A Favor To Return
People of New York City
May 18, 2018
BYLINE: Gazi Ohi
One Happy Family
New York City has a certain vibe to it. When you hear it, you hear honking cars, the winding subway lines, and the birds in the suburbs. It’s not just the sense of hearing that comes about. Modernity depicts the scenery of towering skyscrapers, the yellow taxi (and now uber-black cars), the possibility to see your children with better education compared to home, the smell of unnatural air, the taste of multi-exotic cuisines, the feeling of a new home. All of this give off a vibe of liveliness and modernity on ads and television.
The United States runs on immigrants and on money. Businesses want to scam new immigrants with low-paying jobs, who have the feeling that they have to give it their all to make a living here for themselves and their children. Immigrants make up a significant portion of the population in New York City. Although there is a quota of how many can enter, without immigrants many businesses fall. So the United States sets up ways for immigration so that they can increase their population and make sure the United States economy does not fall. They do this by advertising themselves in social media or television and by exploiting their power. However, immigrants do not usually fall to this ploy and most of the time no one wants to leave home. In the case of Jamal Ahmed, the father of Gazi Ohi, luck and the hope for the future are what drove him and his family to immigrate to the United States of America.
Jamal Uddin Ahmed did not go to the United States on his own accord. His wife, Rowshon Zahan, won a DV Lottery Visa to live in New York City. Having seen this opportunity, he applied for a visa as well. Being a young adult and married is exciting. Winning something as an adult is amazing and winning something free is just as great. Being the first in something is even more thrillin. Jamal Ahmed and his wife were feeling all of that when his wife won the DV Lottery Visa. “It was free and we were excited so we wanted to come because we were the first one to win and go to America.” Yet, he was leaving an established lifestyle. He was “working as an engineer in [his] country”. In Bangladesh, having a job as a sub-assistant engineer was a high-tier job. You needed to be able to work as an IT and be able to formulate contracts. His salary was amazing for a Bangladeshi earning about 900,000 taka per year (at the time). It was a day time job—no stress. “I mean, in Bangladesh, [the] life[…] it was good.”
So why did he leave such a fine career behind? The answer is what many immigrants think about. He thought about the possibility of having children in America. Jamal said, “When you go up, won the lottery, we think, uh, uh, maybe it’s future might be bright for my kids because my elder son born that time.” He wanted a bright future for his children. In Bangladesh, much of the education was verbatim of colonial times. The best schools in Bangladesh could not compare to the United States. Not just that, the higher crime rate and less well-rounded colleges in Bangladesh would not be favorable for the safety of his children. Thus, Jamal and his family left Bangladesh, riding on the hopes of a brighter future.
Jamal Ahmed arrived in New York City at John F. Kennedy Airport on May 13, 2000. A friend of his helped him transition into a shared home. The family that shared the house with Jamal was nice and both families treated each other well. The friend toured him around New York City and the friend’s son, a few days later, continued the tour. Jamal relates a story of when they were viewing the Statue of Liberty from the Brooklyn Bridge, in which they had a car accident. Jamal was very surprised and thought it was his fault, but the son did not blame him. “[The friend] was a very nice guy. I mean, I get a lot of help from whoever from Bangladesh.”
It is important to point out that in this transition to the United States, Jamal Ahmed had a connection who was Bangladeshi. He helped him find a home and helped him settle in with a new job within that first week of arriving. The problem, however, was that Jamal’s education back home had no relevance in the United States. “I mean I came here but I did not…get…an engineering job.” He realized that his education in Bangladesh was not considered up to par with United States standards. The fact that he could not speak fluent English made it even harder. So he performed odd jobs, starting off as a Dunkin Donuts salesperson and “it was [a] hard job. It was hard life for [him].” This was the first time he worked the night shift. He worked from 10:00PM to 7:30AM. “In Bangladesh, I never worked in the night shift, so it was very hard.” Not only that he could not go on vacation and only spent a few weekends with his family. He had to constantly work as he was the breadwinner and since his eldest son was still too young, his wife could not get a job. Yet, he continued to persevere and eventually his friend helped him find a house to rent with another family.
The Bangladeshi community is very knit-tight. Almost everyone who comes from Bangladesh has a relative in the United States and they help new immigrants transition. The relative or friend supporting them in the beginning helps find an odd job for them. This was especially done in New York City with Asian Americans. The transition to a stable job is a story of those who persevered.
Jamal quit being a Dunkin Donuts salesperson after a few days. He felt very upset the first few days, thinking “I should go back.” He decided to get another job as a salesperson in a gift shop—this was even more difficult. He worked 13 to 14 hours a day, 100+ hours a week. He would sometimes have no days off. He continued this strenuous job for two years.
After saving money, he went back to his country and then came back as a taxi driver in the United States two months later. Driving a taxi was an independent job and he, for the first time, had some freedom. He was able to live in an apartment building on the 5th floor because by that time he and his wife did not want to share a home with another family. They moved to Astoria, an area with a large Bangladeshi community, and enjoyed it. He was earning a decent amount of money and with his wife’s persistence, he eventually bought a house in 2005 in Woodhaven Boulevard. The way this happened was again through connections. Jamal’s wife had a friend who had a phone number for a real estate broker who showed them a couple of houses and they chose that house. Jamal believes that the choice that he and his wife made that day, 13 years ago, was the best choice they had ever made. He loved the Woodhaven neighborhood.
A sign in Forest Park
Other than Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, his favorite place in New York City is Forest Park. It is hilly, beautiful, and has great weather. Eventually after Jamal’s family joined Woodhaven, other Bangladeshi people joined and now there is a Bangladeshi community there. In the summer, his favorite time of the year, they would gather together to go on picnics. Other than this, he did not like the Bronx due to its community and its not being as beautiful as Queens.
At the end of the day, Jamal had come to an understanding. There was no reason to go to the United States unless it would better the future of his children. He knew that the United States still had the better education system and that his main goal is to see that his children could get a good education to make a “good service for their life.” Overall New York City was a place that has a community the he can enjoy even if his family in Bangladesh was not in the United States. Immigrants need a family here. It is nearly impossible to live in the United States alone, so immigrants in the Bangladeshi community strive together to provide newcomers an easier transition, as they did with Jamal. To return the favor, if another Bangladeshi were to arrive in the United States, Jamal would help any new immigrant with the transitioning process, and eventually this newcomer would do the same for the next arriving immigrant.