Many students were outraged by President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders, which banned refugees on the basis of their nationality and overwhelmingly affect those of the Muslim faith. His policies — and nasty rhetoric about immigrants — hit closer to home for me.
My father, Kadir Catalbasoglu, who Yalies know as the man behind the counter at Pizza at the Brick Oven, is a Muslim immigrant from Northern Turkey. In 1992, five years before I was born, he left our village to follow my uncles to New Haven. He started working as a dishwasher at Athenian Diner and began to dream of owning his own business. When he finally opened his first restaurant, he gave everything he had to help it succeed. Some nights, he worked so hard that he didn’t come home at all, but would sleep on a couch in Brick Oven.
My dad is my hero. I am so grateful for his hard work and sacrifices and know that without them I’d never be at Yale. I can’t describe how proud I was this summer, when the Board of Alders along with the management team of the Dwight neighborhood — where Brick Oven is located and where I grew up — gave him an award for the work he had done for the community. My dad may not have run a bank or served in Congress, but he gave my siblings and me a better life than he had and made our neighborhood a better place to live.
This isn’t just about my family, though — so many children of immigrants in New Haven have similar stories to share. But Trump looks at our stories and our contributions and calls us dangerous. On Twitter, he refers to people like my father — immigrants of Muslim faith from the Middle East — as “the ‘bad.’” His words and actions are disrespectful and frightening to all of the immigrant families who call New Haven, and America, home.
Democrats and Republicans alike should stand against this intolerance. No matter your politics, we should all believe that families should not be torn apart, that we must not fear others simply because of their differences and that hatred and “alternative facts” have no place in our nation’s public policy. Though the events of the past few weeks have left me feeling upset and attacked, it has been amazing to watch Yalies of all backgrounds and beliefs rally in support of immigrants and refugees and to see Mayor Harp pledge to keep New Haven a place where families like mine will not have to live in fear.
In all of the discussions that are being held about refugees and immigrants, especially in New Haven, there’s one point that I want to make sure is made: We may face hardships, but we are not victims. Many of those opposed to Trump’s executive order have compassionately pointed out the persecution and poverty many immigrants are fleeing, and they’re right to do so. But America needs us just as much as we need it. My father gained so much by taking the risks he did to come here, but he also gave back — he opened businesses, created jobs and served his community.
So when Trump shouts his slogan “America First,” acting like immigrants are detracting from America, he ignores everything immigrants have given to this country over the centuries. He ignores the contributions that immigrants are making right now. He talks about jobs and immigration as if they’re opposing forces, but he doesn’t realize that immigrants have created many of the jobs in New Haven and across the country. Immigrants like César Pelli, a world-famous architect from Argentina who founded the Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects on Chapel Street; Prasad Chirnomula, an immigrant from India who owns Thali and Thali Too; George Athenis who gave my dad his first job at the Athenian Diner.
Immigrants and refugees make New Haven great, and they make America great. Trump’s executive orders are cruel, unpresidential and immoral — and I’m proud of my fellow students and my city for standing with my family.
Hacibey Catalbasoglu is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .