Turkish Immigrant, Greek Yogurt, American Success

The picture that accompanied a New York Times article about the founder of Chobani yogurt showed him with a giant American flag in the background. That was fitting, because Hamdi Ulukaya epitomizes the American success story - immigrating here, working hard, overcoming adversity, building a successful business and now giving back by helping others.
Unfortunately, there is another strand to his story, and it is one of xenophobia that too often has marked the country’s reaction to waves of immigration. Even more distressing is that this ugliness has been enabled by the rhetoric of a presidential candidate who extols brute nationalism as a badge of honor.

Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent who has built a flourishing business making a popular Greek yogurt, has become the target of racist attacks on social media and negative articles on alt-right websites. Ulukaya’s sin? Employing some refugees at his plants in upstate New York and in Twin Falls, Idaho, and advocating that other companies do more to assist immigrants.

The attacks have been encouraged by a series of conspiratorial articles. “American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims” headlined one article on the far-right website WND. Breitbart, the conservative website whose former executive chairman Stephen Bannon is now running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, ran what the Times characterized as misleading articles tying the hiring of refugees to two rape cases in Idaho as well as a spike in tuberculosis in the state. Now there are calls to boycott Chobani.

It is hard not to see the events as an outgrowth of the overheated debate about immigration in the presidential race. That Trump has opposed resettling refugees, summarily dismissed one nationality as criminals and rapists, and proposed a ban on immigrants of a certain religion has helped to feed the hate. It is no mere coincidence that Ulukaya, an immigrant, was targeted while other executives who have aided refugees were not.

Here is what should not get lost. Chobani has annual yogurt sales of about $1.5 billion. It employs about 2,000 people. Ulukaya, by all accounts, has proved to be a generous employer, paying more than the minimum wage and offering paid parental leave and Chobani shares to employees. He is, in short, a perfect rebuke to those who want to scare the United States into shutting the door to immigrants. Thankfully, much like other people who came to this country and encountered prejudice, he shows no sign of being deterred.

Courtesy of The Washington Post
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07