My name is Armin Budimlic, I am originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I came as a refugee with my wife and two children to the US on June 8 of 1994. That was during the war in Bosnia, and at the time my children were 3 months old and 5 years old. We came as a direct result of what happened in former Yugoslavia and the war in Bosnia. Prior to me coming here, my brother, his wife, my sister, and her husband arrived, so we were brought together as a family reunification.
Well I felt great upon arrival because finally we were at someplace where we were safe, and by the time we arrived to Rochester airport we had probably about 40 people from one of the local churches who cosponsored my family who were waiting there for us to greet us and to help us with that initial resettlement. Right from the airport we were taken into an apartment that was already fully furnished with used furniture that this congregation was able to collect for us so my only question at that time was “is this for real or is this just for taking pictures?” and once they told me it was for real, then it was great because we came back from Croatia where we were refugees and this was stepping up in terms of accommodations.
I think one of the biggest challenges for most refugees including my wife and I is first and foremost learning the language, understanding the new community and culture that we are coming into, and having to start from scratch. We came here with two bags of clothes that were mostly for our children. I had a job interview the following day but the only jobs we could find at the time were entry level positions, so all of the education that we had from back home we needed to restart in order to create a career here. So other than that obviously all of the other things that refugees face would be housing, transportation, childcare.
It’s definitely important because even we as first generations have become contributing members of this society. So by being contributing members of this society, I think we deserve the same rights like everybody else in the community which is the right for representation. When it comes to the second generation or our children and grandchildren, it is very important to ensure that they can have the same start as everybody else, that just by the virtue of being a different color or different religion or from a different country, that they are not two or three or four steps behind everybody else even starting with early childhood education and going into school. I think we as the first generation have a duty to ensure that we prepare the foundation and that we also start thinking more politically because generally we are coming from countries where we were suppressed in terms of representation, especially political representation, and here in this country if you are not politically represented you don’t get to be at the table where decisions are made.
I think the biggest accomplishment is definitely raising our two children and getting them to the point where they are also contributing members of their society and that they live independently and are educated and hopefully will move this agenda forward. Secondly, for me I had to restart my education and my career here, I have an education background in mechanical engineering, but here I had to start from scratch and do my bachelors degree and then masters degree in business administration while working full time and raising children, so to me that’s one of the biggest personal accomplishments. Another accomplishment is just being blessed with finding work and aligning my passion with the mission of this organization which is one of building bridges between cultures and continuing the work of many before me, and hopefully mentoring the new young people into taking the leadership and moving this organization beyond where we are today.
I think for refugees it is extremely important that we support each other, that we learn from one another, I know that when I came in ‘94 I learned a whole lot from southeast Asia refugees who came here in the 1980s. And then we need to at some point start to pay it forward. We all need help when we first arrive, and some of us may need it longer than others depending on our circumstances, but hopefully at some point we are all in a position where we can start giving back. I think that sense of giving back and being a volunteer or maybe if you have some extra money supporting causes that are important for refugees, that is something that we need to start seeing more of. And of course what we described earlier, we also need political representation because without that it’s hard to accomplish all the other goals.