THE HUMAN DIMENSION HOW THE LATEST IMMIGRANTS COPE WITH THEIR NEW WORLD, AND HOW WE DEAL WITH THEM, WILL DETERMINE THEIR IMPACT ON U.S. SOCIETY Series: AN INVISIBLE POPULATION This Is the Last in an Occasional Series about How Immigrants Are Adapting to, and Changing, St. Louis

Article excerpt

WHERE, Fuad Kadiric wondered, should he turn?

A sturdy jaw and brown leather jacket lent an air of bravado, but this 41-year-old from Bosnia was foundering on several fronts. His job at a metal factory had ended abruptly after seven months because he took off a Muslim holy day, though he'd agreed to work a makeup day.

His son, Denis, was fired with him for the same reason. The 17-year-old had begun work a few weeks earlier, after quitting the ninth grade when he was stabbed by a young immigrant from another country.

Kadiric had no idea where to turn for representation, for someone to speak for him. How should he deal with the employer, the school, the police?

The anger was welling up again, the type he'd pushed away after the dream house he built in Sarajevo was destroyed in the war.

He used to be able to share his feelings Saturday nights at the Bosnian Club in a warehouse on South Vandeventer Avenue. But then the doors closed most weekends, partly a result of divisions within a rapidly growing population still reeling from the war.

Immigrants and refugees here are grappling with personal and family struggles, facing social and ethnic tensions or searching for a voice.

Meanwhile, the national debate on immigration rages - over whether the influx should be curtailed and at what level, how to keep out illegal immigrants, what services to restrict, how to compute the economic balance sheet.

But the discussion neglects a key dimension: the human side of immigration.

Whatever policy decisions are made in Washington, millions of new immigrants and refugees are in this country and more are on their way. In the St. Louis area, they number 80,000 and are expected to top 100,000 before the turn of the century.

How they adapt to the situation they find and cope with what they left behind, and how local communities and institutions respond to them, will in large measure condition their impact on their host society.

"Obviously these people are here, so what do we do?" asks Linda Sharpe-Taylor of Provident Counseling, which has begun to work with newcomers in greatest need. An Emotional Gantlet

Gedlu Metaferia, director of the Ethiopian Community Association of Missouri, knew the family he was helping to adjust to life here was in trouble once the wife learned she had rights.

"He wants her to treat him like a king, bring him dinner," Metaferia confided in late May in his basement office at a South Side church. "She is not 100 percent right either. She just says - `This is America.' "

Without resources to hire a social worker familiar with the local system, Metaferia translated literature into Amharic, brought over legal brochures, engaged a traditional priest.

"We are crossing our fingers," said his assistant, Yenework Musse. And the two kept counseling as they knew best.

But on a Saturday night in late August, the couple's 5-year-old daughter let police into the dreary Hickory Street housing unit. Officers found the mother's body under a bloody blanket in the basement, her throat slashed with a kitchen knife. The father hung from a rope tied to a stair railing.

At the funeral of Melishew Terefe, 26, and her husband, Negussie Tsege, 34, Metaferia pleaded for women from Africa and elsewhere to be more open about the taboo topic of domestic violence.

Now, Metaferia says, "I see another tragedy coming, even as I talk to you. It may not happen, but this is what I suspect because of the conflict, because he beats her."

The murder-suicide sparked Sharpe-Taylor's counseling agency to set up English courses for Ethiopian and Somali women who stay at home - many in the same housing development - to help ease a severe isolation she says fosters and conceals domestic problems.

The tragic end to this case was highly unusual, the conflicts that drove it less so. …