The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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A student defined by war

It is hard to imagine how senior sociology major Zinaida Hozdic can be so engaging given all she has been through. With her ear-to-ear smile, piercing blue eyes and rosy cheeks, she lives her life happily. It’s as though the first half of it never happened.

“I have to,” Hozdic said. “If I wasn’t, I’d be one of those people trying to kill themselves right now.”

The youngest of six children, Hozdic was born on Jan. 1, 1989. She lived in the small town of Velika Kladusa in Bosnia.

Hozdic was only a few years old when the Bosnian War began, stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia. After Bosnia sought independence from the Yugoslav federation, Bosnian Serbs, who were in favor of staying with Yugoslavia, began their attacks on Bosnia.

Though Hozdic’s parents knew a war was underway, there wasn’t any sign it would reach them. At least, not until a bomb exploded in front of their home.

Hozdic was confused by what was happening.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Hozdic said. “My mom never told me this was going to happen.”

The family packed up and moved to their aunt’s home up the road, still in Velika Kladusa. There were about 20 people staying with Hozdic’s aunt as families sought refuge from the war, hoping they might be able to return home soon.

This was not to be.

After about three months, Hozdic and the other families were awaken by a soldier knocking on the door. She remembers having a few minutes to pack her belongings and join the large crowd of refugees being taken to a destination unknown.

It was there that Hozdic was separated from her father, Osman. Serbian soldiers arrested him, like many other men during the war. Osman remained in jail for over five years.

“They had guns pointed at him,” Hozdic said. “I thought he was dead.”

Hozdic and her family walked about 50 miles, taking several days before reaching a large, empty field in Croatia.

For over a year, Hozdic lived in a tent, eating what little there was to go around.

“Eggs, bread, cheese,” Hozdic said. “That’s all we would eat.”

Hozdic was forced to move again one year later. She and her family walked about 400 miles to a fenced-in camp in Serbia. For years Hozdic lived in near uninhabitable conditions.

The building she slept in was rundown from military bombings. At night, Hozdic would sleep with every piece of clothing she had because there was a hole where the roof should have been.

Hozdic saw no future with her situation.

“I really thought that’s where we were going to live for the rest of our life,” Hozdic said.

An occasional helicopter would drop duffel bags of milk, cheese, bread and various canned food to families living in camp. There was a scramble for what little food was dropped, and Hozdic would find herself eating only bread, sugar and water much of the time.

Not only was scarcity of food an issue, but soldiers also began systematically raping and harassing the younger women in camp.

As they often would when food was in short supply, one of the Hozdic daughters, on this particular day, Minka, set out to ask soldiers if any food could be spared.

Minka didn’t return.

A soldier informed Zinaida’s mother Rabija, that Minka had been killed. He gave no explanation why or how.

“We don’t even know where her body is,” Hozdic said. “We only have her jewelry.”

The reason Minka was killed may either have been she resisted rape or was mistaken for trying to escape the camp, Hozdic said.

Though Minka’s death impacted the family, Hozdic credits her mother for keeping everyone safe.

“She just didn’t want this to be it for us,” Hozdic said.

After about three years had passed, the soldiers slowly began leaving the camp. Once they were confident there were no soldiers left, the Hozdic’s began walking to Zinaida’s grandmother, Serifa Esemorvic’s home.

During their walk, Rabija stepped on a mine and shrapnel struck her.

“We sat there for two days and pulled metal out of her leg,” Hozdic said.

The family managed to make it to their grandmother’s home where they stayed for about a year.

In May 1997, Hozdic’s family moved to the United States.

Hozdic arrived in St. Louis, MO and lived in an apartment with six other families.

While living there, she learned how to speak English by watching Sesame Street every day.

She owes much to a friendly neighbor, Barbara Russo, for signing her up for school and helping with assimilating into American culture.

“She basically became like my mother,” Hozdic said. “She did things my mother couldn’t do because she didn’t know English.”

Hozdic applied to colleges all throughout Southern California after graduating high school in 2008. As soon as she received her acceptance letter from CSUN, she didn’t wait for any other schools to respond, immediately choosing to attend.

Hozdic is currently studying sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice and aspires to be either a police officer or social worker, helping children and families in need.

Hozdic emphasized family when she spoke. She mentioned how her older sister Serifa takes care of her. She highlighted her mother’s kindness, delivering for and helping take care of women who were impregnated after being raped by soldiers, and helping fellow Bosnians gain access to the United States.

“She has a big heart,” Hozdic said. “I love her so much.”

It begins to make sense how Hozdic can be so engaging. With her mother as a constant source of inspiration and knowing just how much she has gone through, Hozdic can’t deny her past. Instead, she uses it as a humbling reminder of how she got here.

“I never thought I’d make it to America,” Hozdic said. “I’m here because of her.”

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