To mark the Fourth of July, a local immigrant writes about his own American Dream
What is the American Dream? The Fourth of July is only a few days away and this is one question, as Americans, we should be asking ourselves. When most people think of the American Dream, they think about flocks of immigrants coming through Ellis Island in pursuit of a better life. They associate the dream with simpler times, when a person was able to achieve a better life through hard work. But that is no longer true of today’s society. Recent polls have revealed a general consensus that the dream is impossible for most Americans to achieve.
If you ask me, they could not be more wrong. I wanted to share my story to encourage people that the dream is still alive and kicking.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Omer. I am an attorney. I drive a BMW. I have a beautiful girlfriend and I live about 10 yards from the ocean. You might be asking yourself, who is this guy and what does he know about the struggle? I’m here to let you know this was not always the case.
I can’t tell my story without mentioning my personal hero, my father. My father was the son of a poor Turkish farmer. He grew up in a small village in rural Turkey. He was thrown into the work environment at an age so young that historians would consider it immoral when compared to even century-old-plus Industrial Revolution standards. However, this was the way things were in rural Turkey. “No work, no bread.” He left middle school to provide for himself and his family. However, one thing he always had on his mind was the dream of coming to America, “where the streets were paved with gold.”
Like many Turks of the time, he did his military service, got a job, and started a family at a young age. Finally, in 1987, after 10 years of working at the same factory only to put just enough food on the table to keep his family from starving, he’d had enough. He wanted better a life for his family, and he was not going to settle for anything less. He made the decision that it was time to follow his dreams. It was time for America.
He packed up his only suitcase and said goodbye to his pregnant wife and his two children. His plan was to get a better job in America, send money back to his family, and eventually bring them all over to the United States. His journey began when he landed at JFK International Airport in New York. All he had with him was his suitcase, a $50 bill and a dream of a better life. He was able to get a job at a local plastic factory in Paterson, New Jersey.
It was not easy in the beginning, being away from his family, all alone in a new world, but he had to bite the bullet. Every dime he had left over after paying for his bare essentials went to his family. Soon he was working 80 hours a week. This was not a temporary situation, but the long hours would eventually pay off. Finally, in 1995, he was able to save enough money to bring his family to the United States.
This is where my story starts. I was 8 years old when I met my father for the first time. He had left for America while my mother was six months pregnant with me. I still remember the day when we got off the airplane in the United States. I remember holding my mother’s hand and walking through the busy terminal, looking for my father’s face, which I only knew from pictures. When we finally met, he picked me up and kissed me on the forehead and gave me a big hug. This was one of the happiest moments of my life, but I still remember thinking he looked a lot bigger in the pictures. After eight years of being separated, my family was united once again.
I started third grade in Public School No. 9 in Paterson that September. Paterson was a very diverse town, populated with immigrants from all over the world. Life in America was not so easy. I expected the huge skyscrapers of New York City and a big, fancy house, but I was wrong. Our first home was a two-bedroom apartment in a crime-stricken neighborhood. At the time, my sister was 18 years old and my brother was 14. My sister was enrolled in the local community college but soon left school and started working because my family not able to afford tuition. My brother also left high school to work and carry his weight. I remember seeing my father only a few hours a night. He would leave for work early in the morning before I was up for school, only to return from work a couple of hours before my bedtime.
I remember thinking as a child how lucky I was to have an opportunity to go to school in the United States and have a chance to make something of myself. I realized many of my friends who were born and raised in Paterson did not share these thoughts. I was enrolled in the ESL (English as a second language) classes at School No. 9. It wasn’t too long, about two years, before I tested out of the program and was placed in regular classes.
This was my chance to prove myself. I had always made good grades in Turkey and I continued to bring home honor roll report cards year after year. Before I knew it, I was in eighth grade, getting ready for high school. I remember my father talking about not sending me to the local high school because of the gang violence associated with it. He thought I deserved to go to a good high school where I would be provided with tools I needed to continue my education without any distractions. After having one of our regular family meetings, my parents decided to move to Jacksonville, Florida.
Jacksonville was a dream come true for us. It was a beautiful city with a low cost of living and endless potential to grow. My father had worked so hard over the years to save some money. He invested the family savings to open up a small restaurant. I was accepted and started high school in one of the best schools in the country, Paxon School for Advanced Studies. I went to high school and worked at the family restaurant full-time. The restaurant was a success from the first day.
Due to my background as an immigrant to the United States, I developed a desire to help those with immigration issues. I knew by high school that I wanted to become an immigration attorney. My father had spent his whole life giving me this opportunity, and I would not disappoint him.
I received a scholarship to attend college upon graduating from Paxon. I went on to attend Florida Community College (now Florida State College) at Jacksonville to acquire my associate in arts. I continued my education and earned my bachelor of arts from the University of Florida, in history. Upon graduating from the University of Florida, I continued to pursue my dreams, and attended Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. After graduating law school and passing The Florida Bar exam, I wasted no time in pursuing my passion of immigration law.
Currently, I practice immigration law at the DeVries Law Firm. My passion for immigration law stems from my roots as an immigrant. I am not just out there for the immigrant community, but I hail from the immigrant community.
My father is now retired, along with my mother. My sister owns a successful restaurant in Long Island. My brother is a successful roofing contractor.
I wanted to share my family’s story with everyone on this Fourth of July and let them know that the American Dream is not dead and this is the proof. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go out there and dream on!