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Grout Museum Curator of Exhibits Erin Dawson, left, and former state Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic talk about the upcoming "Bosnian Portraits: At Home in the Cedar Valley" exhibit opening in March at the Grout Museum in Waterloo.

Waterloo’s Bosnian population, which began arriving in the 1990s, is now firmly entrenched in the Cedar Valley. Since then, the contributions to the community have been plentiful.

A full generation after the initial influx, the Bosnian community has been a major force in the rejuvenation of some of Waterloo’s older neighborhoods. It has had significant impacts on business, schools, entertainment, government and other facets of life.

So, we look forward to the opening of the “Bosnian Portraits: At Home in the Cedar Valley” exhibit at the Grout Museum in Waterloo. While the Bosnian heritage in Waterloo is now part of the fabric of the Cedar Valley, we should never forget why.

Genocidal civil war engulfed the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thousands of refugees had to flee their war-torn homeland. Waterloo became one of the designated landing spots for refugees.

“It’s been, for most of us, 20 years since we’ve lived in the Cedar Valley now. And it’s the first time for people to open up and share those stories,” said former state Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic. “It’s so nice of the museum to be willing to do this. This is about experiences of coming here, and what that was like and about the community.”

And the more those stories are told, we would hope, the more understanding there will be.

The exhibit at the Grout is being created in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa Center for Holocaust & Genocide Education and the Bosnian-American Leadership Network of the Cedar Valley. It runs from March 6 through Sept. 29. A planning committee of Bosnian residents and museum staff has been gathering artwork, artifacts and oral histories from the Bosnian community for the exhibit.

“It’s interesting to see how this community dealt with and bonded with this huge experience they shared and how everyone came together,” said Grout exhibits curator Erin Dawson. “You hear terrible stories about how someone had lost a part of their family. You can’t imagine this. Being able to get these people to share their stories is so important.”

Over the years, the political career of Kajtazovic helped draw attention to the story of local Bosnians. So did the talent of artist Paco Rosic, whose spray paint art has drawn national attention, especially his stunning version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, which graces the ceiling of Galleria de Paco Restaurant in Waterloo.

The Bosnian presence in Waterloo is now commonplace, but we all still need to remember the genesis of that migration here. That includes those of us in the Cedar Valley, as well as those across the globe. This upcoming exhibit will provide some of that locally.

“I just love the idea, and I’m very passionate about it and want it to succeed,” said Nerma Miskic, who is working on the project. “It was an opportunity to say thank you to our parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents for all they have done to give us a better life, or a chance at a better life. Also, it’s to show gratitude and appreciation to those who actually believed in the Bosnian community and the way they kind of reached out and gave a helping hand.”

“Bosnian Portraits: At Home in the Cedar Valley” can be another reminder of us how our Bosnian population got started here. We all need to remember the depth of the atrocities they faced.

We thank those from the Grout District for making this possible, as well as all of those involved in preparing this exhibit. We encourage all from the Cedar Valley to consider a visit to learn more.


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