Category: Immigration Hero

“No Pets. No Cubans”

By Amany Ragab Hacking

We had the chance last week to go see “On Your Feet!” – a musical at the Fox Theater about Gloria and Emilio Estefan.  Amany grew up listening to Gloria Estefan’s music as a little girl.  In Chicago, it was all the rave.  

Amany and her friends loved to sing along and dance to her upbeat songs like Conga, Get On Your Feet, Rhythm is Gonna Get You and Bad Boy.  Amany loved that they looked alike with her long, dark curly hair, and Amany loved her energy and passion on stage.  

To Amany, she was just another American pop singer. Amany never knew she was an immigrant who struggled to be heard and be taken seriously as a musician in America. Amany had no idea all she had overcome – just so we could share her music.  

The musical follows her and her family as they escape Cuba for a better life in America.  She was the oldest of two girls growing up and she was responsible for a majority of the household work while her mom went back to school.  Her father served in Vietnam and later suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS – a disabling disease of the central nervous system.  She cared for him as he aged.  She found joy and an escape in her music.

One day, she met Emilio Estefan who was looking for a singer to join his band – Latin Motion Boys.  Emilio had a vision for his band and his music, and Gloria was a big part of that.  Eventually their band would be known as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.  They began playing in local weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras, but Emilio had big dreams.  They traveled all over Latin America playing their pop Latin music.  They were a big hit!  

But Emilio wanted more – he wanted to break out into the American market. Gloria wrote and sang songs in English, but record labels refused to back them and radio stations did not want to play them.  Some said their music and songs  were “too Latin” – others said the songs were “too White.”  They were missing the point – their music was both – it was intended to be a fusion of the two cultures.  Some weren’t ready for this and did not believe it would succeed, but Emilio and Gloria persisted.  They played their music for free to anyone who would listen – they went door-to-door giving out their American singles.  They wanted Americans to hear and love their music, and they did.  

Emilio recalled his early days in America as a young man, after fleeing Cuba.  He stood up to record labels and naysayers about their lack of acceptance of their Latin-American music and his Latin culture.  He told one record producer that when he was growing up in Miami there were signs in front of apartment complexes that read “No Pets. No Cubans.”  He believed that was not the America he knew and loved, and that he could change that with his music.  He proved that he could be both American and Cuban.  

We owe much thanks to Gloria and Emilio for paving the way for immigrants with their music, dreams and persistence.  

What an inspiring immigrant success story!            

Former Liberian Refugee Becomes First Black Mayor in Montana

Wilmot Collins, who immigrated to the United States from Liberia over twenty years ago, was elected the mayor of the capital of Montana, Helena.

Collins left Liberia at the age of thirty-one as a refugee of a Liberian civil war.  He is now known as the first black man elected mayor in the state of Montana.  Collins is new to the political sphere, advocating for affordable housing and solutions for teen homelessness.

When petitioning for US refugee status over twenty years ago, Collins had not planned on a future in politics.  Fleeing Liberia, he wanted to join his wife who moved to Montana two years prior to study.  Collins came to America in the hope of a second chance.

According to Collins, he got that second chance he was looking for.  He says, “That’s all I needed.  This country and this state and this city provided me a second chance.”

During Collins’s mayoral race, the United States has been flooded with misinformation and biases about refugees.  Collins addressed the stringent vetting process that refugees go through during his campaign.  He also tackled the issue of Confederate monuments and the racist history that many citizens were unaware of.

Collins’s won the mayoral election over a four-term incumbent.  From Collins point of view, his win means, “The people of Helena…were looking for a change and I came in at the right time.  I spoke the language they were looking for.”

The words of the former president, Barack Obama, telling Americans to stop complaining and become more involved in the political process, inspired Collins to run for mayor.

Local elections have been bringing positive change and diversity to elected officials.  Many credit these changes as a direct message to Donald Trump, indicating that people aren’t buying the American narrative that he is selling.

For more information, click here.

Collins also gave a great TEDTalk on being a refugee which you can see right here:

Khizr Khan: “No One Will Deliver You Your Rights. You Need to Fight for Them.”

On July 28, 2016, Pakistani-American lawyer Khizr Khan catapulted onto the American political scene after an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Khizr and his wife, Ghazala, were asked to speak at the DNC about their immigrant son, Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004.  Humayun was a captain in the U.S. Army and he died trying to protect his fellow soldiers from a suspicious looking vehicle which ended up exploding.

Khizr and Ghazala met in Pakistan and lived in the United Arab Emirates before coming to the U.S. as immigrants with their three boys.  Mr. Khan is an attorney and has practiced law in the United States for many years.

The DNC speech was electric.  Mr. Khan famously pulled out his pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution and challenged then-candidate Donald Trump about his plan to ban Muslims from the U.S.

Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing—and no one.

Donald Trump, never one to apologize or back down from a chance to be a bully, went on the attack.  He took the unprecedented step of attacking a Gold Star Family (a family with someone who died in battle).

Mr. Khan did not stop there.  He has been a persistent critic of the President’s attacks on civil liberties. He has been touring the country and has given 164 speeches since the convention in Philadelphia.

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice is Mr. Khan’s new book.  In it, he tells his family’s story and discusses how his Islamic faith is completely consistent with Western, constitutional democracies.

Recently, Mr. Khan came to St. Louis and spoke on a panel with immigration attorney Jim Hacking of the Hacking Law Practice.  Khizr mentioned how, in America, nobody gives you your civil rights.  He said that we must fight for them.

And he is 100% correct.  We have to fight to protect our rights, especially in times of great upheaval with an autocratic President who lies, vilifies and spreads hate at every opportunity.

May God bless the Khans and may we thank them for their son Humayun, who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Marcus Lemonis – An Immigrant Hero

Last week, attorney Jim Hacking went to Phoenix, Arizona for a conference.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Mr. Marcus Lemonis.

For those of you who don’t know Marcus, he is the host of a popular television show on CNBC called, The Profit.

Lemonis is worth millions of dollars, having made his money in the automobile and recreational vehicle (RV) business.

Each week on The Profit, Marcus visits companies around the country to see whether he might invest in them.  Many of these companies are struggling.

Once he invests, he has total control of the company’s operations.

Jim, Amany and their children love to watch The Profit. It is one of their favorite family shows.

You may enjoy it too.

But did you know that Marcus Lemonis is also an immigrant.

His parents adopted him from an orphanage in Lebanon when he was 9 months old.

During his speech in Arizona, Lemonis talked about how hard a time he had fitting in while growing up in America.  He often felt invisible and like an outsider.

Instead of talking from a podium up on a stage, Marcus began his presentation by talking from an “invisible” position out in the crowd.  He then made his way to the floor, where he shared some very personal stories.

He talked about suffering from bulimia.  He discussed several other difficult childhood traumas.

Marcus talked about how it is easy to hide in business – to throw yourself completely into the work so as to avoid the human interaction.

On several occasions, Marcus said that he told these stories not because he wanted the audience to feel sorry for him, but rather because he wanted to build a connection.

A connection based on vulnerability.

Then, incredibly, other people in the audience shared shameful or sad stories from their own past.

It was a very moving presentation.

Jim tweeted about how amazing the presentation was.  Unbelievably, Marcus Lemonis then started following Jim on Twitter.  A real connection!

Overall, the trip was great.  Jim learned a lot about trying to improve our firm’s systems so that we can deliver the highest quality legal representation to each and every client.

Here’s hoping you had a great week too.

Female Afghan Pilot Seeks Asylum U.S.

The Afghan Air Force’s first female fixed-wing pilot, Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, filed a petition seeking asylum in the United States this past summer. In 2015, the State Department honored her with its annual Women of Courage award, recognizing the bravery displayed throughout her career in flying despite threats from the Taliban and “even members of her own extended family,” added first lady Michelle Obama.

Despite leaving the Afghan Air Force, Captain Rahmani still wants to be a military pilot, and for this reason she hopes to eventually join the United States Air Force. In interviews, she explained her reasons for the decision. She explained that throughout her childhood and teenage years, she was inspired by America’s goal of emancipating Afghan women, shown through the Bush administration’s pursuit of women’s rights in a country where they were scarce.

Captain Rahmani always dreamed of being a pilot and finally joined the Air Force with the support of her parents. The American government hailed her as an example of a bright spot in the effort to rebuild the Afghan Air Force, which costed the American taxpayers over $3 billion. Things went south for Captain Rahmani when photos of her in combat gear were published in the press and her relatives began receiving death threats. She began to feel unsafe at work because of the male colleagues that held her in contempt.

Furthermore, after she began training programs in the United States, the Afghan Air Force stopped paying her salary. This asylum petitions is one of Captain Rahmani’s only options and she feels nervous with it pending as President-elect Donald Trump takes office. She fears his vows to bar Muslims from entering the United States but has hope because she has always seen the country as a place where women can aspire to accomplish great things.

 

Me and Gary Vee

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If you haven’t heard of Gary Vaynerchuk, you probably will in the near future.

Gary and his family fled the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. Their family was allowed to exit the Communist homeland and come to the United States as refugees in a complicated barter between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The U.S. sent wheat to their Communist enemy and the Soviets allowed people being persecuted based on their religion to seek refuge in America.

Gary’s family settled in New Jersey. His father got a job sweeping floors and stocking inventory at a wine store. Gary’s dad eventually became the owner of a wine store.

While Gary’s dad worked at the wine shop, his son learned to hustle. As a teenager, he bought and sold baseball cards and made hundreds of dollars a week.

When Gary went to college in the mid-1990s, he stumbled across the internet and immediately saw its potential. He convinced his father to spend $15,000 to help Gary build a tv studio in the basement of the wine store.

Gary started making YouTube videos about wine. He called it Wine Library. He would make a new YouTube video every week talking about wine, the culture of wine, matching wines to food and the wine industry in general.

For the first two years, his dad’s store sold $2,000 worth of wine – total. His dad was angry. At this point, Gary started infusing the YouTube videos with more of his passion, his personality and his energy. The show took off.

His dad’s wine store went from selling $3 million worth of wine to $60 million worth of wine.

Gary shot 1,000 YouTube videos for WineLibrary. Then, he stopped.

He eventually started his own media and branding company. He has authored three fantastic books – Crush It, The Thank You Economy and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. I have read all of them and they contain tons of great advice on social media, building a business and the future of technology.

Gary now has a new regular YouTube show called #askGaryVee. He is worth millions and millions of dollars. His eventual goal is to purchase the New York Jets.

When people badmouth immigrants or claim that we should close our borders to refugees, I often use Gary Vee as Exhibit # 1 of the kind of quality people that we would never know and whose brilliance would have been lost if we hadn’t given them the opportunity of an open door.

Last week, I was lucky enough to hear Gary speak first hand. Afterwards, I was able to get my picture taken with him and it was pretty darn cool.

Immigrant Whiz Saves Boy on a Plane

Donald Trump and others of his ilk would have you believe that immigrants are criminals, deviants and thugs.  Fox News has gotten much mileage vilifying immigrants on a regular basis.

So you may not have heard the story of Dr. Khurshid Guru last week.  Guru is an Indian American and the Director of Robotic Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York.

During a recent flight from Spain to the U.S., a 2-year old toddler suffered an asthma attack, requiring medication.  However, his parents had mistakenly included the treatment in their checked luggage.

The plane only had an adult inhaler, so Dr. Guru grabbed materials on the plane – a plastic water bottle, a cup, some tape and an oxygen tank – and built the boy a nebulizer.  The contraption allowed the boy to take in both oxygen and the asthma medicine simultaneously.   After a few minutes, the boy’s oxygen level was normal in just a few minutes.

Our office deals with immigrants every single day and we see the positive contributions that the vast majority of them are making.  This story is just one example (albeit very dramatic) of how allowing smart immigrants like Dr. Guru into the country can really help Americans – even 2-year old boys who simply can’t catch their breath.