Monday, February 23, 2009

The Coffee Man

Adrian Gonzalez, employee of Just Coffee in Aqua Prieta, Mexico.

This past week I had the unique opportunity of visiting this one of a kind coffee companies called Just Coffee in Aqua Prieta, Mexico. According to the Just Coffee website, "The idea behind Just Coffee is to address one of the root causes of labor migration from Mexico to the USA." Instead of the several middle men in most coffee companies, the growers are from Chiapas, Mexico where it is then brought to Agua Prieta to be roasted and airtight sealed in a bag. This provides fair profit for the growers. The coffee is then brought legally across the border to Douglas, Arizona where it is send out by UPS trucks and distributed to several churches and stores throughout Tucson, Arizona. 

While I was visiting, I met a man by the name of Adrian Gonzalez, who was the only member of the company who was able to communicate in English to me, and I felt it was important to tell his story and how he got started with Just Coffee.

Gonzalez has been working with Just Coffee, a free trade coffee company, for the past six years, and said his favorite part about his job is the fact that, "I get free coffee every morning."

From 2000-2001, Gonzalez moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he worked at a golf course, but moved back to his home town in Aqua Prieta when his father asked him to help with his new screen printing business he had recently started. 

Gonzalez holding a bag of his favorite blend.

"It wasn't for me though," said Gonzalez. Therefore, Gonzalez caught word of a coffee company that was to be started by the local church he attended, and heard they had an opening.

"I knew nothing about coffee but I knew it sounded like a great experience and a lot of fun," said Gonzalez, adding that, "There is no way you can say anything bad about this concept because it is a perfect solution." He said especially with the way the economy is in America today, more people are inclined to purchase free trade products because it makes the most sense.  

Now, after more than six years of working with Just Coffee, Gonzalez still loves his job and does not plan to leave anytime soon. 

Gonzalez said his new dream is to go to school so he can receive a degree in International Business. He said he learned to speak English when he started working for Just Coffee by talking with customers in America on the phone, through email, and from the tour groups that come at least once a week to visit Just Coffee. He said it took him two years to be completely fluent and comfortable with using the language on a day to day basis. He said it was hard in the beginning because he was afraid to use the wrong word, for instance, "This one time we were trying to find someone to ship the coffee, but instead of saying ship I kept using the word shit...that was embarassing," said Gonzalez laughing.

Gonzalez recently married a woman he met seven years ago at his local church, the same church that started Just Coffee.  

The employees of Just Coffee in Aqua Prieta at their roasting location.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A New Life

Sherry Mohammady grew up in a Qazvin, a small town located in Iran. While she was growing up she had eight brothers and sisters, and she was right in the middle. Her father was a businessman working as an icemaker for the city of Qazvin, but died in 1986 when she was only 29-years-old.

“I used to love to be outside and take care of my brothers and sisters,” said Mohammady. At sixteen-years-old, Mohammady picked up her whole life and moved to Santa Monica, California, an entirely different world from what she was used to. She left her whole family, except for one older sister who lived in Long Beach, California. Shortly after, several of her other siblings followed in her footsteps, but only two remained permanent citizens of the United States.

After asking why she came to the United States, she said in order to get into the Iranian university, you have to pass a very difficult exam where thousands apply and only around 100 are accepted. She said Iran did not have as many universities to continue education as America, so in order to further her education she had to come to America.

“I still loved Iran, but I knew there was so much more opportunity for me in America,” said Mohammady. She went to Santa Monica College where graduated and continued at San Diego State, where she received her Bachelors in health education.

"I like America but I think of Iran everyday." -Sherry Mohammady speaking in Farsi

She met a man by the name of Siamak Jalali during her college days and married him at the age of 21. They stayed in San Diego to pursue their lives and four-years-later they had a daughter, Leila, and five years after had another daughter, Neda. Mohammady now works for a children’s hospital where she is in charge of billing.

When I asked her the major differences between living in Iran compared to America, she said “I just knew America had a lot more opportunity, especially for women and I knew I had to come to America to get a good education and a new life.” She said she still calls Iran her home and misses it all the time, but knew she wanted to raise her family in America instead of Iran. She said in Iran, the women are the ones who stay home and take care of the children. Some of the women work, but a majority do not, and knew that was not the life she wanted.

However, Mohammady said living in Iran now would be much different from when she lived there. She said, “Now people have a lot more freedom so it is a lot different to live there now than when I did. Religion is more of a public thing now than a private thing like when I was young. Religious people did not have any part of the government or other everyday living.”

As far as the difference in culture between America and Iran, she said there are many differences. “When I came to America I had to start an entirely new life because I knew nothing about American culture before I came here.” She said in Iran, people spend a lot more time with their family. The days are more relaxed and when it comes to family the have their daily teatime. “It doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that we are all together as a family,” said Mohammady. She also said it is really stressed upon to focus on their education and schoolwork.

When I asked her about her views on becoming a citizen in the United States, she said, “If we are so proud of being a nation of a lot of opportunities then they should make it easier for those who want to become citizens to do so.” She said the brothers and sisters she has back home in Iran have wanted to come to America for a long time, but cannot do so because of the rigorous process.

However, she said the process is just as hard as other countries. “You can never become an Iranian citizen unless you marry an Iranian, and then you will be able to become a citizen, but other than that you cannot,” said Mohammady.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Norwegian American

Last week I focused on Michelle Connolly and her story of being an American growing up in Norway.  But this week I will talk about her husband, Jan (pronounced yawn) Svendsen, who was born and raised with his parents and two brothers in Stavanger, Norway, a small town located along the coast.  Svendsen had never been to America until 1990 when he came to visit Connolly's father in California, and has now come back to live and has resided in Arizona for nearly three years.
Svendsen and Connolly on their wedding day, 1997, in Norway.
Pictured from left to right: Ted Connolly (Michelle's father), Michelle Connolly, 
Jan Svendsen, Marit Svendsen (Jan's mother), Charlotte, and Charlene.

Svendsen met Connolly in their small town of Stavanger, Norway when they were both in the second grade, and have been together ever since.  The two married in 1997, after the birth of both their children Charlene, 19, and Charlotte, 14.  Therefore, since Connolly was born in America, both girls were born in Norway as American citizens.  After they were born, Connolly and Svendsen applied for both girls to also gain their Norwegian citizenship.  Now, Charlene and Charlotte have dual citizenship and Connolly has an American citizenship only, while Jan remains still in the process to finally become an American citizen.  Svendsen said once he gains his American citizenship, he will also be able to keep his Norwegian citizenship. 

When I asked Svendsen what he thought of American border issues, he responded "I think the issue is out of control."  He added that in order to help control immigration, there needs to be more sophisticated technology that can be used to control the matter and more working legal citizens.  He said when he first came over to live in America, the process to live here legally was a huge ordeal and a very expensive process, and should be a difficult process for anyone who wants to gain American citizenship.    

In response to the major differences between living in Norway and America, "You mean besides the sun," he responded laughing.  Besides the drastic weather differences, Norway has fewer people and is much more quiet than America, adding that the people of Norway have more of a routine than Americans.  "Americans are also more polite than Norwegians," he said laughing.  Svendsen also said it is much easier to afford healthcare in Norway than in America. This is mainly because a majority of the health care system is publicly funded after workers pay a monthly tax from their pay.  

As far as jobs in Norway compared to America, "There is no such thing as a salary in Norway," said Svendsen.  He said when someone is hired as an employee in Norway, they are hired to work a certain amount of hours, and if they work close to those hours they also get paid overtime.  The working class in Norway has many more rights and much larger pay, however, they are taxed higher than in America. 

As for the difference in raising children in Norway, he said there really is not much of a difference besides that it is much safer in Norway than America.  "They can come home after dark in Norway, but I don't think it would be safe here," said Svendsen.  In addition, children do not rely on their parents to drive them because they are able to walk or take the bus just about everywhere.

Svendsen and his cousin, Terje, at their cabin on an island just outside Stavanger, Norway.

When I asked him what the major differences are from the way people live their life in Norway compared to America, he said the biggest difference is that "Norwegians do a lot more for themselves than Americans," adding that instead of hiring gardeners and cleaning ladies, Norwegians do those duties themselves.  In addition, "We spend less money than Americans.  Even if we have more money, we are more careful and don't spend it," said Svendsen.

Svendsen said out of all the adjustments he had to make when moving to America, the most difficult one was, "Not being able to do anything without my car and not living near the coastline."  In addition, he said he believes it is easier for Norwegians to adjust to life in America than for Americans to adjust to a Norwegian lifestyle, mainly because Norwegians are able to speak the language and a majority of Americans cannot. 

However, Svendsen said he enjoys living in America much more than in Norway for several reasons.  He said he especially likes America because he is able to live in Phoenix, which he enjoys because "It is a large city with a lot of opportunities," adding that the weather is beautiful MOST of the time.  He said ideally, in the future, he would like to live in Phoenix but visit Norway for a few months during the summer when the Phoenix weather is its hottest.           


Monday, February 2, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Michelle Connolly on Norway's National Day.

Michelle Connolly does not remember much about her life in America as a little girl, but now, after more than 35 years, she has come back to live, and this time it's for good.

Connolly and her mother, Astrid, moved to Norway from Torrance, California when Connolly was just four-years-old to start a new life.  

Connolly and her mother fishing on the lake outside 
their house in Norway.

Connolly grew up in a small town in Norway, where she said the biggest difference from living in Arizona was the severe weather differences.  Norway is bitter cold during the winter, and for most of the time families and friends spend time indoors to escape.  She also said America has a lot more to offer in the sense of activities and things to do compared to Norway, such as the vast selection of movies, malls,  and skating rinks.  

The biggest surprise was when Connolly told me that, "Going out to eat is almost not an option in Norway," explaining that the reason is because it is too expensive.  She added that there are no fast food restaurants or drive-throughs unless you visit a large city or shopping center. 

Connolly married Jan Svendsen and together they raised Charlene, 19, and Charlotte, 14.  As a family, they would often visit Connolly's father in Anaheim, California, and decided to move out there nearly ten years ago after Jan was offered a job.  However, they moved back to Norway after three years.  A few years after moving back to Norway, they realized as a family how much they loved America and moved to Arizona three years ago for a new life.

She said in Norway, the typical Norwegian family consists of two or three children.  Their normal day would consist of the children going to school and the parents going to work at 8 a.m.  The parents are normally finished with work by 4 p.m., come home, and have dinner ready by 5 p.m.  She said this is the most difficult transition to cope with while living in America.  Connolly's husband, Jan, often does not come home from work until late at night, and has to be at work early the next morning, often making it difficult for them to spend time together as a family.

Family in Norway on the day of Charlene's, then 14, 
Confirmation in Norway.  

When I asked Connolly about her views on border issues between Arizona and Mexico, she replied that, "It's sad that it's so easy and it makes it unfair for people who want to do it the right way."  She said when it comes to border issues in Norway, it is one of the most difficult countries to gain legal citizenship.  

While living in Norway Connolly had to apply to stay in Norway every other year, "But while we lived there it wasn't a problem."  However, when Connolly and her family moved back from California she hardly even got her green card back.  

Connolly is the only one in the family who has American citizenship only.  Charlene and Charlotte have dual citizenship in Norway and America, but Jan is still waiting to gain legal citizenship, and could have to wait another three to five years.      

Once they made their way back to America, Connolly decided to take a job at a local flower shop to make some extra money.  However, after realizing she would not be able to make more than 7 dollars an hour, she decided to open her own flower shop called The Connolly Store.  "I always knew I wanted to work with flowers," said Connolly.    

She said when she moved to Arizona it did not cross her mind that she would not be making as much money as she was used to in Norway.  "When we came back from California I was the only one who worked and we were fine," she said, adding that, "I love it here and I wouldn't move back, but if you have a regular job it's much easier to live a comfortable life in Norway." 

Although Connolly and her family live happily in America, they still go back to visit family and friends every summer to escape the hot Arizona heat.  She said many family members and friends have come to visit them in Arizona, and said, "Everybody who has come here has loved it and we love it too."
A fjord where Connolly's grandfather lived in Norway.