Mirza Huremovic: Singer, Automotive Businessman, and Bosnian Refugee

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My name is Mirza Huremovic and I am a Bosnian refugee. I was born in Germany in 1995, five years before my family came to the United States. The war in Bosnia was in full force from 1992 to 1995, so my mom fled to Germany where I was born. My mom, dad, older brother, and I came to America in 2000 looking for opportunity, like many others do.

When we arrived in America, I was about five years old. In Bosnia and Germany, everyone thought about America as being so big and exciting. It definitely changes your perspective once you get here. You have to learn a new language and encounter so many new types of people; it’s overwhelming as a child. Though it was scary for me, it was even more so for my parents. None of us knew English but it was exponentially harder for them to adapt. They were used to their language and had a culture shock. As kids it was easier for us to learn and assimilate.

I started school right when I got to America. Starting Kindergarten was really tough. Once you start school, you have to try to fit in. Most people don’t know anything about you or the country you come from. A lot of people don’t know where Bosnia is or the history of former Yugoslavia. When we got to the United States, we had a translator who helped my parents find jobs and understand the system. They were constantly frustrated that they had to go through the translator for everything. For me, things like ESL in school were helpful but also isolated me from the other students. Thankfully, I had another friend who was Bosnian, so I felt less alone.

Knowing now what I do, I can see clearly that many Americans don’t understand the rest of the world. When someone is different, with an unfamiliar name or culture, people are biased based on their lived experience and make instant judgments. This culture made it difficult to make friends growing up. It’s hard to persevere through that. How do you explain to another kid the place you come from is across the world? How you’re different but also very much the same?

Another challenge I have faced is prejudice due to my religion. I’m a Bosnian Muslim and a lot of people don’t recognize that we can and do exist. Some people think you can tell if someone is Muslim solely by their country of origin, their skin color, or what they wear. When you tell people your religion, you see how it directly impacts their opinion of you. This was especially tough for my family coming here around the time of 9/11. I definitely have some privilege since many people think I am just a white American and don’t look “Muslim” or “foreign”. I don’t face a lot of the same racial stereotypes which I feel fortunate about. But still, there is xenophobia in being made fun of for not understanding “American things” or speaking a different language.

My belief in what I want to do is how I measure my success. What motivates me is being a positive person. I smile all the time and try not to let things get to me. Knowing the story and history of where I came from helps get me through the tough times because I know I have much more opportunity. There are so many things we have access to, we simply have to go out and get it. Another thing that motivates me is hate. There is a lot of hate in our world which pushes me to go even harder to gain success. I want to prove the hateful people wrong and I do my best to not hang around negative people.

Getting a two-year degree also helped me harness the energy to stay motivated; it’s my biggest accomplishment. I always told myself I didn’t want to get a degree. Like a lot of other immigrants, we rely on education as our way “out”. I’m the first in our family to get a degree. I wasn’t always the best at school, but I pushed to make them proud and take advantage of my ability to get an Associate Degree. It motivates me to be a better person and take what I learn to help others. A lot of it is also my mindset. You speak things into existence. When I worked with coaches and teachers and other people who mentored me, they helped me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Sports were also a big part of my life. I played soccer and basketball, then started on the Varsity Tennis team in high school. I wasn’t the greatest at the sport, but I was proud of myself for learning so quickly and putting in the work to get there. Though I started the sport late in my high school career, I had the mindset that I could succeed. I knew I was athletic and I finally got over my fear of trying something new. This choice helped me gain lifelong mentors who have helped me obtain important life skills in addition to sports knowledge.

Currently, I work at Walser Auto Group. They own many dealerships here and in Kansas. I’ve been working with them for about two and a half years. I’ve always been interested in the Automotive Industry, so my goal is to move up at the company since I’ve been in the industry for about 4 years.  It’s family-owned and a very comfortable, accepting atmosphere. I love the people I work with and the company has provided me with a lot of opportunity for growth. Eventually, I want to go for more education. I am positive I can do it once I figure out what I really want to do in the Automotive Industry.
I’m also a Bosnian singer, which is another potential path. I plan on releasing a song in the future and seeing how it goes over. If it turns into a career, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, I mainly do it to connect Bosnians and other surrounding peoples. Singing brings our community together. Before, we were divided. It was all about politics which we know will always start wars. Now, regardless of political differences, we’re able to get people from Serbia, Croatia, former Yugoslavia, and more enjoying time together and bonding over traditional music.

Sharing stories is the best way to empower youth. Being a refugee, we should help kids understand that we’ve been in their shoes. Even if we aren’t from the same place, we’ve been through it all and have the insight to make it a little easier for them. They should know they can always ask for help from someone who has gone through what they’re experiencing. Helping them get out of their comfort zones to make friends with people from different cultures, trying new things, being in positive environments in school, and breaking down stereotypes are incredibly important. You have to fail in order to succeed, so don’t let anybody bring you down because of it. Regardless of what occupation you’re pursuing or the degree you want, you’re doing something. People have different goals and they’re all equally valid. It’s critical to recognize that.

Felicia Philibert