Open Your Arms!

Editing, Storytelling, writing

Written by Jim Toukatly. Edited by Jessica Toukatly. Shared with the author’s permission. 


In 1915, the Toukatly family were Syrian immigrants fleeing an Islamic government which was carrying out the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Massacre. They fled their home in Mardin, Turkey. My grandfather, who was about 25 years old, had no education. His wife was 14 years old. They offered America nothing in terms of skill. They didn’t speak English, could not read or write, and they had no money, yet America let them in. The US soon after passed laws to forbid immigration from Asia. (The Middle East is considered part of Asia.) Court cases ensued and after a lot of fighting and confusion Arabs from the Middle East were allowed to stay.

Americans didn’t hate them because they were different. They were given a chance. A chance that they didn’t have in the Turkish/Syrian town that they were from. Although Mardin is in Turkey, it is just across the border from Syria and the people there are predominantly Syrian. Borders weren’t a big deal at that time and everyone there said that they were Syrian.

In America, specifically Utica, NY, they failed.