by Evelyne Vivies
I immigrated to this great country in 1974, from Guadeloupe, French Caribbean, as a seven-year old on the tailwind of my Syrian-born father’s dream of a better life for his wife and eleven children. My father was French by a twist of fate because Syria was under French Mandate.
During the depression he immigrated to France for a chance at a better life and settled on the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. He was a French Soldier during WWII, and when the French government fell to Nazi Germany, he volunteered to fight under the allied flag in the American Army. From that moment on he has loved America and as a veteran of both France and America he was able to compare the way both countries treated its veterans.
Although French president Charles De Gaulle came to Guadeloupe and shook my father’s hand for his service to France, he choose to immigrate with his large family of thirteen to America because of the freedoms, the opportunities, and the greatness he had witnessed as a young soldier. He loved the people of this great nation. The ones he fought alongside with and risked his life for. However, he never turned his back or lost touch with neither his beautiful Island of Guadeloupe nor his native Syria.
My father was not a rich man; he and my mother were merchants, raising eleven children. Many of his children including myself got a college education in America and became self-employed, creating jobs, enjoying the freedoms and opportunities afforded to us thanks to this great country of immigrants founded on the wings of immigrants striving for a better life.
He had instilled in us the great tradition of the Syrian People—hospitality, duty, and natural food from Mother Earth. My father loved fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you look closely at the picture of him and my mother where he is wearing a “mom” Santa hat, he has one hand on my mother’s shoulder and the other hand poised over a pile of cracked walnuts holding a walnut cracker in his hand.
Moving to California from Michigan was an awe-inspiring moment in my father’s life and a decisive one for me. I remember driving with him in the Central Valley towns of Visalia, Lindsay, and Tulare as he pointed to walnut, almond, pistachio, apricot, plum, and olive trees. Unlike Michigan, where agricultural is buried under snow for much of the year, harvest happens all year long in California. He instilled in me the love of dried fruits and nuts. It is not a coincidence that I created a dried fruit business here in the Visalia.
My father lived his life with an incredible ability not to see borders. He saw people instead—people from all over the world immigrating for a better life for themselves and their families. I remember my father, who loved history, telling the story of when the Armenian Genocide reached Syria. My father, who was not Armenian, went to the Syrian Consulate in France and donated to the cause to help the Armenian people. If my father was alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have found a way to help the Syrian refugees.
Refugees are the poorest and most vulnerable of all people. They have lost everything. They left behind or lost their families, homes, and possessions. They are not immigrants. They are forcibly displaced people. Most cannot return home, even though they strongly desire to, and are not permitted to integrate into their host country.
We live in strange times. A record year for the number of forcibly displaced refugees from ravaged countries as well as a record year for the lack of empathy, tolerance, and love of our fellow man, whether refugee or immigrant in developed countries. Immigrants in America are said to be the most patriotic of all Americans. That is absolutely true of my father. He was always the first to put up the American flag before the Fourth of July and last to take it down. He was a proud member of The American Legion and a very proud WWII veteran.
To those who say that my father came to America legally on the invitation of the American government for his service to America and in no way represents the immigrants in question today I say this, were the first immigrants off the boat of the Mayflower invited by the native Americans? Did they serve the native tribes?
In these strange times, I believe that it is essential to remember history. It is essential to remember who we are as people and to remember to value human beings rather than blindly submitting to the authority that says to do otherwise.
Many people in this part of California know me and have seen me working hard at running my little business. They know me as hospitable and as someone who loves interacting with customers. My love of people, my hospitable personality, and my love of natural foods all come from my Syrian-born father. May God bless and protect all the people of this earth.