American By Choice

American By Choice

What do Albert Einstein, Sammy Sosa, Dave Matthews, Henry Kissinger, Martina Navratilova, Alex Trebek, Mila Kunis and Jackie Chan all have in common?

The answer is, they were all born in other countries and immigrated to the United States. Their contributions to academia, education, sports, music and television have made them household names and the idols of the generations that follow them. As this Fourth of July is upon us, and we plan family barbeques and firework shows, these celebrations can sometimes be even more meaningful to the men and women who had to leave behind the homes and people they knew and risk everything to celebrate with us.

Texarkana has mixed within its crowds our very own examples of great contributors who first arrived as immigrants. Last year, Texarkana Magazine spent the month of July introducing you to some of them and allowing them to tell their stories through our Talk Tuesday digital platform. Each one is unique and beautiful, but the one thing each story has in common is a declaration of love and appreciation for the United States. Patriotism is not limited to those of us who were lucky enough to be born with the freedoms and opportunities that the United States offers. It is felt in each word written by these great men and women who are Americans by choice. They are our neighbors and friends and just like Einstein, Sosa and countless others whose names are not so well known, they make this country and community better in countless ways. We are happy to take this opportunity, one year later, to retell these stories in print, and hope it will serve as a great reminder to us all that we truly live in the greatest nation on Earth.


photo by Molly Kendrick

MARSHALL ALAM

I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. While the economy of Indonesia is steadily growing, my family was still barely getting by. My mother made the difficult decision to create change for my sister and me. She sponsored our green cards, and we moved here soon after I graduated at 18 years old.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, I enlisted with the U.S. Air Force. I graduated from basic training and began my service and was excited about my future as an airman. It was a life-changing experience. By becoming a member of the U.S. military, I also became a naturalized citizen. Fast-tracking the citizenship process is an opportunity I am very grateful for, and I have the Air Force to thank.

I enrolled in Texarkana College and earned my associate degree with a major in computer technology and information systems. That, with training and experience, has given me opportunities for a career that I wouldn’t have had.

For what my mother did for us, I will always be grateful. She took an enormous risk so we could have a different life. I want to show her that her efforts were not fruitless and to always make her proud of me.


photo by Molly Kendrick

MANJULA CARTER

I was born in Sri Lanka, an island nation literally as far from the United States as you can get. When I was five years old, my parents emigrated to London, England, where I lived until I was 21.

When given the opportunity to study abroad for a year, I jumped at the chance to spend it at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. I was 19, in a new country with no friends or family and I was scared to death, but it ended up being the best year of my life! I fell in love with the country and the people, so I returned to Fayetteville for my master’s degree.

I applied for a green card, and after that for citizenship. It was a long and arduous process, but finally, in 2003, I received my citizenship. It was a really proud moment to pledge my allegiance to the flag for the first time. I would not have had the same career opportunities, or met my husband had I not moved to the United States. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to live and vote here.


photo by Molly Kendrick

CHRIS GAVRIEL

I was born in Cyprus, Greece, to a large typical Greek family that is extremely close. When I was only one, the war between Turkey and Greece broke out. My family was forced to move and chose Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, where they opened a restaurant.

In 1994, I moved to Texarkana with a scholarship to play baseball for Texarkana College. I met my wife Britany on my first day in Texarkana, and we were married ten months later. I lived in Texarkana while attending TC, and then we returned as a family in 2006.

Life is much faster here than in Greece and it is much more conservative than it was in Canada. My boys have had so many opportunities that they would not have had in my native countries. I appreciate the fact that we had a praying coach while the boys were in school, and who would still pray at football games. That is not allowed in Canada, and it is a freedom we take for granted in the United States. I have my permanent residency and am pursuing my citizenship. As Christians, we have to do what we can to fight for our beliefs and fight to protect them, so now more than ever I look forward to having the right to vote in United States elections.


RALPH GARLITOS

I am the first person from my family to come to the United States. I was born in Manila, Philippines, but spent my teenage years in Cebu, Philippines. When I was young, I saw America as the land of opportunity, wealth, and prosperity. Following my father’s advice, I became a physical therapist, and came to the United States with a work visa.

My first year in the U.S. was hard. Imagine being 22 years old, fresh out of college, and living in a foreign country. I was lonely and culture shocked. I was unsure of the future and alone, but in the midst of it all, I knew God was in control!

JOANNA GARLITOS

I lived a simple, provincial life in Bacolod, Philippines, with my three older sisters and a younger brother. My goal was to study hard, be able to come to the United States, earn money, and eventually, as good Asian children do, send it back to bless my parents, as they have done for me. I became a physical therapist.

I was the fourth in my family among the five siblings to come to the United States. Even though my siblings were in the U.S., they were in other states. I still felt lonely. However, my faith grew, and I learned that if you rely on God, He will direct your path. I also realized that if you work hard in the United States, you can be successful.

photo by Molly Kendrick

JOANNA AND RALPH GARLITOS

After both moving to the United States, somehow, God allowed our paths to cross again. We traveled together to different parts of Texas to work. We later settled in Texarkana, USA. We gained our citizenship status after completing all the legal requirements. We are thankful that we can enjoy the freedoms and opportunities available to us as U.S. citizens. Being able to vote and be heard, and the freedom to worship God and be with other believers, are opportunities to cherish.

We have assimilated and mingled our own native Filipino heritage with the American culture. We are proud to have a daughter that is both American and Filipino at heart. We are proud to live in a country where the ideals are of Christian origin. We still believe in this country. God bless America!


photo by Molly Kendrick

LAYLA HAZiN

By origin I am a Palestinian, born in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no written constitution; everything is under complete and total control of the royal family. As all parents do, mine wanted their children to have the best education and future. So, they emigrated in the 1990s to Canada.

I moved to New York and married the love of my life in 2006. New York taught me how important freedom of religion is to America. In my place of origin, Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, people slaughter each other and destroy each other’s homes in the name of their faith. In New York, communities of Jews, Palestinians and Christians live and work in total harmony because their government represents them all equally.

My favorite memories in the U.S. include getting married, having each of my beautiful children, and becoming an American citizen in 2018. Learning about the Constitution, and all the rights and liberties it provides, makes me feel deep gratitude for the intelligent shaping of this country. Any person who can imagine the life they want and will work hard for it, can live their dream in America.


photo by Molly Kendrick

FERNANDA HERNANDEZ

I was born in Querétaro, Mexico, in 1991. For me and my family, the American dream was neatly packed inside two suitcases as we boarded a bus to the United States. That decision was a sacrifice that demanded everything [my parents] owned and knew be left behind to pursue a better life. At the time, I was nine years old. I didn’t understand the extent of what [they] were giving up, and I wasn’t aware that leaving their life behind would mean my future would be drastically different.

I began fourth grade only knowing a handful of English words, which were poorly pronounced. There were days I felt like giving up, but I kept going and in just over a year, I was fluently bilingual. That’s the thing about the American dream, it allows you to dream past the country you were born in and achieve the unimaginable. The price you pay is not cheap and the sacrifice my parents made could never be accurately measured. I thank my mom and dad for changing the course of my life. I live the American dream daily, and for me it’s about making my family and Mexico proud.


photo by Molly Kendrick

ROTIMI IYUN

I was born in the hilly city of Ibadan in Oyo State, Nigeria—a large sprawling university city that was once the most populous city in the country. I spent most of my formative years in Ibadan, through high school and college and culminating in my first degree in industrial engineering. For many years, I planned to come to the United States to pursue a dual Master of Industrial Engineering and Business and was admitted to the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, New York.

After five years in New York, I made the decision to move to Texarkana where my sister had gotten a job. The beautiful reserve of Texarkana was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of New York. The beauty of living in a close-knit town like Texarkana is that you never know when you will run into someone you know. I have learned to say hello to everyone even if I don’t recognize them.

It has been twelve years since I left my home country and adopted the United States as my new home. I can truly say that God has been good to me. God bless the United States of America


photo by Molly Kendrick

JESSICA PASTAKIA

I was born in Caracas, Venezuela to parents originally from Perú. We immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s, seeking a safe environment, education and financial stability through job opportunities. Venezuela was going through controversial presidential elections. Many lost their jobs, including my parents.

I recall crying myself to sleep when I could not do my homework because I couldn’t read English, but I overcame the language barrier. Now I am a Registered Nurse at Christus St. Michael Hospital.

I am beyond blessed to have had the tools America offers. However, it also takes perseverance and tenacity to grab hold of those tools and pave the road toward making the American dream a reality.

photo by Molly Kendrick

BHAVIN PASTAKIA

I was born in India and immigrated with my parents and family in the early 1990s. My parents moved to the United States seeking a better education for me and my two siblings and greater opportunities for a brighter future. India is considered a third world country in which financial stability and access to education are a struggle for most of its citizens.

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and had to overcome the language barrier. It was hard, but I did it with the help of outstanding teachers. I ended up doing well, and I got a Bachelor of Business Administration. After years of serving as an accountant, I pursued teaching.

It’s my turn to give back to those children I represent, who also seek the American dream, because I am living it.

JESSICA AND BHAVIN PASTAKIA

The United States of America has given us both many blessings: each other, our children, our education and our freedom. Our love transcends the boundaries of landmasses and seas. It has overcome language barriers, nationalities and skin-deep differences.

Serving in our community and trying to be proud and exemplary citizens, is how we want our children and future generations to live, and they can do that with freedom.


photo by Molly Kendrick

HEIKE SCHEMMEL-CRUZ

I was born and raised in communist East Germany. I attended ten years of school and then attended the university where I earned a degree in electrical engineering. In 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, I moved to Munich. I met my husband, an American soldier, in 2006. We married and moved to the United States where I became a permanent resident. Ultimately, I earned my license in esthetics and massage therapy. This enabled me to open my own a business, which is something I never dreamed of in Germany.

There are no words that truly express how positive my life in the United States has been. After a rough start, that included self-learning the English language and understanding the social norms of America, I am happy. My husband’s military assignment to Red River Army Depot brought me to Texarkana. What I really appreciate about life in Texarkana is that hard work pays off and people honor that. Everyone in this country has the opportunity to do the same.

The bottom line is, I realize there are endless possibilities and opportunities when it comes to fulfilling your dreams here in the U.S.A.


photo by Molly Kendrick

MEL WALSH

I was born in Ireland on a small dairy farm near the village of Redcross. From a young age, I realized country living was not for me, so after high school graduation, I took a job as a Nurse’s Aide. I was accepted into nursing school at Whipps Cross University Hospital in London. Upon finishing, I spent the next five years working in London before I decided I wanted a change. When I saw an ad advertising available positions for nurses in Texarkana, Texas, I replied to the ad.

I landed in Texarkana in April 1979. I worked the night shift at Wadley for 18 months before joining Medical Arts Hospital. [A friend] set me up on a blind date with Ray, who became my husband six months later. Our son, Field, was born in 1983. To make it all official, I passed the state boards for my Registered Nurse’s license in Texas and also became a United States citizen.

The political turmoil in Ireland when I was growing up made me realize the importance of voting and being aware of politics. I always voted in the European Union and now I vote in the United States. This is an amazing place, and I’m so glad it’s my home.


 

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