From Mideast to Midwest

Bailey Meyers

If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

I Can Go The Distance, I'll Be There Someday

My grandmother, Jenny Clark, is my role model. She grew up in Mosul, Iraq, where there was constant fighting and disputes. It was not a good place to raise children as a single mother. At 29, she introduced the idea of coming to Chicago to her family and friends. She only wanted what was best for her three children, all under five years old at the time. Many times, she felt like giving up was the only option, but she kept going. Working three jobs at the same time seems impossible, right? Apparently not; my grandmother did! It was so surprising to hear her story, since I still have to help her with her TV! I am so incredibly fortunate to have heard this amazing, inspirational story with my grandmother. Now you can, too!

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Bailey Meyers

3 Meyers Soundcloud by Bailey Meyers

Transcript

M: Me

G: Grandma


M: When and where were you born?

G: I was born in 1942, in Iraq.

M: Where is your mom’s family from?

G: Baghdad.

M: And where is your dad’s family from?

G: Mosul, in the middle of the country.

M: What year did you get married?

G: 1962.

M: And when was your first child born?

G: My first child?

M: Yes.

G: Oh, 1963.

M: What made you realize you needed to leave Iraq and come here?

G: Better life to build for the kids and for me.

M: Yeah. Where did you live when you first came here?

G: Ahh, where I live? In Chicago.

M: Oh! Who did you live with? Any of your siblings?

G: Yeah.

M: Who was there, and was it a big enough house or did you need more room?

G: We came, and we rent apartment, and after that, we worked very hard together. We bought a house and we live together. After that, not working together. I work very hard, and I buy house and have my own family.

M: Yeah, what kind of jobs did you have?

G: I work in the factory, lay and assembly. And after that I work in dressmaking. I open shop, and I work in beauty shop with my sister before.

M: Oh, was it difficult trying to find a job when you came?

G: Not really, no. No, we found , because we found people and people they recommend one company and I went to it. I forget the name of the company.

M: That’s good! How old were you when you first came here?

G: 29.

M: And how old were your children?

G: I guess five, and three and a half to four, Ann. And a baby. A new baby, six months old.

M: Did you speak any English when you came here?

G: Little, not much.

M: What was your favorite part?

G: Freedom. Do whatever you want. And the kids were in school, and they learned English. And they live good life. Better life than I did.

Chicago Schools throughout the 1970s

Many of our parents and the adults around us grew up in Chicago. It was one of the most diverse cities all throughout the 1970’s, especially the Uptown area. Chicago public schools, along with a number of suburban schools, saw drastic changes in population and enrollment in between 1970 and 1980, around the time that these adults were growing up. White families were moving out towards the suburbs while black families were moving into the city, mainly for the public school system. By 1990 the schools' population was half of what it was 10 years before. I’m going to show what Chicago schools were like from 1970 to 1990 (Rury 5).


While families moved out of the Chicago Public School system throughout the 1970's, suburban schools and private schools in and around the city gained popularity. Parents wanted a better education for their children. They accomplished this by moving out to the suburbs (Bogira 6). All of the new students coming into the suburban schools made the superintendents realize they needed to step up their game even more. These suburban schools, such as New Trier High School in Winnetka, gained national attention (Rury 24).


Magnet schools in Chicago became more and more popular after they were first introduced in 1973. Magnet schools are public schools where students from anywhere in or around the city can go; you don’t need to live within a certain amount of miles to the school to attend. Often times, they have a more advanced curriculum than regular public schools, or they focus on one subject area (math, science, English, etc.) Within a short number of years, three more magnet schools were built, including Black Magnet School, Whitney Young Magnet School, and Chicago Metropolitan High School, which were dispersed throughout the city. Following those, more were built in the late 1970's. Currently, Chicago has 38 elementary magnet schools, along with even more high schools (OAE Staff 2).


Chicago schools went through many drastic changes from the early 1970’s to the early 1990’s. These changes made the public school system what it is today. If people hadn’t been constantly moving out of the CPS system, they wouldn’t have realized that they need to change something, suburban schools including our New Trier High School never would have been recognized nationally, many magnet schools would never have been built, and private schools most likely wouldn’t be what they are today without all of these changes. Who knows, without the many and sudden changes that the CPS system underwent, our parents or adults close to us wouldn’t be who they are today. It doesn’t seem like it could lead to something so extreme, but it can once you think about it.

A Day In The Life Of...

My point glides rapidly yet gracefully through a lovely white, silky fabric. We got the order about three days ago, and it’s just about finished. We have been working on this dress day in and day out. Sure, we had other orders and requests, although this one seemed to be more important, superior. It sure has been a struggle finding the same color thread to weave in and out of this masterpiece. Many brilliant details stand out, and I have a sense of accomplishment knowing that I was the one who bound them together with the magnificent material most of this project was comprised of.


From where I’m laying now, I’m able to finally see how the dress ended up. It was a beauteous, elegant wedding dress. It was a simple design, although the wonderful craftsmanship definitely made it something special. I can see the lady working with my friend late at night, getting the last large parts of the dress completed. Tomorrow, she will pick me up and we’ll work together finishing the significant details on the dress.


The lady I work for wears something on her finger as protection from me poking her, which doesn’t happen often. When it does, though, I feel horrible! I wish I could do something about it, but unfortunately I can’t. There have been a few instances where she has picked me up and this strange red liquid emerged from her skin. It sure looked painful. I wanted so very badly to apologize somehow, but I couldn’t find a good way to do so.


I awoke the next day on the table. The lady had moved me from my usual spot on the shelf while I was in deep sleep. The table is closer to our workspace, so perhaps she wanted to get to work right away. That’s exactly what we did! After a hard day’s work, I got many things done.I took two parts of the dress and put them together, and I helped make many designs. Finally, the dress is complete. It truly is a work of art. And to think we did it in just under a week! The tall lady who ordered it will be in tomorrow to pick it up. I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees what we’ve done for her!


Just as I thought, the lady was in awe of the wondrous dress. Her face lit up as soon as she laid eyes on it, just as anyone would. She thanked and hugged my boss but what about me? Don’t I get any thanks? This always happens! Whenever a project is finished and the person comes to pick it up, they ignore me and my hard work! One of these days someone will realize what I do for them and express their gratitude.

Journals (Free Choice)

April 23, 1972


My family seemed excited yet hesitant when I told them we should move to America. I’m not really quite sure why they weren’t instantly ecstatic, it will certainly be a huge improvement from our lives here in Mosul. I can see it already. We’ll have freedom. We’ll be living in a country where women have equal rights and my children will be able to go to school. All I want for them is a good education and a good life. We will begin our adventure to start our new lives in six days.


April 29, 1972

By now, my son Martin has said goodbye to his friends. My daughters Ann and Bonnie are both too young. Our family members who are not coming have given us gifts and said goodbye. Today is our last full day in Iraq. As horrible as it is here, I’m sad to be leaving. It’s where I grew up. It’s who I am! But I need to do what’s best for my family. My children need to go to school and not live with fear constantly eating away at them. I want to give them a better life than I had. They deserve better.


April 30, 1972

I am on the plane right now, looking over the vast land that is Iraq. It’s barren. Dry. I can’t look back anymore. I can’t reminisce about the past. All we have is what’s ahead of us. My brothers and sister will take care of Martin, Ann, and Bonnie while I find a job to support everyone, even if that means working in a factory. Anything will be better than what we had in Mosul.


May 2, 1972

Today was our first full day here in America. It’s amazing. It’s even better than I thought it would be. The trees are so wonderful and full of life, just like the people. We are in an apartment now. It is a bit crowded but I’m not complaining. No matter how difficult life here may be, I won’t complain. Anything is better than what we had. I have to get a job, so I’ll go out looking tomorrow while my sister watches Martin, Ann, and Bonnie. I hope there’s something available in dressmaking or hairdressing. I just don’t want to leave my young children all alone, especially after moving to a whole new country!


Chicago is amazing. I have never seen buildings so tall-and shiny! While the streets are dirty, the glass buildings are anything but that! The birds here are huge! I think I heard someone say they’re called pigeons. If you drop a crumb on the ground, the birds will have cleaned it up within two seconds! Everything is amazingly different in America.


May 7, 1972

I got a job in a factory the other day. My sister and brothers still do not have jobs so it’s up to me for a while to support everyone! How can I do this? I knew it would be hard, but I just wish someone could help me. I have a feeling my oldest daughter, Ann, will be a huge help. Yes, she’s only four, but her mature attitude tells me she’ll help me. With a new baby, all this has just been even more difficult!


March 2, 1973

It’s been almost a year now. Martin and Ann are in school. Bonnie’s still too young. Me, my children, my brothers, my sister and my mother are all living in the same apartment, and now I am working three jobs. Two of them are assembling telephones and other items at a factory at different companies. The first one is from 7:00 am-4:00 pm, then I go to the next one which is from 4:30 pm-1:00 am Monday through Friday. On the weekends, I work at my sister Helen’s beauty shop as a shampoo girl.


I work so hard to make money for my family, I never actually spend time with my kids. My brothers and sister all work, but they take turns watching them for me. My sister has a desperate want for the money we have all pooled together, so I set up my own checking account in the bank and started putting my money in it.


December 13, 1973

After a few fights with my sister, brother, and mother, I decided to move out and get my own place to raise my children. Everything seems to finally be working out well. I’m not working as much anymore, so I have more time to spend with the now 10 year old Martin, 7 year old Ann, and 3 year old Bonnie. For once in my lifetime, I have no worries going forward. If I can come here and raise a family, I can do anything.

Wedding Dress Ad (E.C.)

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Okra & White Rice Recipe (E.C.)

Ingredients:

1 lb frozen Okra

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon

1 teaspoon salt (add for flavoring)

2 cans tomato paste

2 fresh tomatoes

1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 cups dry, white rice


Directions:


Okra:

Turn stove on medium-high. Fill large pot halfway up with water, and let boil. Take the frozen okra, and cut the pieces even smaller, trimming of the pointy ends. Cut fresh tomatoes in small pieces. Put all cut okra and tomatoes into the boiling water with the tomato paste. Add garlic powder. Squeeze lemon juice into the pot, then add the salt and bouillon. Check on this every 5 minutes. Taste occasionally, and add the appropriate flavoring. Bring down heat to low and let it cook.


Rice:

In the meantime, begin making the rice. Take out another pot, this one medium sized. Put two cups white rice into the pot, then add four cups of water. Put stove on high heat and boil. When it begins to boil, turn heat down to low and cover with lid. Let the rice cook for about 10 minutes, and check on it often. When it's done cooking, let it cool for 10-30 minutes.


After both okra and rice are fully cooked and cooled enough, pour rice into a bowl, and cover with the okra/tomatoes. Great for everyday meals or family gatherings/holidays! Enjoy!

Works Cited

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Full Interview

Bailey Meyers

Iraq to Chicago by Bailey Meyers