NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 27, 2012

Seeing America through immigrants' eyes


Newburyport Daily News

---- — It’s refreshing to see our country through the eyes of immigrants. It reminds us that the foundation that this nation was built upon is as strong today as when it was first conceived in 1776.

As has become something of a recent tradition here at The Daily News, at Thanksgiving time the newspaper published a series of stories on the experiences of recent immigrants who have settled in the Newburyport area. No two stories are alike, but there is a theme that runs through all of them.

There are the stories of immigrants whose families fled here in the face of political and social upheaval, as was the case with Dr. Sam Merabi. Born in Iran, his family left in the early days of the Iranian Revolution.

“Our family had been doing well in Iran, but when we got here, moving to a mixed neighborhood in the Philadelphia area, we struggled. As I was growing up, my parents expected me to excel and create a career with a future,” he told reporter Dyke Hendrickson.

He worked hard, and eventually settled on dentistry as his trade. He recently opened Portside Family Dental in Newburyport. His roots in an immigrant neighborhood had a strong influence on his life. He earned a master’s of public health from Harvard, and created a program to improve dental health in a village in the African country of Malawi. That led him to another mission — charting water sources so villagers can drink untainted water.

“I have absolutely benefited from growing up in this country,” he said. “There were schools, social programs in the community and I remember watching PBS and getting excited by the science I saw there,” he said. “Given the situation — where families in Iran and many others had to suddenly leave — I feel fortunate that we were able to come to this country and start new lives.”

Many Newburyporters are familiar with Mr. India Restaurant. It’s the pride and joy of Ram Kadariya, who immigrated here from Nepal in 1996. He and his wife came here with good educations and potential career paths, but when jobs in their chosen fields were unavailable, they tapped their knowledge and love of cooking.

“In my old country, it was hard to get anything done if you weren’t in the right tribe or if you didn’t know someone of influence,” Ram said. “There is so much corruption over there that intelligence doesn’t count, hard work doesn’t count.

“In America there is opportunity, and hard work can result in success.”

Inessa Veber is a relative newcomer. The young Russian woman has been working at The Grog restaurant where she has steadily climbed the ladder, at the same time that she is pursuing a law degree.

“To get ahead in my country, you need to know the right people,” said Veber, 24. “If you want to go to college in Russia, you have to pay someone just to be able to apply.”

“Here this is more opportunity. It hasn’t been easy for me, coming here alone, but I can see a good future.”

Aboul Khan emigrated from Bangladesh in 1981, a nation where long-standing cultural divisions determined whether one would thrive or fail. Today he runs a successful convenience store in Seabrook and serves as a selectman. In January, he will become a state representative. “When I was in Concord at the State House this week, I met the new (Republican) minority leader, Gene Chandler,” Khan said. “He said he looked forward to working with me. Where else could this happen. Where else but America.”

Seeing America through the eyes of immigrants should remind us that whatever problems and troubles our country may face, it is still the land of opportunity, a place where a man or woman can shape his or her future. The same glow of optimism that brought our ancestors here still burns bright.