American Dream Is Over

A tiny but a well-known restaurant on 73rd Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan: Its name is Üsküdar.  What seems quite unknown on the other hand is that its chef, İbrahim Özdemir, whose meals Americans adore, no longer sees America as the country of dreams after 9/11…
However, Master İbrahim’s life is an American dream. “If even a man like me has given up, I cannot agree with those who say that they will go to America and will do this and that; I don’t think such dreams can come true anymore. If you are a foreigner and moreover if you are Muslim it is more difficult!”
When Master İbrahim came to America nineteen years ago, he had twenty dollars in his pocket.
Ibrahim Ozdemir, owner of Uskudar Restaurant in New York.

“It is true that I had mostly wonderful years here. Whatever I have, I got it here; but the last five years have not been the same. When I first came here I had my profession. I was thinking that I was a good cook. I learned English. Since I was already qualified in my profession soon I was able to have a job, a house, a child, a car, I mean all the things that one is supposed to have.  However, after 9/11 all these things have become almost impossible in America. They take fingerprints at the door….tell you that they will take many security measures... You know how they search you when you leave İstanbul at the airport... Once I wanted to bring some forks and spoons for the restaurant, and they made me get off the plane. They asked me ‘Are these yours?’, ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘they are mine.’ They asked me ‘Where are you taking them?’ Where would I take them? To the restaurant, of course… I mean it has come to this:  The image has gone; I mean the idea that this is the United States of America, anyone may come, everyone lives the way they want to… there is no such thing anymore. For example, in the middle of the night they come and take students away, saying that they don’t have visas. And Americans take them to be terrorists just because they are fugitives. That’s why America cannot be the country of dreams anymore!” says the Master.

He also resents the new regulations and procedures for immigrants as well. For almost twenty years he has been working for this country.

“I swear all New York is cleaned up by immigrants. If they say that they will send the fugitives back we will all be in a miserable condition.  I really don’t know what we would do. What would you do? Are you going to find ten Americans to do this work? Let’s say you have found them -- how would you pay them? Even if you are able to pay, do you think an American would work with you 11 hours a day? I keep saying that I should go away and save myself. I mean, this seems to be the best.”

Master İbrahim in his own honest and direct way of speaking relates that they haven’t overcome the economical and he psychological effects of 9/11 yet:

“The day after 9/11 the restaurant was open. People were really in a great panic. It was as if we were at war. Foreign and native, all shop keepers had hung American flags on their doors. I don’t exactly know what they were trying to do; but it seemed like people were trying to say ‘I’m not a terrorist, I’m an American.’ They were helping both the Americans and immigrants like us; but at that moment President Bush made an unfortunate statement. People were unnecessarily provoked by statements like ‘Muslims are terrorists’, ‘this is their job’. Everyone thought that the wife of a Muslim wears a headscarf and he himself has a beard. There are Hindu yellow cab drivers; a friend told us they even attacked them. Such things both scared and worried us. As time passed such fears disappeared; but I, as a businessman, had almost a 50% loss in business. Maybe it was because we are Muslim or maybe the economy was bad, but our business was affected very much. Since the terrorist attack, people have been spending much less money. Two people used to spend 60 dollars for a meal; now they pay only 35-40 dollars. I tried to live on my savings; hoping things would get better soon. Since it is our own business we are still being affected by 9/11. For example the war in Iraq still continues. And America has become much more expensive. I feel it is not as easy to live here as it was in the past. Vegetables, meat, whatever you can think of… all the prices have increased at least 100%. There is no guarantee that I’ll have a business tomorrow or will feel relief. The USA is attacking one day here, the other day there; everything affects the economy and thus me of course, both financially and psychologically.”

Master İbrahim’s voice is sometimes angry, sometimes hopeless and sensitive when he is talking about 9/11. This stubborn man, who knows how to take what he wants in life and came to America with 20 dollars in his pocket to run after his dreams, tells how his expectations from America have changed in the five years after 9/11:  “I say, I’d better go away and save myself. Whoever wants to may come and try his chance. They may say ‘you are making up all this in your mind, give the restaurant to me’. Let them come and let’s have a deal. If someone saves me from this restaurant business in New York, I’d be grateful to him all my life. That’s what it has turned into…”
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07