|(E) John Ivanac in New York Times
|By Nenad N. Bach |
Culture And Arts
(E) John Ivanac in New York Times
|This appeared in the NY Times this week and contains some quote from John |
Ivanac, born in Brela, Croatia, who owns 2 restaurants in NYC. John Kraljic
November 7, 2001
Terror Follows Immigrants to America
By ABBY ELLIN
mmigrants who came to America to escape strife-torn nations and start
businesses in the homeland of entrepreneurship are suddenly facing some of
the same fears they had fled. They came here from the Middle East, from the
former Soviet bloc, from Africa, from Latin America. They left so they would
never again have to worry about governments regulating their every move or
bombs exploding in the streets or mustard missiles slamming into their
And that is precisely what has made the last two months so painful for so
many of them: it is as if terror has followed them around the world.
In 1979, after the shah was ousted and Islamic militants seized American
hostages, Jeniette Melamed fled Iran for the United States. Ms. Melamed,
then the 20- year-old daughter of a Tehran tailor, objected to the new
regime's harsh religious rhetoric and its curbs on freedom and yearned for a
country that would let her pursue her entrepreneurial instincts. Even more,
she longed for a stable and free society in which to live.
She got both. Arriving in New York with little money and even less English,
she moved to Los Angeles and became a hostess at an International House of
Pancakes, working her way through school. In 1982, she and her new husband,
Hamid, moved back to New York and she opened a beauty salon with four
employees on Fourth Avenue. The business has since grown into a day spa on
East 13th Street with 25 employees, most of them recent immigrants. "I could
not have had this business in Iran," she said.
Like untold millions of other Americans, Ms. Melamed, 43, has also
discovered the serenity of suburbia. She lives in a three- bedroom home on a
tree-lined street in Brookfield, N.Y., with Hamid, a grocer and owner of a
Middle Eastern restaurant in Roslyn, and her two children, aged 14 and 10.
She drives a Mercedes and the family takes an annual vacation in February,
usually in Puerto Rico.
For more than two decades, Ms. Melamed could not read about the warfare and
political upheavals of the Middle East without shuddering - and thanking God
that she had escaped it all, even though she says she still loves and misses
Then came Sept. 11 - and suddenly she brushed up against the horror that she
thought she had left behind forever. She was on the Long Island Rail Road
commuting to work when she heard about the planes that hit the World Trade
Center; she arrived at her shop in time to see the second building collapse.
She sent her staff home and waited to make sure they were safe before she
left. Since then, she has been gripped by crying jags and smoke-filled
"For many years I told my kids: `This is the best country. We are free. We
are wonderful; anyone can be president. In the United States, if you're not
lazy, you'll never go hungry.' "
"Now, though, it's tough," Ms. Melamed said. "I'm afraid for my kids, for
their futures. It's not fair. They took the flavor out of New York."
Her sister, Rosa Melamed, 46, who like Jeniette, uses her maiden name, has
made the same emotional journey. She moved to New York in 1988 with her
husband and young daughter after Iraqi missiles shattered her country.
"America was the house of hope, the land of promise," she said.
Then, for a few minutes on Sept. 11, she thought she was back home in Iran.
"Everyone was going crazy and I said, `Don't cry, it's normal,' " she
recalled. "Then I realized for me it was normal, it was normal in Iran, but
for everyone else it wasn't."
John Ivanac experienced a similar role reversal. Mr. Ivanac made his way to
the United States in 1966 at 26 to escape the communism and economic
stagnation of his native Croatia, then part of communist- ruled Yugoslavia.
Ten years ago, Mr. Ivanac was frantically telephoning his relatives in
Croatia during the war with Serbia, not knowing if the calls would get
through or even if anyone was alive to pick them up.
But on Sept. 11, the calls flooded in the opposite direction from his
relatives to his two Midtown Manhattan restaurants, Villa Berulia and Trio.
"For three weeks, I've been so depressed," Mr. Ivanac said. The attacks on
the World Trade Center, he said, "affected me more than the war in Croatia.
"I knew there was a war there, and when there is a war, whether you like it
or not, someone's going to die," he added. "But this wasn't a war; this was
a regular working day." Since then, he said, his business is down 30
Some visitors from troubled foreign lands are even wondering if it would be
safer to go back home. Wahila Alam, a 28-year-old Pakistani physician, came
to New York a year ago to work as an H.I.V.-treatment project researcher
with Doctors of the World, a humanitarian organization that deploys medical
professionals both here and abroad.
When she arrived, Dr. Alam thought she had left behind the fears and
uncertainties endemic in countries like Pakistan that are in perpetual
political turmoil. But for eight hours on Sept. 11, she was unable to locate
her husband, who worked as a transportation engineer three blocks from the
"I was terrified," she said. "When I found out he was safe I thanked God,
but afterward you're scared. What's next? Is it safe to be here? Is it
really worth staying here?"
She has decided to do so. And other long- time immigrants who have taken
American citizenship say they are not plagued by such doubts and trumpet
"This is by far the greatest country in the world," said George Feldenkreis,
the chairman and chief executive of Perry Ellis International (news/quote),
the Miami-based maker of men's clothing. Mr. Feldenkreis, a Cuban Jew, came
to Florida in February 1961, two months before the Bay of Pigs invasion. He
remembers a world where bombs exploded in Havana restaurants, friends were
arrested for speaking out against the government and soldiers gripped
machine guns while standing guard. And that was the country his parents had
chosen as a haven after they fled persecution in the Ukraine.
"The Americans have been very lucky that we have been able to have a very
free country with unlimited movement," he said. "The U.S. is one of the few
countries in the world that has never been touched. We are all very
concerned that our way of life will be changed forever. But I've lived
through situations in life and I tell my son, `This too shall pass. We'll
get used to it.' "
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