Those outside the state of Missouri may be unaware of its decades-rich Bosnian history. Joseph Puleo’s documentary A New Home shines a light on the devastating origins and the subsequent perseverance of the Bosnian population of St. Louis. The city is home to an estimated 70,000 refugees who escaped the horrors of conflict and were determined to create a life of stability and peace for their families.
When the international armed conflict escalated in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the ethnically fragmented areas turned neighbor against neighbor. It all culminated in indiscriminate shelling, rape, and cleansing primarily by Serbian forces and, to an extent, Croat and Bosniak soldiers. The Gateway City offered the promise of prosperity, and refugees soon transformed the crumbling city into the thriving “Little Bosnia.” This made it the most inhabited spot for the Bosnian people outside their homeland.
A New Home chronicles the journey of immigrant Bosnians through their voices with an impassioned, inquisitive lens from fellow St. Louis resident Puleo. The director’s approach does not get mired in the machinations of the initial Balkan conflict. Instead, it lets the human story unfold as told by those who witnessed the atrocity firsthand. Through their words, we hear of their plight, transition, and struggle for normalcy in a foreign land.
“…shines a light on the devastating origins and the subsequent perseverance of the Bosnian population of St. Louis.”
And what stories they have. We learn of Bosnians’ bravery in the face of brutality, their patience throughout the bureaucratic process, and their determination to rebuild their lives from the ground up. The once deteriorating city of Bevo Hill in Missouri served as a refuge, while city leaders in St. Louis were eager to provide assistance such as creditless loans for them to establish a sense of ownership and community. Soon after, crumbling homes were restored, and Bosnian-owned businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, and bakeries began to sprout in areas marked by rubble and decay.
Puelo’s film contains graphic footage of the conflict and personal photos of the subjects. But its most valuable inclusion is the subjects interviewed. This includes scholars who place the conflict in perspective, local civic leaders who demonstrate the bedrock values of America’s embrace of tired, huddled masses, and, most importantly, those who made the harrowing journey. Their stories are all worthy of hearing, serving as a reminder for us to see all that was lost almost instantaneously and the courage they exhibited to rebuild anew.
A New Home is a vital, inspirational tale. Puleo’s documentary demonstrates humanity at its worst and its best and is a loving tribute to people who are determined to grab the pen and write their history themselves.
For screening information, visit the A New Home Facebook page.