Our life stories begin in a place of familiarity.
My story begins shortly after the New Year in the winter of 1989. I was born in Istanbul, Turkey.
Nineteen eighty-nine is a hinge of fate, a time of hope, a time when capitalism, human rights and freedom leapt onto center stage. It was a year of global breakthroughs and breakdowns. The first commercially available blue LED hit the market. Electrochemists coined the term “cold fusion” and raised hopes of an abundant and inexpensive source of energy. It marked a time of creative destruction and natural disaster both psychologically and physically.
In the fall of 1989 a magnitude 6.9 earthquake devastated homes and major public infrastructure including a key bridge in San Francisco, one of America’s most iconic and progressive cities.
Nearly thirty years later, San Francisco offered me a bridge to a new life on American soil. It’s a place where I fell in love and got married. It’s the place I became a father.
In the winter of 1989, East Berlin’s Communist Party announced a change allowing citizens of GDR to freely cross the country’s borders. The fall of the Berlin Wall put a crack in communism, bringing it to its knees. The symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall followed the pro-democracy rally in Tiananmen Square that led to tanks crushing dissenters, many hundreds were killed and thousands who were imprisoned followed by denial and repression in an attempt to cover up the egregious killing of innocent people.
The events of 1989 made a lasting mark on public consciousness and shaped the cultural, economic and political perspectives of my generation. It marked a turning point in diplomatic and government powers. The aspiration of a government’s ability to bring about equality through communist rule faded into history.
I wanted something more from life
In Istanbul, I majored in Computer Engineering. After my college graduation, I changed my cap and gown and went to rally. Aware of the delicate political dynamics, I slowly withdrew from public life. I worked in various roles after college from technical to real estate. As time passed, I became concerned and frustrated with the cultural changes I witnessed. My mind grew restless. I could feel an energy welling up inside. I wanted to engage life, and to explore Silicon Valley.
I made plans to go to California, immerse myself in English, further my technical education and possibly start a business. It was a long shot. Feeling a sense of hope, I made a decision that would make a lasting impact on my future. I applied for a student visa to study in the United States. My request was denied. I reapplied. My application was approved. My visa arrived, three days later my journey started and haven’t been back to see my family in nearly three years.
When I think back on the things I miss the most about Istanbul, I remember my days walking along the Bosporus, stopping to sit and watch the waves separating the continents of Europe and Asia, drinking tea and enjoying my cigarette. The decision to leave my family behind was significant. Our apartment was always filled with conversation and laughter. My family is close. We talk about everything.
After three years of living in America, and daily walks along San Francisco Bay I find myself suspended between two separate worlds again. I miss my former home. It represents my foundation and past. I love my new home. It’s my present and future.
If you’ve never lived outside of the United States, you might not realize the influence this country has as a model of democracy for the rest of the world.
Shortly after my first birthday, U. S leaders in Washington grappled with how to respond to the brutality of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. During a House session on January 23rd, 1990, Representative Nancy Pelosi took the floor to advocate on behalf of Chinese students, and give statutory legal protection to those living in the United States. She saw this group as vulnerable to the violent oppression of their home county. Congresswoman Pelosi began her address to the House by presenting a poster of a man standing before several tanks. The poster was entitled One Man. The description read: “One man standing against madness kindles anew the sparks of freedom and elevates the spirit of man. How can we not stand with him?”
As a resident of San Francisco, I am grateful to whatever hinge of fate conspired to bring me to this corner of the world at a time when the world needs America to rise again as a beacon of democracy, hope, freedom, opportunity, and justice.
I enter an unfamiliar situation
I arrived at San Francisco International Airport in April, 2016. It was my first trip to California, and my first time out of my home country. I knew no one. In many ways, it meant starting my life over. I enrolled in a language program, and I felt slightly less alone. Seeing other people in the same boat, far from home gave me the courage to stick with the plan and see things through.
I learn to adapt
My transition to life in San Francisco has been a bumpy ride. I’ve sorted through more red tape than I expected. Simply renewing my California identification card felt like an uphill battle. At times I’ve felt as if my hands were tied at the mercy of the system. Even so, I have learned a lot about how to file paperwork, who to call for questions, and how to navigate the complex systems of city, state, and the federal government.
I get what I want
I’ve never been one to give up easily. From a young age, I was taught to stand my ground for what I believe in. I was more than willing to be patient and go the extra mile to have a future with options. I turned thirty this year. As I reflect on milestones, hopes, and aspirations, I am proud to say I’ve a place to call home. I’ve formed a family. I have the privilege of working daily on a business that helps other people make their way through unfamiliar situations in a language other than their own and at the same time provides flexible meaningful and fulfilling work for talented interpreters and translators.
The heavy price of ambition
Like many entrepreneurs, I love spotting patterns, and sometimes my curiosity makes it challenging to stay focused. At times, this journey has felt like an uphill battle. I’ve felt discouraged and alone.
I’ve paid a heavy price for my ambition. I had to sever my ties to my hometown. I can’t drive home for the weekend. I am the only child, of a father who was also an only child. I miss my family. The scent of my home, hearing my parents laughter, and the familiar landscape of my neighborhood.
My mom had a life-threatening event last year, and I couldn’t visit her in the hospital. I wished I could come and go between my two home cities.
With my permanent citizenship status in-progress, I stay positive and trust the process. Since coming to California, I got married, had a baby, and I’m striving to get a new business off the ground. It’s been challenging. Given the current state of world affairs, the experts can’t tell me when my paperwork will be finalized, but I know it’s not at the top of the pile. Maybe next year? There are times when it’s hard to accept that these things are beyond my control.
The return of familiar situation
When I was in Istanbul, I felt uncertain about my future. Now in San Francisco, my future continues to be uncertain. The difference is, I feel optimistic about where I am and future possibilities.
My experiences changed me
Uncertainty is the price we pay for our ticket to ride. My immigration journey made me a stronger, better person and it came at a cost. The choice to leave my family and home in Istanbul both sadden and energized me. The prospect and excitement of an uncertain situation has taught me to trust my intuition, relying on it to guide me along the path of the unknown toward the promise of a brighter future.