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First Bosnian American Representative in the Iowa House

Newly elected State Representative Anesa Kajtazovich of Waterloo was featured in the Des Moines Register this weekend. She is the first Bosnian American Representative elected to House of Representatives.

But after settling on a massive sofa in the basement, her laptop resting on pressed-together knees, Kajtazovic offers a bit about life in Velinka Kladusa when she was 7.

“We had a good life, happy. Mom worked for a big company. Dad was in marketing, traveling to many different countries. Then bad memories. War. I don’t go into details. We are lucky to be alive,” she said.

Kajtazovic prayed at night that no one in her family would be killed.

“All the men were in the war. I’m just happy my dad was alive. In some families, 20 were killed.”

This is what she learned.

“My mom always told us, ‘Your health is more important than your wealth.’ ”

Something else important stuck with her.

“Bosnia is an example. It does matter who you elect,” she said.

Kajtazovic and her family, including 19-year-old sister Lejla, lived in a refugee camp before coming to America. There she met Mary Martin Lane of Waterloo, who was volunteering to teach them English.

“There are some students, even as young people, who stand out. Anesa stood out, her warmth and joy and curiosity, even in the bad situation of the refugee camp,” Lane said.

There they got mostly bread for meals and something resembling soup.

“It was very somber. A cold, rainy summer. Yet people took care of each other as best they could,” Lane said. “Some were traumatized and sad. But Anesa’s family would invite me to their cabin and offer me food.”

By pure chance, Lane met the Kajtazovics again when they settled in Waterloo 13 years ago to live near cousins. They were among some 4,000 who settled in the area.

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