Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

Sanja's immigration story

by Alice Cary

Sanja Curgus was born in what is now known as Sarajevo, Bosnia. When she was born it was actually referred to as Yugoslavia, but due to a series of conflicts Yugoslavia was dismantled into several different independent countries. Her family came to this country in 1987. The plan was to only stay in the United States for one year. At the time Sanja was nine years old and her parents were in their early 30's. The family left what is now known as Bosnia and moved to Bellingham Washington because her farther was offered a visiting professorship at Western Washington University, but the family never moved back to Bosnia.

The transition from the United States was easier for Sanja's parents because they wanted to come here. Unlike Sanja, they knew why the family needed to stay in the U.S. Yet, she also realizes that the transition was difficult for her parents as well. She is a 1.5 immigrant because she came to this country before the age of 12. She, as you can hear in the video, has no accent and was able to adapt more rapidly to American culture.


The greatest challenge for Sanja upon arriving in American was the language barrier. She did not know English when she arrived and was “thrown” into school. In addition to having to learn English through immersion, other children were unfamiliar with where she was from. They, for example, would ask her questions like, “Do you know what milk is?”

Sanja became a citizen of the United States at the age of sixteen. This occurred because she was a minor child of two parents who gained citizenship. She has only been back to Bosnia once. Due to the civil war that occurred she was unable to visit her homeland for a significant period of time. It was emotional and interesting; because when she left Yugoslavia it was one country, and upon her return it is now three distinct countries.

Lastly, Sanja believes that moving to the United States probably saved her life. She did not have to experience the civil war the occurred in her country firsthand and was kept out of harm by the decision her parents made when she was only nine years old.

Place of Origin
Sarajevo, Bosnia

Place of Settlement
Bellingham, Washington

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