US Residency est. 1979 | US Citizenship est. 1990
In October of 1979, I came to the US with my husband and five-year-old son, Caesar. My brother-in-law had sponsored our Green Cards and we had waited for two years for our applications to be approved. When we arrived in JFK, I handed a sealed yellow envelope from the US embassy with all my documentation to the immigration officer, and just like that I had my Green Card and my new life in the US.
I didn’t speak a word of English and all I had was an eighth-grade education, but I knew I had to find work to support my family. My niece who had come to the states a few years earlier told me about a government-sponsored job training program called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). CETA was a program that offered English classes and trade skills courses for permanent residents.
My husband was the first Iranian to enroll in the program; I was the second. During the day we went to English classes with other immigrants, and in the afternoons we trained in electronics manufacturing. By the end of the course, we were given a list of electronics companies to apply to. I ended up getting a position at a company called Vectron on their circuit board assembly line. My salary was $4.50/hour.
In those first few years, we couldn’t afford to buy a house on our salaries. We jumped around from family members’ houses to apartments and back. My son was a shy kid, and didn’t speak much English, so he had a hard time making friends at school. Just when he would get comfortable, we would have to move and enroll him in a new school. Our living situation was unstable to say the least.
I was determined to own a home and to stop uprooting my son, but my husband disagreed — he didn’t think we could afford it. He was so ready to give up and go back to his family in Iran. I worked on the Vectron assembly line for six years and saved money until I eventually had enough to put a $30,000 downpayment on an apartment in New Canaan. My son never had to change schools again.
In 1985 when my second son, Mathew, was born, I decided to leave Vectron to look after him during the day. In order to make up for my lost salary and health insurance, I opened a daycare in my home and took on a night job at a nearby Hyatt Hotel. I would watch my son and other neighborhood kids until 2:30pm when their mothers would pick them up. In order to make it to my second job by 3pm, and because I didn’t have anyone else to watch Mathew, I would rush to Caesar’s school bus stop to hand Mathew off to him.
I started out in cold-food prep making salads and sandwiches for the hotel restaurants and room service. My shift was supposed to last from 3pm to 11pm, but I rarely left before 1am or 2am because of the room service demand.
In the late ’80s my husband lost his job and decided to go back to Iran for several months. Meanwhile, the Iran-Iraq war was dragging on and Caesar was almost 15 — military service age in Iran at the time. Taking my boys back to Iran was out of the question. I thought my husband would come to his senses and return to the US to help support our family, but he only came back for visits.
I had to support my children on my own, so I switched to steadier job as a teller at the local People’s Bank in 1988. I not only had to work during the day, but I also had to be on call at night just in case any of the ATMs broke down. When an ATM would break down, I often would have to drive to unsafe neighborhoods in the middle of the night to oversee the repair.
While I was working at the bank I decided to volunteer in my local church to babysit children on the weekends while their parents attended services. I wanted my children to feel integrated into their community and to feel like they belonged. I’m a Muslim, but as far as I was concerned, volunteer work went beyond the bounds of personal beliefs.
By this time I had also filed for divorce from my husband. When the pastor found out that I was volunteering as a single mother, he offered to pay me for my work. I was very grateful.
In the 20 years that I worked at the bank, I rose up through the ranks from a teller, to head teller, to teller supervisor, and eventually a loan officer. I was always working to make sure that my children could have a good life. Even though being a single mother in a new country was difficult, my children were amazing. They were my rock.
I also experienced first-hand how hard work can payoff in this country. Both my sons went on to graduate with honors and distinction from Stanford and NYU. Caesar is a doctor and Mathew is a lawyer. Looking back at all the obstacles I faced as an immigrant in this country, it was all worthwhile because my sons were able to reach their full potential here and give back in their own way.