I convince myself for a moment that I could be in Grude or Sarajevo, regions in Bosnia and Herzegovina I lived and exchanged my time between. Utica resembles these places, nature and industry working both harmoniously and paradoxically, with a scent of turbulent history shooting sporadically out of the earth’s crevices. Time is slow and space is vast.
There is a world here that echoes the one I remember being a part of as a child and of course I am nostalgic, feeling the pang of what I lost and what people had to suffer and endure. This successful assimilation, that I too had been tasked to reach, arrived slowly and not without its painful obstacles. I see movement and life and all the subsequent experiences growing like ivy around this irrevocable life event. It cushions and seals the original pain through new inevitably growing content, which of course is vital and must be this way, but the mourning for one’s home land is an on-going experience. After the thrust of the initial upheaval, life continues, only it has the impenetrable hum of longing for a return to the womb of one’s origin.