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The Immigrants

by Marina Celeste (De Mirza) Little


My father, Joel James Gabriel De Mirza, fled his homeland of Iran in 1904 with his parents, Zaya and Rachel De Mirza, at the age of three because his fellow countrymen were being massacred in the late 1800's and 1914-1915 by the Ottoman Turks for their Christian faith. They traveled by ship to the USA, but my father was not allowed into the country because of conjunctivitis, an eye infection commonly known as "pink eye." The family then went to live in Canada for a couple of years. Afterwards, the family left Canada in 1906 and entered into the USA from the region of Niagara Falls. 

The De Mirza family of three then settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All seven of my father's siblings were born in "Philly." There were four boys and four girls, but the youngest boy died at a young age from dysentery, after eating chocolate laxatives, thinking it was candy. Zaya De Mirza supported his family as a carpenter. Rachel, my grandmother, was a homemaker who stayed at home to take care of her children. My grandfather was quite a bit older than my grandmother--about 23 years or so. My grandmother was married at the age of 12 to my grandfather, who was about 35, as was the tradition among Middle Easterners in the "old country" of Iran at the time.

My father joined the U.S. Army-Air Force during WWII, and was commissioned as a Captain. He served as an ordnance officer in Guam, which means that he and his small task force went ahead of our US troops and cleared the mines (ordnance) that the Japanese had planted, so that our servicemen wouldn't get blown up by the mines. His team of ordnance specialists, who I call his "bomb squad," consisted of about eight men, which I recall from a photo of my father standing in front of his crew. When I see the photo, I can't help smiling because my Dad was small in stature (about 5'4"), with a group of large, robust men standing behind him.

My father met my mother while he was stationed in Jackson, MS for a time. They married when she was 17 years old and he was 43, keeping the tradition of his Middle Eastern heritage, where older men married much younger women. It's still a cultural tradition which is followed by some ethnic groups in the Middle East in modern times. My grandfather, Zaya, died in Philadelphia when he was about 80 years old. The rest of the family, my grandmother and her 7 children, then moved to Miami, FL.

My father survived WWII and came back to the USA, where my mother was living with his mother and six siblings in Miami, FL. My parents bought their own home in Miami. My parents, being Catholic, had four children, all daughters, as my father attended the University of Miami on the GI Bill. He earned his BA Degree in English and Broadcasting in the mid-1950's. After he graduated, he became a realtor. There were three more children born into my family, two boys and another girl, for a total of seven children. We then moved to Sarasota, FL, where my father became a successful realtor.

My father's two surviving brothers were dentists and one of his sisters was a dental hygienist. All of them worked together in their own dental practice in Miami. His other three sisters all married and raised families of their own. My father and my paternal grandmother were the only two in the family (other than my paternal grandfather, who I never met because he died before I was born) who spoke Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke. I liked listening to them speak with each other. They spoke an eastern dialect of Aramaic called Syriac Aramaic. Jesus spoke a western dialect of Aramaic. Unfortunately, I only learned a few words and phrases from them. Now, I'm studying Aramaic and learning more on my own.

I've had my DNA tested, along with two of my sisters, and we're currently communicating via email with a couple of our Assyro-Chaldean relatives here in the USA. It should be interesting to see how expansive our family is, considering how it could easily have been massacred in the genocide of 1914-1915. One of my sisters, Renee, has learned from a newly-found cousin in the USA that one of our great-uncles named Abraham was able to leave Iran and immigrate to the USA around the time of the massacre. Sadly, he had to leave a wife and daughter in Iran because the Ottoman Turks had prevented them from leaving. A Presbyterian minister who was on mission in Iran during that time was trying to help Abraham's wife leave, but she couldn't get out of Iran. We don't know what happened to their daughter.

The Turkish government still denies to this day that a systematic genocide of Assyrian, Armenian, Greek, and Jewish people occurred during WWI. Many reputable historians say that there were approximately 1.5 million people massacred by the Ottoman Turks in 1914-1915. There is an interesting book about the genocide entitled, "The Burning Tigris," written by Peter Balakian, an Armenian Humanities professor at Colgate University in New York, which I recommend. It's a sad account of the way that human beings treat others because of religious and cultural intolerance.

Biography: Marina Celeste (De Mirza) Little is a semi-retired English teacher, whose usual form of creative expression is writing poetry. Her poem, "Archaeologist's Lament" was published in the 2016 seasonal issue of the "River Poets Journal."


Email address:marinacelestialfire4u2@yahoo.com


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