Interview of Daniel Haddad Transcript, July 29, 2012

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Interview of Daniel Haddad Transcript, July 29, 2012
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Daniel Haddad interview
Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community
Barbara Jardee
Daniel Haddad
Jardee Transcription
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Arab Immigration Oral History Digital Collection

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University of Florida
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Daniel Haddad July 29, 2012 Jacksonville, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Thank you Mr. Haddad. We are happy to have you with us here today. Today is July 29, 2012, and it is now 12:50 PM. We ar e here in the conve nience store of Abu Diyab in Jacksonville. My name is Esam Alhadi. Haddad: It is honor to get to know you. Alhadi: Thank you. I am from the University of Florida. We are cond ucting this project and making this recording with the aim of documen ting the life experiences of the Arabs who are doing business here in Jacksonville. This is my colleague Richard Saltzburg from the University of Florida Library. He is my pa rtner in this research. Thank you one more time for being with us, and I would like to begin by asking you to tell us about your personal history such as place and date of bi rth, your early upbringing and education and anything else that you wish to share with us. Haddad: I was born in Hims in Syria in 1952. I left Syria when I was twenty-six years old. I came to Detroit and lived there for thirteen ye ars. I worked in a gas station, and then I started doing mechanics. I moved to Jack sonville twenty-two years ago, and this is where I live right now. Alhadi: That is good. Did you go to school in Hims? Haddad: I studied only up to ninth grade. Alhadi: Was that in Hims itself?


Haddad: Yes, that was in Hims. I was obliged to leave school to he lp my father who was running a mechanic business in Hims. Alhadi: That is very good. That means you cam e to America with a background in the business field. Haddad: Yes, that is true. Alhadi: Let us begin from this background. Ca n you tell us more about the nature of that business? How big it was, and who was work ing in it, and who else is helping your father? Haddad: It was me and my brothers. Whenever anyone of us reached the age of twelve or thirteen, we quit school and joined my fatherÂ’s business. That helped my father to keep up with his business in Hims. Alhadi: And what kind of business was that again? Haddad: It was a mechanic shop. Alhadi: I wonder what could you do at the age of nine, ten, or el even? That is too young to do mechanics. Haddad: Yes. Alhadi: What were you able to do at that age? Haddad: We were doing cleaning, sweeping, pr eparing and handing equipment in addition to other small things. We had to do that kind of work. Alhadi: That kind of work must have prepared you to have a future in the mechanic work. Haddad: That is true. We are six brothers and we are all in th e mechanic business and we are all now business owners and we got our business background from our father. Alhadi: What about your extended family? Wa s there anyone of your re latives in the business field in Hims in Syria?


Haddad: No. It was just my father. Alhadi: Did your father start the business, or did he inherit it from his parents? Haddad: His father was a porter who used to transf er loads from one place to another. My father started his business at home. At the beginni ng, he was fixing small mechanical problems. That is how he started his business. Alhadi: That sounds good. What made you think of coming to Detroit? Haddad: I knew that [my] life and future in Am erica would be different from what I would have in Syria. I knew that we would have no future in Syria. After leaving the army at the age of twenty-five or twenty-si x, there would be nothing to do except to get a position in an office if you were a university graduate. Th at would be the only path to a good future there. For us who had no experience excep t in hand labor, we knew we would have no future there, and that is why we decided to come here. Alhadi: How old were you when you arrived in Detroit? Haddad: I came here at the age of twenty -five after I finished my army service. Alhadi: Why did you specifically pick Detroit to be your first destination in America? Haddad: I had a brother there. He is the one who arranged for my coming. He used to work for a company there. Alhadi: Is that an elder br other? Haddad: Yes. That is my oldest brother. Alhadi: Is he still in Detroit? Haddad: No. he moved here, [to Jacksonville]. He and his sons own a m echanic store here in Jacksonville. He came here after he retired from the company he used to work for to start his business here. Alhadi: How long did you stay in Detroit?


Haddad: I worked there for thirteen years as a mechanic. After that, I thought of staring my own business and that was the reas on that brought me to Jacksonville. I have an uncle who helped with lending me some money. Alhadi: We will get to the Jacksonville phase later on, but for now let us focus on your time in Detroit. You mentioned that you came with a ninth grade level of education. How did you manage to deal with the language problem? Haddad: Yes, of course. Alhadi: How did you manage to overcome this problem? Haddad: I began working for some Arab business owners there. They taught me how to respond to customers. They offered me an immense help. Alhadi: That means the Arab commun ity in Detroit was helpful to you. Haddad: Yes that is true, but it is also true that I helped too. It is a fact that the members of the Arab community in Detroit help each other. Alhadi: Why did you decide to continue doing the same mechanic business? Is that because of the background you came with from Syria? Haddad: My father was a master in his field. We followed his path and became masters as well. He was very tough on us, but understandabl y that was for the benefit of our good upbringing. Whenever one of us made a mi stake, that one had to be ready for punishment. Slapping was a very common punishment. Alhadi: I hope this is not the way you are dealing with your employees now. Haddad: This would never happen here. Otherw ise, you will end up in prison. However, it is true that my father was very tough on us in search of preparing us to become masters in this field. Eventually, we gained the fruits of th is tough treatment.


Alhadi: This is of course a different way of education. I am familiar with such way of fatherto-children treatment in the region where I was brought up. Puni shment, slapping and hitting, are familiar components of the way fa thers discipline their children and make them well-mannered. Do you think we can follo w this style of education with our kids here in America? Haddad: Not at all. Never. However, I pray for the soul of my fa ther. I believe his tough treatment bore fruits and made us the men we are now. Alhadi: It sounds like the background and expe rience you had were the driving factors behind going into this kind of work here. Haddad: That is true. Alhadi: Was that background enough to make you succeed in this business? Haddad: First I began with working in a gas sta tion because of the languag e barrier. I used to work nine hours a day. At the same time, I us ed to go to a mechanic store in the morning to learn how that kind of business works here I spent hours and years trying to find my way into this field. That helped me with knowing names and terms that are used for parts. I did this at my own expense. Sometimes, I worked from eight [oÂ’clock] to three at the mechanic store at my own expense, a nd from three to twelve I worked at the gas station. This helped me a lot to get into this business. I spent many long hours doing this work without getting any money from it. My intention was to learn how to deal with customers and to know the way treat them when I get in this business. I also wanted to know about the parts and the nature of problems customers come up with. Alhadi: Then you moved to Jacksonville. Why did you specifically pick Jacksonville? Haddad: I had a brother who was living here. Alhadi: Was he the same brother who was living in Detroit?


Haddad: No. This is another brother who was younger than me. He used to work for a mechanic business here called Sun Tires. Alhadi: How many brothers do you have here in America? Haddad: We are seven brothers, an d all of us are here in America, in addition to three sisters. Alhadi: Are they all living here in Jacksonville? Haddad: Yes, they are all here in America. Some of them are in Jacksonville and the others are still in Detroit. Alhadi: How many of your br others in addition to you are in the mechanic business? Haddad: All of us are doing this business. Alhadi: This makes it very clear that the background you had and the tough treatment you used to receive from your father were the drivi ng force that led you into this field. Haddad: That is true. Sometimes, when I and my brothers sit together and start remembering the old days and the way my father used to treat us, we laugh so much at it, although it was back then a reason for us to complain and cry. Alhadi: So that means the seven of you, may God grant you health and strength, are in the mechanic field. Do you work together or doe s every one of you have his own business? Haddad: Everyone is doing his own work. Alhadi: Do you help each other sinc e you all work in the same field? Haddad: Yes, we do actually help each other. Alhadi: Are your stores close to each other? Haddad: Yes. They are like thr ee, four, or five miles apart. Alhadi: What name did you give to your business? Haddad: It is called Brothers Auto.


Alhadi: I know there is a bi g Arab community here in Jack sonville. Do Arabs make the majority of your customers, or do you depend on customers from different ethnic backgrounds? Haddad: Yes. I have many good Syrian cust omers and other Arab customers as well. Alhadi: Does that you mean your busine ss depends totally on Arab customers? Haddad: No. In fact, about 70% of [our] customers are American and only 30% Arab. Alhadi: Have those customers been with you for a long time? Haddad: Yes. They have been my customers for a long period of time. I think what is important in this business is to be experienced, professional, and have good attitudes with your customers. These are the most important fact ors to make a business like this flourish and successful. Alhadi: Are you specialized in certain car models? Haddad: I deal with all car models such as Ja panese, German, and American. This is because we have been in this business for many years. Alhadi: Who helps you at the store? Haddad: I have two employees who help me. Alhadi: Are they Arab? Haddad: No they are American. Alhadi: Did you have any Arab workers before? Haddad: Yes, I had one before. He is Syrian from Hims, my home tow n. He quit after starting to develop a kind of backache. He is now doing a sort of light work. Alhadi: Mr. Daniel, would you please tell us a little bit about your family? Do you have your family with you here in Jacksonville?


Haddad: Yes. I have two sons. The elder is th irty-one years old. His name is Daniel. The other one is twenty-seven years old. His name is Anthony. Alhadi: How does your relationship with Syria look like after all thes e long years of living abroad? Haddad: My sons donÂ’t know anything about Syria. Alhadi: How about you? Do you go to visit? Haddad: Yes. I used to go there every year before the last events erupted. Alhadi: When did you go there last time? Haddad: Three years ago. That is be fore the eruption of these events. Alhadi: Did you use to go every year before these events? Haddad: Yes. I actually used to go every year. That is my home country and it will remain to be, regardless of whatever goes on in it. I love it so much. Alhadi: Why do your sons have no relations with Syria? Haddad: Their mother is American. They we re brought up the American way rather than the Syrian way. Alhadi: Has their mother ever been to Syria? Haddad: She went there only one time. T hough she liked it, she has never been back. Alhadi: Would your sons be able to carry on a conversation in Arabic? Haddad: No, not at all. As I told you earli er, I used to work long hours, something like seventeen hours every day. That kept me out of the house all day long, seven days a week. My intention was to develop my busines s. At that time, my sons were still young and I almost didnÂ’t see them at all. I admit that the one mistake that I made in my life was that I didnÂ’t pay attenti on to teaching my kids Arabic when they were still young. Alhadi: How far did your sons go with their education and what do they do now?


Haddad: One of them is now teaching in China. Alhadi: What does he teach? Haddad: He teaches the English language. He studied Arabic for two years, but he only knew standard Arabic. He has no knowledge of collo quial Arabic. He also writes in standard Arabic. Alhadi: How long has he been in China? Haddad: He has been there for one year. Alhadi: Which one of your two sons is the one in China? Haddad: That is the younger one. The elder one is a chef. He used to work in Orlando. He has recently moved to Jacksonville and started to look for a job here. Alhadi: You told me that you inherited the mech anic profession from your father, and that is also the case with your brothers. Why is it different with your sons ? When their turn came, they picked different fields of work. Haddad: They just didnÂ’t like the mechanic work. Alhadi: Did you try to convince them to try doing your work? Haddad: I tried, but with no luck. I gave up trying when I felt that they we re not interested in it. I didnÂ’t want to force them into a profession that they didnÂ’t like. Alhadi: How about your other brothers? Do they have any of their children working in the same mechanic field? Haddad: Only one of my brothers has a son in the mechanic field. Alhadi: That means your sons have no connection at all with your business. Did they ever come to the store to help a little bit? Haddad: Not at all. They became busy with their own lives. That is okay with me. Alhadi: Let me ask again, how long did you say you had been living here in Jacksonville?


Haddad: I have been here for twenty-two years. Alhadi: Did you spend all these tw enty-two years doing mechanics? Haddad: Yes, this is true. Alhadi: If we could rewind time to the point when you first started this mechanic business, would you still decide to do the same work? Haddad: I would do it all over agai n regardless of the hard work and tough treatment that I used to receive from my father. I f eel this field is for me, and I am happy with it. I donÂ’t want to change it. This is the work I grew up w ith. I remember when I was still a small child and my father comes back home with his hands totally covered with grease and oil. He used to sit down with us to eat and his ha nds were still not washed. I am not saying I loved it, but the truth is that it is the only profession that I grew up with, and I continued to do it for the remaining part of my life. That was back in the sixtie s and seventies. The living conditions in Syria were very hard. That period al so coincided with a regime change. Alhadi: If you are given the opportunity to go back to Syria and to start a business there, are you still going to do mechanic work? Haddad: Yes, I will do the same mechanic work. Alhadi: I am asking these hypothetical questions just to know how you feel and think about this profession. If we can return to the point when you starte d doing this work, what would have you done to make your work better? Haddad: I could have added a car dealership. That is by buying broken cars, fixing and selling them. However, I am now satisfied with what God has given me. I am grateful for that. Alhadi: Were there any serious problems th at you may have encounter ed throughout the years that you were in this field incl uding problems with customers?


Haddad: No. I had no problem at all apart from the language barrier th at I had at the very beginning. Alhadi: Let us assume for a moment that if there were some Arab immigrants coming from Syria today or from any othe r Arab country, what advice would you give to them given all your years of experience here? Do you te ll them to start at the beginning by finding an hourly wage job, start their own business, or go to school? Haddad: My first advice is to stay away from drinking or using drugs, and then they have to be patient and to work long hours. These are the components of the success formula. Alhadi: If they want to choose between star ting a business or going to school, what would you tell them? Haddad: I will recommend they should start a bu siness right away. This will help them to establish a good life and to keep themselves busy. It will al so teach them how to treat people and how to deal with them properly and be forthcoming with them. This will be enough to make them successful. Alhadi: After all these long years in this pr ofession, what do you think this work has given you in terms of character developmen t, social and personal status? Haddad: The most important thing I gained from this work is lear ning how to deal with people. Alhadi: I know sometimes you ma y receive a casual phone call from anyone at a time that is inconvenient. You may be driving home or busy with something and they ask you to give them some advice on a car issue. How do deal with such situations? Do you ask them to come to the store? Haddad: I would do my best to help that person. Because I feel grateful to God for what he has given to me, I tend to help other people. Alhadi: What plans do you have to develop your work forward?


Haddad: I have no plans to develop it any further. I will keep it the way it is. I feel this is enough for me. I am satisfied with what I ha ve. I am not going to do any more addition to it. Alhadi: How many hours do you work at your business? Haddad: I am there for eight hours, five days a week. Alhadi: Do you work on the weekend? Haddad: No, we are closed on the weekend. Alhadi: Do you have to be at th e store all the time during the week? Haddad: No. Sometimes I may go away for any bus iness that requires me being away from the store. For instance, if elder couples call me for help with th eir car, I will go and check for them. Alhadi: I wonder, why did you stay all these long years in Jacksonvill e? Is there anything that is so special about the city that kept you here a ll these years? Haddad: People here are very kind. The opportunity to do good at work is much better than at many other places. This is in addition to th e big Syrian and Arab community here. Also, because I have established my name and become well known here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: Does that mean the members of the Sy rian and Arab community help each other? Haddad: Yes they do. Alhadi: This concludes the questions I have. Thank you very much, Dani el, for this opportunity. Haddad: Thanks to you. It is an honor to meet you. [END OF INTERVIEW]