Make sure you finish an official High School in your country. If not, immediately get to a school to learn English as a second language and get what we call a High Equivalency Certificate. Go to college and get a degree.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive. As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jiries Ireifej.
Jiries immigrated to America in 1975. He completed MBA in Managerial Sciences from Manhattan College. He was the first employee in the history of Manhattan College to be promoted from the Mail Room to Financial Aid Counselor. He had his business for 25 years as Insurance & Investment Agency Owner.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Jordan on 5/6/1948 in a very poor and small house in Ajloun, Jordan of 2500 population. I was not born in a hospital because we were so poor. When my mom was ready for delivery she walked to the lady who helped all women of this small city to give birth. We called her Day-yeh which means the unprofessional and Unlicensed lady of giving birth to poor people. My family, from day one, is catholic. Out of the 2500 people in Ajloun the Christian were about 300–400 people. Catholic not more than 120 people.
In Jordan, the country in the Middle East, Moslems are 99.9999% We never felt strangers’ though catholic were less than .005%. Thanks to King Hussein, Christian were very much respected.
Back to my birth: the best thing the Day-heh did to, based on the instruction of my mother, is to wash my feet with warm salted water to eliminate odors of my feet in the future. Guess what my feet never smell even at my age now to the point I can wear the same socks from 3–4 months without any odor…. Thank you Mama Farideh.
My parents were poor. Just to give you an idea, we used to eat meat once a month and chicken once a week (I remember on Friday) which is a sacred day for Moslems.
My parents did not have TV. They have a small Radio Transistor bought in 1952 and it was not easy to get one and it has to be licensed by the government. We were unable to listen to all stations like the Israeli and Iraqi radios stations. And if an official knew we were listening to forbidden stations, we would be in trouble. Therefore, and because my parents have no TV, and too much time in their hands, they gave birth to 8 sons and 2 sisters total of 10 (an army without weapons) to fight poverty and hunger. We were so poor that in 1952–1962 we used to get a roll of clothes from the American Red Cross. We used to get used clothes like once a year or so. I was the one in charge to roll the whole mountain of cloth about 1000 feet from the church to our poor home of clay. No cement. And our house used to leak so much until now I have nightmares about those horrible leaks.
Because we were so poor and at age 6 my mom sent me to Irmeimin, the small village of 100 Christian people where my mother was born, to help my grandmother, my mother’s mom. She died at age 110 on 7/4/1988. She was never admitted to the hospital nor she was never sick. she did not lose any of her senses except she had weak vision. She died in peace in her bed… I loved my Grandmother more than myself. She was a nice and fair and disciplinary lady for me. She is the one who made me a man to make three men who are my best children and Paul is one of them…because we were so poor my mom sent me, in 1961, to the Seminary to become Catholic Priest and my other brother to the Salesian school. Both of us are boarding school because my parents cannot support us in terms of food and education. More to come about that when I write my book) for me the 9 years I spent in the Catholic Seminary, were the best years of my life). The title of the book will be “MY LIFE, THE TRUE AMERICAN DREAM”
Because of the Seminary I had a good education, especially linguistics education. I know 8 languages and speak 4 of them, and English is not one of them. Ha Ha Ha!!!
When I was in the seminary for 9 years. I told Fr Verley a French father that we were so poor that we could not afford shoes till age 13. He was so moved and sad, he filled a huge sack of shoes about 30 of them all sizes and carried it on his back and travelled miles to deliver the shoes sack for my family. I will never forget this day of my life. I felt so happy and sad at the same time.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
My grandmother Roseh who encouraged my brother Wajdi to immigrate to USA along with the hard work of my brother Noman Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like? My brother wajdi was American citizen in 1968. Five years later he was able to help us to come to America. We immigrated to USA all of us at once 8 brothers, two sisters and my mother. My dad already passed on in 1973
I am the real American dream. We immigrated to America in 1975. 11 of us, in 1975. My father passed away in 1973 or 1974. He was paralyzed (hemiplegia) due to a stroke in the head due to hot desert sun when he was working in the desert to support his family. He became half paralyzed at age 48. My mother took care of him till his death. She was the real walking saint. She was known (jokingly) as Foreign and Interior Minister of our family and other friends used to say that she had a PhD in cooking because she used to cook the best food and without any recipes. She is the one who really supported us with my sister Nawar who had to leave high school and become a teacher in 1958, she was paid 4 JD/month the equivalence, at that time, 16–18 dollars a month.
I came to this country USA with a dream in my head. To have a master degree and go to work in Saudi Arabia as American where the money was good at the time. Both happened. We are living in an amazingly comfortable life. As American they gave me a free car (Chevy IMPALA) and a free house. The house was in marble. It was done for the mother of Sheikh I was working with. And his mother did not like this marble house, her son the Sheikh I was working for, gave it to me. Nice life and austere and difficult one for us as Americans and Jordanians, and above all Christians, where churches and alcohol were forbidden the two important elements for Christians.
From 1990–2015 I had my own business owning an Insurance Agency. I was successful and I made a lot of money coupled with good living that I never dreamt I will have. America, the country of opportunities, made this dream come through. Thank you America.
When we came to America in 1975 my oldest brother WAJDI said the 11 of the same family my 8 brothers and two sisters and my mother will not go in the same airplane. If anything happened, my brother Wajdi said at least half of us will survive. This is what happened half of us came 3/13/1975 and the other half on 3/26/1975. We all made it safe to the county of opportunities AMERICA and that is true. Jordan that I will love and cherish for the rest of my life) gave me birth, America gave me life. Because of this I will always respect and love America for the rest of my life. The USAS is the best country to live in and die. All are still alive except we lost our mother Farida at age 93 on 4/7/2014 at 5:59 PM Cali time. That was so devastating for me because I love my mom. She is our hero, she is the one who made all of us and kept us as family till now. We are now 8 brothers and two sisters with 27 nieces/nephew and 10 grandnieces/nephew. Let me say this differently, my mother Farida who died at age 93 has 26 grandchildren and 10 grand grandchildren.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My brothers Wajdi and Noman were instrumental in helping us to come to USA. So how are things going today? Excellent all my brothers and sisters had good jobs. My sister Nawar had her own business in Beauty Salon. She had 5 people working for her. My brother Ayed and Wajdi they have also their business and were successful.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
By working hard and making things happen. By volunteering and helping my community and donation my time and money.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest improving the system?
1) Make sure only qualified people get to the USA.
2) Do not allow people to go to welfare and get free money. USA has to educate and help immigrants to succeed.
3) If you cannot make it to belong to the American stream, the local government has to interfere and help them to do so rather than giving them free money.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Make sure you finish an official High School in your country.
2) If not immediately get to a school to learn English as a second language and get what we call a High Equivalency Certificate.
3) Go to college and get a degree.
4) Move your butt and work hard.
5) Toot for yourself and believe that you are good in achieving what you want to achieve.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Make sure that immigrants are scrutinized and legal to avoid any issues and minimize crimes.
- Educate immigrants to succeed and not only getting free money.
- Help them have a dream and pursue it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Michael Jordan who taught us that obstacles are not a threat rather an opportunity. He did this very well in his life.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!