I am Adela Levis, and I work for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The country I was born in does not exist anymore. It makes for more than just a confusing story when people ask where I am from.
I was born in Zagreb, today's capital of Croatia; back then it was in Yugoslavia. Both my parents were born in what is today Bosnia. My father's grandparents had emigrated from Italy and were Catholic. My mother's parents were Muslim. My parents' marriage, and therefore my sister and I, were "ethnically mixed." None of this seemed like a big deal, until the war started. We could not stay. I was seven or eight. My sister was three.
During the weeks and months leading up to our departure, I remember hearing of train tracks being bombed, not being allowed to stay in the room when the news came on, and friends not being allowed to hang out with me. We left for Austria to stay with my mother's sister and her family. People thought my mother was being paranoid for leaving, but she knew better. Soon the war was underway. We couldn't go back, but we also couldn't stay in Austria.
We moved to Germany and lived in a refugee camp with people from all over the world. Our family of four shared one room. The room had a burned hole in the middle, where someone had lit a fire. We received aid-packages with dry and canned food from the Germans and shared showers and the kitchen with strangers. Shortly thereafter we moved to an old hospital compound that been converted into a refugee camp for those from the former Yugoslavia. This time the four of us shared a slightly bigger room, but we got "lucky" -- it had a private bathroom. We received toys that had been donated by the Germans. My mom helped to translate for elderly people who had to visit the doctors. My dad looked for work. Everyone at the camp smoked a lot. My dad found a job and worked as an electrician and got us out of the camp into a real apartment.
We lived in Germany for seven years. We tried to get permanent "papers," but no one would take us in. We applied for asylum all over Europe, but no one would let us come in. After years in Germany, they started to send people back -- Abschiebung -- but we couldn't go back at that time. Our country, my parents' jobs, our future, none of it existed anymore, and at that time as a "mixed" family we wouldn't be safe or welcome. We applied to the U.S.A. We went to the American Embassy for interviews, we got health checks, we waited. My little sister and I drew pictures of the U.S. flag. I was about 12. We arrived in the United States the day after my fourteenth birthday - to Detroit, Michigan. I thought I was German. I told the kids in high school that I was from Germany. I studied German Literature and French at the university. It was not until I was 22, and I went back to the Balkans for the first time that I realized what my nationality is: I am Bosnian-American.
Become a fan of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration on Facebook.Editor's Note: This blog is one of a series of individual stories by former refugees who are now working for the State Department. The series is part of the State Department's ongoing effort to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Each story reflects an individual's experience and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.