Throughout the presidential campaign, we’ve heard a lot about reaching Latino voters — and it makes sense, with nearly 24 million Latino voters eligible to vote in this year’s election. Chicago boasts one of the nation’s largest Latino communities.
But what about other immigrant groups? Chicago’s Albany Park is home to a multitude of ethnic groups and immigrants who have strong opinions about the 2012 presidential race. Among these are Bosnians, the vast majority of whom came to Chicago roughly 15 years ago after the religious wars that ravaged former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
Enes Hubjer is the owner of Restaurant Sarajevo, one of several Bosnian-owned businesses in the northeast side of Chicago. And he was getting ready to cast his ballot.
“We as Bosnians follow what’s going on and are in tune for the most part,” said Hubjer from behind the large mahogany counter of his restaurant. “Those of us who are citizens but don’t vote are usually older, poor with English, or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after everything that happened to us in the war that cost us so much. No one left the war well.”
Like many Bosnian-Americans, Hubjer fled Bosnia during the ‘90s and came directly to Chicago, where he worked odd jobs to be able to get by. He and his wife did everything from cooking in kitchens to welding and painting until they decided to open their own business. The Banja Luka natives, who came to Chicago in 1994, have been running Restaurant Sarajevo with their son and daughter for 15 years.
“I think we’ve finally found the recipe for a good, healthy American lifestyle,” said Hubjer, who said adjusting to life in a new country was challenging but seems to be paying off. “We came here for democracy and freedom of speech.”
But with today’s gloomy economic climate, Bosnian immigrants like Hubjer say it’s easy to get discouraged and lose faith in the American dream.
“There are many people without work,” said Hubjer, from behind the mahogany register of his eatery. “We as Bosnians came here last and got the last jobs, so when we lose work, we’ll be the last to get hired.”
But Hubjer, who planned to vote with his wife in the evening, said he believes voting at least gives Bosnians a chance to have a say. He explained that Chicago’s Bosnian-Americans fall into the middle and lower-middle classes, and that the community has shared concerns.
“If the average person could live a little easier, have lower taxes, more job opportunities, national well-being would be better,” said Hubjer, who pointed to America’s involvement in the wars and its spending as problems.
And he’s not alone. Just west of the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and and Western Avenue in Albany Park, Bosnians sitting in a small bakery café, Café Slasticarna Drina, echo the same sentiments as the Hubjers.
“Higher standard of living, more jobs, and lower taxes for the middle class,” cried Salko Avdic, a truck driver from Herzegovina who has been living in the United States for 10 years with his wife and two kids. “I just got back from voting for Obama, who I think cares more about the middle class.”
Next to him, mechanist Ibro Torco digs into a serving of burek, meat-pie in phyllo dough. Just back from voting, he said he considers himself a proud Democrat and hoped Obama will win a second term.
“Actually, I don’t think either candidate could help us see real results soon,” said Torco. “I don’t think the President has all that much say, but if Romney wins, I think the middle class would lose more.”
“Congress hides what’s going on from us so much,” said Zvizdic, an electrician from Herzegovina. “The politicians just aren’t transparent, and what they’re doing all over Wall Street and then trying to sneak lower taxes for the rich just isn’t right.”
All three men say they want the next president to improve the real estate market, create jobs that will raise Americans’ standard of living and facilitate access to health care.
“I think the best thing during Obama’s presidency was the Affordable Care Act and his insurance policy,” said Zvizdic, finishing his bottle of Cockta, a popular carbonated beverage from former Yugoslavia. “Now what we still need is to regulate our trade with our countries, especially Asia, so that the U.S. economy can rise again.”
Finishing their meals and beverages, the three men got up to go back to their respective jobs. Zvizdic said he planned to hit the polls after work.
Pushing in their stools as they prepare to head out, the three men talk of how Bosnians are all too familiar with what a slow road to recovery means.
It’s why Bosnian-Americans like Hubjer believe it will take a considerable amount of time for the economy of their new home country to improve.
“It’s easier to tear down a house than to rebuild it,” said Hubjer. “All the world has big wounds and one president is just a small bandage. He can’t seal the wound alone.”
By Azra Halilovic, Hoy editorial intern