“I was looking for a better life, like anybody else.”
Courtney: Why did you move to New York?
Mohamed: “I was working in Egypt, and the economy over there was bad. I couldn’t make a living over there. I was working at a good job, and the job gave me a chance to get a visa. I got the visa and adjusted my status over here. Of course I was looking for a better life, like anybody else.”
Courtney: What does the word immigrant, or migrant, mean to you?
Mohamed: “I don’t think about it that much. I have a different opinion than the other people. you know. Even between the Arabic countries it’s the same thing, it’s very hard to get a visa. I have a bachelor’s degree in economics. Egyptian people are very educated, engineers, etc. People should move all around the world freely, as long as they are needed. If you don’t need me, and you’re not going to hire me, and I’m not going to find a job, I’ll go back to my country. If you need me, I’ll get paid — and that’s it.”
Courtney: How do you bring your home with you?
Mohamed: “There’s no way to… but over here in New York, on Steinway, the whole block between 25th avenue and 20th avenue is Egyptian stores. You go there at night, you feel a little of Egypt, you know? Coffee shops, hookah, the food smell. Egyptian people all around, walking, so you feel like a little of Egypt, but it’s not like Egypt, of course. [There’s] nowhere like home.”
Courtney: Is living in America and being an American different from what you expected it would be?
Mohamed: “Over here, this country has a system. It’s very important and it makes everybody’s life easy. You forget to put a quarter in when you park? You get a ticket. This is the rule. Nobody argues because everybody works in the same like everybody else. A governor is like a regular person. In our country, it’s not that way. You treat people differently. If you have power, you have different laws than the other regular people. Here everybody adheres to the law. You break the law, you pay the penalty. So when you do something you know what to expect. In our country, you might do something very good, and they treat you like nothing. If two people applying for a job, and the other guy is the son of somebody — even if you know 100 percent that you’re better then him, your degree is better than his degree, your score is better than his score — he will get the job. Over here, everything has a system… That’s what’s good about it.”
Courtney: What has your greatest challenge been as an immigrant?
Mohamed: “I was trying to — like anybody else — I was trying to prove myself. I’m an accountant… I had a lot of responsibility in Egypt. I had to pay money for my family, I had to do this, I had to do that. And so I didn’t study, I worked right away. [And in New York] I worked as a sandwich man, but it’s not my type of work. After six months I was managing one of the biggest stores and was with the people for 20 years. I never changed the job, they liked me, and then I became a part of the company. So that was the challenge — I had to prove myself in a different kind of job, I had never worked it before. But of course accounting helped me a lot.”