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Neal Abid1 Sunday, December 2, 2012 Marks Street Community Ce nter in Orlando, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Hello, Mr. Neal. Abid: Hello. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. I am a lecturer at the University of Florida in Gainesville. We are happy to have you with us toda y. It is now 1:50 PM. Today is Sunday, December 2, 2012. We are here in Marks St reet Convention Center in the city of Orlando, Florida. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to have this interview with you. Abid: You are very welcome. Alhadi: First, we would like to get to know you and to know a littl e bit about the early phase of your life before coming to America, includi ng your place of bi rth and education. Abid: I was born here in America in Engl ewood, New Jersey, in 1958. My father came to America in 1920, and lived here for thirty ye ars before returning to Palestine to get married and come back with his wife. We we nt back to Palestine in 1966, and lived there in a small village called Deir Debwan, in the Ramallah area, where I finished my elementary and middle school education. In 1980, I came back to America and joined college. I didnt continue beyond my first year of college education. I decided to move on and find work. Alhadi: What college did you go to? 1 Alternate English spelling: Nile Abiid.
Abid: I went to City College in San Francisco. Alhadi: Your trip has been from New Jersey to Palestine to San Fran cisco. Why did you make this move from the East Coast to the West Coast? Abid: My father and mother decided to stay in Palestine. I decided to join some of my uncles and other relatives who were living in Califor nia. This is the main reason behind my decision of going to California. Alhadi: Tell us about your relatives in California. Abid: I have relatives in San Francisco and other parts of California. I also have relatives in New Jersey and New York. Alhadi: What did you study when you went to college? Abid: My intention was to study political sc ience. I started by ta king general courses. Alhadi: When did you move fr om California to Florida? Abid: I came here in 1997. Alhadi: Why did you choose Orlando to be your home town in Florida? Abid: Before coming to Orlando, I used to work for John Hancock Mutual Life. It is a life insurance and investment company. I was also the president of Deir Debwan Society. I came to Florida to meet with many members of this society who live in the main cities such as Tampa and also in the South Florid a area. Our society has members all over the States. This society does charity work to support our village back home. I came to Orlando because a friend of mine used to live he re. Four years later after that trip, I made the decision to move to Orlando. Alhadi: Before examining the details about your professional and life experiences in America, I would like to ask you tell us a little bit about your experi ences in Palestine. You
mentioned that you had all your pre-college educ ation there. Can you tell us more about your memories and friends from this period? Abid: I finished my education at Deir Debwan. It was very hard at the beginning because I was only eight years old when I went there in 1966. I had no knowledge of Arabic at that time. My family thought I would be able to pick up the Arabic language very quickly because I was still young. My older sister di dnt have the same problem because she had the opportunity to travel to Pa lestine before. My other sist er joined an Arabic/English school. The shift from an English-speaking se tting to an Arabic-s peaking one made my childhood days in Palestine very hard at the beginning. The result was that I lost my English and had no good luck with Arabic. Th e first two years were very hard, and I continued to suffer until I reached middle schoo l. Participating in many activities in middle school such as volleyball and basketball helped me to restore my self-confidence and to live a normal life. During my chil dhood, I loved to question everything. I asked my parents about nature, customs and traditio ns in our country that I was unable to understand. I also had many questions about customs and traditions in America. Alhadi: I hope you didnt have a problem with English when you came back to America? Abid: I had. That created a second language cr isis for me. However, I managed to get through it safely. Alhadi: What did your father used to do wh en he was here, and what was his field of experience? Abid: He used to work in an American factory for a long period of time in New Jersey and New York. He also served in the American Army and fought during WW II. He was stationed in Alaska. My fath er lived here for thirty year s beginning in the 1920s. There
werent that many Arab immigr ants at the time. This led him to integrate himself completely into the American social fabric a nd to become part of it. He spoke English with no accent. My accent is more pronounced th an his. His nature and behaviors were more American than mine. Alhadi: I find it puzzling for a person who was so Americanized to leave a nd to spend the rest of his life back home. Abid: When he started to get older, he figured that it would be better for him to go back and spend his retirement days there. He also wanted his children to be brought up the Palestinian way. He prepared himself for this move. He built a house there. My mother also played a part in this decision because she wanted to be with her relatives and brothers who were living back in Palestine. Also, the small number of Arabs here in America during the 1960s was another reason fo r him to leave. The biggest waves of Arab immigration and particularly those from Palestine began late in the 1960s and the 1970s. Alhadi: Anyone might think that it would be much be tter to retire in this country to benefit from the medical and other health services that are available here for elders. Abid: When my father decided to retire, he wa s in good health and had no problems at all. This might be because of his service in the militar y. He also received a monthly pension from the military in addition to the Social Securi ty benefit. His monthly payment was about $3500. This is a lot of money for the 1960s peri od. We were living almost a royal life. He estimated that the decision he took was in his best interest. He also knew that all members of his family are American citizens a nd have the right to come back to America whenever they want.
Alhadi: Would you tell me a little bit about your siblings? Abid: I have three brothers. One of them di ed in San Francisco in 1993. I also have three sisters. One of my brothers and one of my sisters live in Ne w Jersey. Two of my sisters live in California. Alhadi: Do you have any of your immediat e family still living in Palestine? Abid: My mother lives here in Orlando. The only people we still have there are my uncles and cousins. There are too many of them. Alhadi: Are you still maintaining your re lationship with Ramallah and Deir Debwan? Abid: Yes, I went back in 1982, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998 and the last time was in 2006. Alhadi: How long do you stay when you go there? Abid: It depends. I usually stay for a period of two to four weeks. Alhadi: I assume you have no problem going back and forth since you are an American citizen? Abid: Apart from the few troubles that the Israe lis gave me the last time I was there, I didnt have any problem. Alhadi: Thank you for the very good informa tion that you have given us about your early upbringing, education and family. Let us now move on to the business arena. Would you please tell us a little bit about the kind of business you ar e doing here in Florida, and how long have you been doing it? Abid: I do credit card processing. I help stores by providing cr edit card processing machines, the set-up, and making sure they function properly. Alhadi: May I ask for more elaboration about this kind of business? I personally dont understand too much about it. What is your ro le after this machine is installed and set up?
Abid: Our company provides 24-hour-a-day cust omer service in case any problems come up. Seventy percent [70%] of my customers ar e of Arab descent. They feel more comfortable dealing with me. They always love to talk to me rather than calling customer service. This goes back to th e good treatment I give my customers and my good relationship with them. Wh en any of the Arab immigrants start a new business, they manage to reach me and ask for help. We also offer other services such as gift cards and wireless services. It is now possible to use this service through the phone. Our company provides such a service. Alhadi: What company do you work for? Abid: It is called First Data. Alhadi: I believe working in this field would not succeed without a solid background and experience. How did you start working in this field? Abid: I have been in sales my entire life. I was in the wholesale busin ess when I was with John Hancock Mutual life. I always have had the ability and capacity to build wide relationships, particularly with Arab immigran ts. I am very activ e in Arab immigrant communities. We are the or ganizers of todays health, immigration, and employment fair. I was the president of th is society in 2007. I am currently the vice president. I am currently working to open new branches for this society in South Florida and in Tampa. I have been in touch with the Arab community my entire life and always look for things to do for them. My business depends on whats called residual income which works by getting a fixed percent of the income from bills that are paid every month. The bigger the number of customers I get, the bigger my m onthly income grows. If the number of
customers fluctuates, then my income will no t be stable. It also depends on how well businesses do. These are the reasons why I involve myself in many things. Alhadi: Would you please give us more deta ils about the company? When did you start working in it and who helps you? Abid: I started working for First Data three years ago. It is one of the bigg est companies in this field. It dominates over 53% of the market in this field of business. Many of the big banks and companies use this service. Before getting into this fiel d, I learned about the company. When I made the decision to join the [company], I was s ubjected to intensive training and attended meetings and conference calls with them I also had to keep up with the regular and routine updates concer ning their various areas of work. This company is considered one of the top and olde st companies in the credit card processing business in America. Alhadi: What is your exact role in the company? Abid: I have my own company that works under the First Data umbrella. I am an independent sales agent and decide my own work hours and when and how to work. I set my own appointments. I am known as a company representative who operates independently. Alhadi: Does this mean you get your own customers? Abid: True. Alhadi: Does anyone help you with your business, or do you do it all by yourself? Abid: My son helps me with office work. He is also the one who doe s the pricing, processes applications, and faxes them. He does prici ng on the computer and the follow-up work. He is the only one who is helping me. Alhadi: Does your son rega rd this as his career?
Abid: He is doing this work besides his job at th e Hilton Hotel. He graduated a year ago with a degree in business. Alhadi: As I mentioned before, I dont know mu ch about this kind of business. What can you do to develop this work further? Is it only a matter of getting more customers? Abid: There are many ways to develop this work. It is possible to recruit agents to work for you. It is also possible to recruit more custom ers. It is also possible to create more connections with merchants. It is also possible to use the Inte rnet to market your business and bring more customers to your company. Alhadi: Are all your customers from Florida? Or do you recruit customers from all over the country? Abid: Most of them are from Florida such as Orlando, Tampa, and South Florida. I have some customers from Louisiana. It is possibl e to have customers from other states. Alhadi: Currently, do you have customer s from outside Florida and Louisiana? Abid: Currently, I dont. Alhadi: Does that mean the possibility is there? Abid: Correct. However, my mother is sick a nd I have to spend most of my time taking care of her. This is what is limiting me at this time. Alhadi: Is there an opportunity to expand this work outside America? Abid: It is possible since the entire world is now moving towards using credit cards, thanks to todays technological advances th at made the world very well connected. This makes the possibility of running such a business at the international le vel very possible. Alhadi: This sounds like a very interesting busin ess experience. As I told you earlier, I havent come across any similar experience.
Abid: The Arabs who are doi ng this are very limited. Alhadi: Do you know any others who are doing it? Abid: I dont know more than th ree or four Arabs in the entire state of Florida who may be working in this business. Alhadi: Could the reason for your focus on the Arab business owners be that it is easy to deal with them? Abid: The main reason is that I have always be en actively involved in all matters related to the Arab immigrant community. I have always been active since I came to America in the political, cultural, and social arenas. This activism gave me the opportunity to be well connected with most of the Arab immigrants. Alhadi: It is useful to learn more about these endeavors. What are the various things you do and how do you facilitate the needs of the Arab immigrant community? I also want to know more about todays event that is taking pl ace in this center which is organized by your association. Can you tell us more about these? Abid: The Arab American Community Center AACCstarted in 1990. It was founded by Dr. Khalid Diryab, may God rest hi s soul in peace. He was a Palestinian. The aim behind this community was to bring the growing Arab community under one umbrella. This society has become quite notable and remarkable in America. We have taken very serious steps during the last ten years. This is in spite of the fact that all those who serve on the society board are volunteers. We dont have even one single full-time employee. When I was the president in 2007, we promoted the goals of our society through offering social services to our Arab commun ity in the Orlando area. These services included immigration services. These were offered through our immigration director and
lawyer who were there to help by answering any question, if neede d, or to direct our members to the right lawyers office or any other official offices that may offer their service free of charge. We deal with many lawyers of Arab descent. Our immigration director is Mr.Nayef Mubarak. This is part of our regular services that we offer. We also organize an annual convention for health and immigration services like this one we are having today. People come and meet with specialists who will be here to offer any services and answer questions free of charge. They will be referred to a specialist if needed and we will help them get services at a reduced price. We work to offer health services to our community me mbers. These will be in areas such as prevention services or by referring our members to the free clinics that are here in town. Such service is of great help to those w ho may have low income or have no medical insurance. We also get help from a number of doctors of Arab descent who volunteer to give free visits. We also offer an annual event for free health services. We also offer services in the employm ent area. We help our members to get work. We work with Workforce of Central Florida which tries to match everyones skills with the jobs that are available. They dire ct people to the places that they know are hiring and help with resume-bu ilding and training. We direct our members to go to these offices. This is part of the work that we do in this society. We have also organized cultural festival s during the last two years. The last one we had was in downtown Orlando on March 25 of this year and attracted about 20,000 viewers; 25% of them were not of Arab descent. That day is now officially designated by the Orlando Mayor as Arab Day in Orlando. In addition to the mayor, that day was also attended by the sheriff and the district at torney. The idea behind this festival is to
make people aware of our culture, civilization, an d culinary traditions. It is also intended to quell any doubts and suspicions which arose and which have been repeatedly directed at the Arab communities since 9/11 and to show our culture and society in an honest and open way. We succeeded in spreading our good work and message to the Tampa and South Florida areas. In addition to social and cultural activ ities, our society is also involved in a number of charity projects. One example of our work in this area is a food drive that we organized together with an Arab church in the downtown area. We distributed food to 300 individuals and gave away more than 300 blankets to the needy. We are also active in the political area We persuade and help our members to register and participate in all election campaigns. We i nvited about twenty candidates from both parties who were running for pub lic offices to come and talk to our membership about their programs and why they think we should vote for them. We are registered as a bipartisan 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization. Among those who came to talk to our membership were a number of congressional hopefuls, sheriff candidates and senate and county candidates. Some of thes e meetings were attended by no less than 175 of our members, compared to many other similar public events where you dont find more than fifteen or twenty attendees. They were very impressed by these events. Alhadi: These are very impressive activities. Le t me ask one more question before we conclude this interview. Do you keep an accurate list and do you tr ack Arab community members here in Orlando? And if yes, how many members do you have? Abid: Statistics and estimates of the Arab comm unity in the entire stat e of Florida point to around 225, 000. We dont have accurate statistics on them in Orlando, but the number
may vary between 50, 000 to 60,000. Thirty th ousand [30,000] to 35, 000 of them are of Moroccan descent. This is the largest gr oup of those with Arab nationality, and the largest group in Orlando. The reason for this is that the Moroccan Pavilion at the Epcot theme park at Disney has been known sin ce the 1970s. Many Moroccans came here with a work visa to work on this pavilion and continued to live here since that time. This is what makes the Moroccan community the la rgest group of Arab nationals in Orlando. Alhadi: Does this Moroccan Pavilion still exist at Disney? Abid: It does, and is owned by our very good friend Rashid Choufani. Alhadi: We are very happy to listen to your inte resting, rich, and great experiences. I wish you the best of luck. You are doing a great and honorable work. Abid: Thank you. [END OF INTERVIEW]