Interview of Jamil Bateh Transcript


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Interview of Jamil Bateh Transcript
Series Title:
Jamil Bateh interview
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Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community
Barbara Jardee
Jamil Bateh
Jardee Transcription

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University of Florida
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Jameel Bateh September 23, 2012 Pugh Hall, University of Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Alhadi: Hello, Mr. Jameel Bateh. Bateh: Hello. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. I am a lect urer at the University of Florida. We are conducting this interview at your house he re in Jacksonville. Today is Sunday, September 23, 2012. It is now 10:15 AM. We are very happy to be here with you. Bateh: It is my pleasure too. Alhadi: We would like to start by asking you to sh are with us a very general overview of the early part of your life in Ramallah in Pa lestine before coming to Jacksonville. Bateh: I went to the elementary school and fini shed up to the seventh grade, then we moved to here. We studied in both Arabic and Eng lish. That was the time when Palestine was under the British rule. We were forced to learn English. Alhadi: Which school did you go to? Bateh: It was called Friends Boys’ School. When we first joined the school, it was for boys and girls up to the fifth grade. At that point, the boys went to a separate school in Ramallah. There were two schools in the city. Alhadi: You mentioned that you studied Arabic and English. Woul d you elaborate a little? Bateh: We studied in Arabic up to fifth grade, and after that we were forced to learn English. Alhadi: How was the English teaching at that time?


Bateh: We had a teacher who taught us daily. It was a very good experience. Although we were able to understand the language, we found it hard when we first arrived here. We gradually began to learn. Alhadi: How old were you when you first came here? Bateh: I was fifteen years old. Alhadi: What year was that? Bateh: We arrived in New York on October 16, 1946. We stayed there for one day and then moved to Jacksonville to join my father who was living here. Alhadi: That means you have been living in Jacksonville since 1946. Bateh: Correct. Alhadi: This is a remarkably long period of time to spend in one place. Bateh: The norm is to see people moving around from one place to another, but we continued living here all along. Alhadi: When you came in Jacksonville, your father was already here. Is that what you meant? Bateh: Correct. My father a nd elder brother were living here. They are the ones who arranged for us to come here. We al ready had American citizenship. Alhadi: When did your fa ther first arrive here? Bateh: He first came here in 1919. He was stayi ng here but he used to go every year or two back to Palestine. He stayed here because there were no job opport unities in Palestine at the time. He was a sales manager. His j ob was to travel around to distribute goods to stores. Alhadi: Where did he used to get his goods from? Were they from Palestine?


Bateh: He used to get his goods from a store in NY and from there he transported them to here in Jacksonville. Some of his goods were actually from Italy. Alhadi: That sounds like your fath er already had business experience. Bateh: His background in business was no mo re than distribution of goods as a sales representative. Alhadi: I want to go back to your one day stay in New York, and then your trip to Jacksonville. How did you travel from New York to Jacksonville at that time? Bateh: We took the train from NY, but before th at we had to take a ship from Palestine to New York, not by plane. Alhadi: Why? Weren’t planes available at that time? Bateh: I believe there were some planes, but we decided to come by s ea. Not really sure. Alhadi: How long did the trip take from Palestine to New York? Bateh: It was a sixteen-day voyage. Alhadi: Where did you start your trip from? Bateh: We started from Ramallah to Haifa and from there we boarded a ship to New York. Alhadi: Was it a direct sail from Haifa to New York? Bateh: Correct. We spent sixteen days on the ship. Alhadi: How long did it take from New York to Jacksonville? Bateh: It was an overnight trip. We left Ne w York in the morning, and the next morning we were here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: Let us now talk about your early days here in Jacksonville.


Bateh: We were young. We went to school. My father started a store and because my father didn’t have enough financial reso urces, the store wasn’t that big or full. Later on, we managed to get more resources and the store began to grow. Alhadi: Does that mean you didn’ t continue with your education? Bateh: Not for too long. I found that the course contents that we studied there in seventh grade were almost equal to what they study here in Grade 12. I reached a conclusion that there was nothing new to learn. That is why I d ecided to stop going to school and joined my father in his business. Alhadi: Who worked in the store with you? Bateh: It was me and my elder brother, Youssef. Alhadi: Is your brother still around? Bateh: No. We were five brot hers. The other four have alre ady passed away and I am the only one among them who is still alive. My elde r brother Youssef was al ready here with my father before we arrived here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: What did your other brothers do? Bateh: They were also working in the business field, which they had been doing forever. They also worked as laborers in farms. They used to go to pick tomatoes, maize and cotton. Alhadi: Would you tell us a little about the store? What did you have in it? Bateh: It was a grocery store. We had everything such as meat vegetables and other items of frozen food. It was a smaller version of any one of the big stores today. There were only two big stores in the city. On e of them was Winn-Dixie. Th ese big stores used to stay open until 6:00 PM. We operated from 6: 00 AM up to midnight. We had almost


everything in the store. The neighborhood where our store was located was heavily populated. We maintained very go od relations with our neighbors. Alhadi: You started working in the store in 1946. When did you stop working there? Bateh: Until 2002. Alhadi: What happened to the store after 2002? Did you close the store? Bateh: Yes, I closed the store. Alhadi: Why did you close the store in 2002? Bateh: Business was not doing as good as it wa s doing before. We owned the building where the store was located. In addition to the st ore in the first floor, we also had four apartments on the second floor. Some of th e neighboring offices rented our apartments for a very good amount of m oney. Whenever my father saved a good amount of money, he used to spend it on building a new apartmen t and renting it. That is how our business was going. Alhadi: Can you tell us more about this period of more than fifty years in the store? Bateh: Yes, it was about fifty-fi ve years. It was me and my br other who were running the store. My younger brother joined us tw o years later after coming fr om back home. At some point, my elder brother decided he wasn’t in terested to continue doing the same work. This is when my younger brother joined the st ore. We worked together for thirty-five years until he passed away. After his death, I continued working by myself for another twenty years. I am the only one among my br others who continued working in that store for fifty-five years. Alhadi: Who helped you with the stor e work after your brother passed away?


Bateh: I hired one man to help me and he did help me. However, when we noticed that the neighborhood was not as good as it used to be, we changed the store from grocery to the food business. We began to sell sandwiches. This sandwich business continued for thirty years. Alhadi: That means the store was a sandwich stor e for thirty years out of the total number of fifty-five years for you in that place. Is this correct? Bateh: Correct. We also sold drinks such as beer and other kinds of drinks. Alhadi: Who were your customers when you were in the store? Did your store attract a certain segment of the neighborhood population? Bateh: The people in my nei ghborhood were all my customers. Alhadi: That means your customers were not mainly Palestinians or other Arabs? Bateh: No. It was a mixture of everybody, but mostly Americans and mainly Jews who were living around us. All my neighbors used to stop by after coming from work to get whatever they wanted, and fr om there they went home. Alhadi: We now know that you inherited your business from your father. Did your children follow the same path and get involved in your business? Bateh: No. I sent them to school and they finished their education. Education was not expensive because I sent them to public school s, not private ones. After finishing their general education here, they went to Gainesville to do college there. I have two sons and one daughter. Alhadi: Did your daughter also have the oppor tunity to continue with her education? Bateh: Yes, she finished her educati on and earned a degree. She is now working. Alhadi: Does her work have anything to do with business?


Bateh: She worked in a bank for twenty years an d then joined a company that works in the gas business. She has been working with them for twenty years. Alhadi: It sounds like your children ha d no connection with the business field. Bateh: They have no knowledge of business. However, they used to come to the store to help a little bit, but it wasn’t to the degree that I could have depended on them to run the business. Alhadi: I know there is a large number of Pales tinians who were either born here or chose to reside here in Jacksonville. What is the s ecret behind these big nu mbers of Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese choosing to get settled here in Jacksonville? Bateh: The Palestinians lost their lands and hom es and were driven out of their lands following the arrival of Jews. They began to think of leaving their homeland. Alhadi: My question was about the reason of choosing Jacksonville. Why Jacksonville specifically? Bateh: The migration was not mainly to Jacksonvill e. Some of them went to other places such as Detroit and California. Alhadi: That might be so, but still the number here is huge. Bateh: Yes, there might be a bout 5,000 individuals from Ramalla h who choose to reside here. We have a Ramallah club here in Jacksonvill e. Its membership list may reach about 400 individuals. Alhadi: Do you know how many of them choose to do business? Bateh: Opening grocery stores was a well-known tradition among them It is an easy thing to do. Others joined the sales business and became wholesale representatives.


Alhadi: Did you have any problem of any so rt while you were running your business on the account of being a Palestinian immigrant? Bateh: I never had any problem and work went just fine. Alhadi: Did you have any problem with the authorities? Bateh: I had no problem whatsoever. We treated our customers very nicel y. They all loved us very much and became regular customers who always came back to us whenever they needed anything. Alhadi: I know one thing that immigrants struggle with is language. This will be particularly true for a person who wanted to join the business field. How did you manage to deal with the English language problem? Bateh: It was hard at the beginning. I was able to understand at th e beginning and, gradually, things became much better fo r me. Dealing with the customers and the sale reps was truly a learning experience. I s poke to them and that helped me to improve my language. Alhadi: Can you name some of the items you had at th e store in 1946? Bateh: The store almost had ev erything. It was mostly canned f ood, drinks such as beer, meat, and a long list of frozen items. It was like a ny of the big stores these days. Also, people used to come to us after the other big stores closed. These big stores used to close on Wednesday around midday. Alhadi: Why did they used to close around midday? Bateh: Closing the store on Wedne sday at around 1 PM is a tradi tion these big stores have kept for a while to give their workers a short break. That gave us the opportunity to attract the customers to get whatever they want ed after the big stores are closed.


Alhadi: When did this tradition cease? It is now known that stores are open all day on Wednesday. Bateh: I believe this tradition stopped around 1 970. Since that day, stores began to open even on Sunday and to stay open unt il ten or eleven at night. Alhadi: Did you know any other Palestinians wh o owned grocery stores at the time when you were running your store? Bateh: There were about forty to fifty of them. Alhadi: Was there any sort of cooperation betw een you, such as getting something that you may be running short of from another store? Bateh: No, everyone managed his own business. Alhadi: Why was that? Were you competing with each other? Bateh: Everyone wanted to mind his own busines s and didn’t want to ha ve anything to do with anybody else. Alhadi: How did you manage your financial issu es? Was it a habit to borrow from somebody if you wanted to get money, or did you use banks to get the loans you wanted? Bateh: We had deferred payment contracts with the companies where we used to get our goods from. In that way, we were able to get wh at we wanted and we make payments later. After all debts are paid, we used to save a ny profits that might have accumulated in our bank account. Alhadi: After being here for over sixty years, it is very remarkable, Mr. Jameel, that you maintained your Arabic language in a very extraordinary and perfect way. How did you manage to do that? Bateh: I love my language.


Alhadi: Where and with whom do you use Arab ic? You must have been practicing Arabic regularly. Bateh: I use Arabic mainly when we go the Ramallah Club here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: Is this cl ub still functioning? Bateh: It is still functioning. It is a big club and it may be th e biggest Palestinian club here in America. It is located here in Jacksonv ille and it has more than 400 members. We go there twice a month and our meeti ngs usually take place on Sundays. Alhadi: Do you still go there? Bateh: Not as I used to. I go th ere very occasionally. My health is not helping me to keep the habit of going there regularly. Alhadi: Does the membership list include any of the young Palestinians? Bateh: Some of them are on the membership list, but my own children do not go there because they are very busy. Alhadi: Is Arabic the medium of conve rsation when you all meet in the club? Bateh: We converse in Arabic but some do use English, though they still understand Arabic. Alhadi: I want to know if you maintain any c onnections and contacts with any of your people back in Ramallah. Bateh: I no longer have any fam ily member or relatives there. Alhadi: When did you go there last time? Did you ever return back? Bateh: I never returned back sinc e the day I stepped in this country. Alhadi: Did you even have any contacts with anybody back home even during your first days here? I know that communi cations at that time were not as easy as today. Bateh: No. That is because everybody from my family came he re shortly after my arrival.


Alhadi: Did you have any opportunity to trav el outside the USA after your arrival here? Bateh: I visited Euro pe for self-enjoyment. Alhadi: Which countries in Europe did you visit? Bateh: I visited Germany, Spain and I also visited Vancouver. Alhadi: When was that? Bateh: That was about fifteen years ago. Alhadi: Was it only one trip abroad? Bateh: No. I travelled abroad twice or three times with a group of friends. I used to close the store and go. Alhadi: Apart from meeting with other Palestinian fellows at th e club, do you visit each other? Do some of them come and visit you here at home? Bateh: That happens very rarely. Everyone is bu sy with his own life. This used to be the case back in the early days when we used to vis it each other very frequently to chat, have fun with each other, eat, and soci alize at each other’s house. Th is is not happening any more. People became very busy with their own work. Alhadi: Now after sixty years of living here do you follow the news of what goes on in Ramallah for instance? Bateh: Not closely. I become acquainted with what goes on from the TV. I don’t get news from any source back home. Alhadi: Thank you very much for very good and in formative details, Mr. Jameel Bateh. We are very happy being with y ou here in your house. Bateh: We are happy to have you with us here. Alhadi: Thank you.


Bateh: You are welcome.