August 23, 2014

The Journey to America: Armenian Immigrant to Utah

Introduction to our series on Immigrant Success Stories

 

After initially arriving in the UK one year ago, I was amazed that a socialist country could be such a decent place to live. Why did my ancestors leave their countries to come to the US? Sure, some came to join the Kingdom of Zion, but what is so special about the US that made them decide to leave behind their homeland, friends, relatives and start entirely new lives in a foreign land? It’s a good question to ponder, with our country’s current financial turmoil and political problems.

Transatlantic ship landing in Ellis Island. A nine day voyage in 1918.

Three quarters of my ancestors are from England, Sweden and Switzerland, the other quarter is Armenian. The commonality among all of them is that they wanted to live in a place where their hard work, success and earnings would not be taken and squandered by governments.

The story of my great-grandmother is one of the stories I think about when I feel my life is tough. I have never had trials compared to those she went through. If I feel persecuted by my family due, for example, to my love of craft beer, I realize I actually have it quite good compared to my great-grandmother. This is her story.

When religious tensions began in Armenia, my great-grandfather sent his oldest son to the US to see if the family could possibly relocate, but before the family could immigrate, my grandmother’s siblings and parents were taken captive and eventually murdered. The Turkish government committed genocide against the Armenians just prior to WW I.

My great-grandmother survived because she was left for dead after falling behind on a death march where the destination would have been a mass grave. She was rescued by a man she called “the Governor.” She was sent to an orphanage on the island of Cyprus. She managed to locate her one surviving brother in Utah who paid for her passage across the Atlantic.
When Takoohie arrived on Ellis Island in 1912, the border agent asked her to say her name slowly so he could translate it into English, “Ta — koo– hee,” she said. Takoohie is the spelling he chose. This unusual spelling and name remained with her for life. Witnessing the ledger, the brutal reality of her tragic life, which still according to Turkish official accounts, never happened—rang true.The world is an ugly place, and the US is special because there simply isn’t any other place so willing to accept immigrants who have suffered.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—Emma Lazarus

This poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty spoke perfectly to my great-grandma.

Shortly after arrival, Takoohie married Nishan Markosian. Immediately they began having children, a total of nine, seven of which survived to adulthood. Takoohie and Nishan built their retirement savings and acquired small rental properties. All of their children understood the value of hard work and became successful in their own right, never forgetting the lives of sacrifice that their parents made for them to secure a better future.

There are thousands of immigrant narratives similar to my great-grandma’s story. Millions of immigrants have come here seeking refuge. When my ancestors arrived, the US had an “open-border policy.” Anyone could become a citizen as long as they weren’t a polygamist or an anarchist.

This isn’t the case now, nor is it at all simple to enter or gain citizenship in any western country. This results from our need to protect the collective welfare states which are going bankrupt world-wide.

My initial amazement of all of the “storied pomp” of the UK wore off when I was denied a visa, despite my wife having both a professional job and a visa. Contrast this with our country.
The US is set apart from the rest of the western world for the past 200 years due to both our acceptance of immigrants and our vibrant free market.
Success or failure, this is the place where immigrants come to do big things. There are some very hard working second, third and forth generation Americans, but many have forgotten the sacrifices their immigrant ancestors went through to secure their future.

The US has stood apart in the ability of our immigrants to climb the socioeconomic ladder by virtue of hard work. There are all sorts of problems plaguing legal immigration today. Still, our acceptance of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is alive.In the next three issues of Utah Stories we will be sharing a few such stories with our readers. §

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