Flying into mountains: A refugee’s point of view

Flying into mountains: A refugee’s point of view

Story and photo by JACE BARRACLOUGH

“Say what you will about America, there’s definitely a lot more opportunities here.”

Dario Jokic is a student at the University of Utah. He’s also an aspiring film director and a Fox 13 studio technician. He has spent most of his life in Utah and has no problem integrating himself into different social circles. With no accent or visible cultural differences, people are shocked to find out he’s a Bosnian refugee.

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Dario Jokic edits news at Fox 13 Utah.

Jokic came to Salt Lake City when he was in the first grade. His family’s case worker told them Utah was a mountainous desert with people who practice polygamy.

“We thought we were literally going to fly into mountains … and the first thing that was going to welcome us there was one man with six women,” Jokic says.

The Jokic family was grateful for the welcoming they received from their new friend. They were also a bit relieved.

“She was a really sweet and energetic lady who spoke our language,” Jokic says.

He says the hardest part about his resettlement and integration was learning English.

“I hated English,” he says. “I remember my first time in ESL (English as a Second Language) class, they put me with the wrong teacher who was teaching English in Spanish.”

 

Gerald Brown, Utah’s state coordinator for refugee resettlement, says ESL is the state’s most costly of all the services offered to refugees who resettle to Utah. However, he says it’s still not enough.

“That funding is very, very limited. You cannot do a decent job with that funding alone,” he says.

Though Brown says there is some help from the private sector, the majority of the funding comes from the federally funded U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Brown also doesn’t see it getting any better due to recent decisions made by the government. According to the 2016 Refugee Services Office’s Report to the Governor, the State of Utah spent $171,000 on the program. However, Brown predicts that number will drop, which is bad news for non-English speaking refugees like Jokic was.

“The current [presidential] administration has different priorities,” Brown says. “It’s becoming less every year and this year we’re really worried what the budget is going to look like.”

Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert said in a January 2017 press conference that Utah is still a pro immigration and refugee state, but made it clear those types of issues are strictly handled at the federal level. He also said Utah tried to intervene in the past but was issued a lawsuit as a result.

Gerald Brown speaks highly of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS Church) influence on the state regarding refugee resettlement. Unlike Jokic’s experience with publicly funded ESL classes, the LDS Church funds its own classes to help struggling refugees be successful.

“One of the reasons Salt Lake City and this area is a good place is because of the LDS Church,” Brown says. “They’ve put a tremendous amount of resources into helping refugees.”

While resettlers are learning English in hopes of finding better jobs, they can utilize programs like the refugee table at the Jenibee Market hosted by Jeni Gochnour.

“We provide the table and give 100 percent of their sales back to them,” Gochnour says. “They sold around $300 [at the fall event]!”

Ann Howden, of the group Serve Refugees, donates her time by teaching refugees how to sew. They make bags, pillows, blankets and other items to sell at the refugee table in order to help their families financially.

The Jokic family, themselves, know all too well the sting of trying to make ends meet without proficiency in the English language. Jokic’s father, formerly an economics professor in Sarajevo, had to take a job at a glass factory soon after arriving in Utah. Since he didn’t speak English, and his degree was from another country, it made it impossible to continue his teaching career in the U.S.

Jokic’s mother, however, did speak English and was able to find a job as a counselor for the Department of Workforce Services. She also acquired jobs as a translator for various medical facilities.

Even though there were difficulties, Jokic expresses his gratitude for the change.

“I’m very privileged to be here,” he says. “I know there’s a lot of negative things being spread about the United States, but my life would be totally different if I wasn’t living here.”

He continues, “If I was [in Bosnia] I wouldn’t be going to college. … Say what you will about America, there’s definitely a lot more opportunities here.”

Jokic gives advice to refugees dealing with the trials that come with resettlement.

He says, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help [and] look for people that will care about you.”

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Big Budah, Dario Jokic and Jace Barraclough preparing for Fox 13’s “The Place.” Photo courtesy of Big Budah.