By Any Means: How an Immigrant Family Refused to Fail

Many immigrants came to America seeking more significant economic opportunity. 

African slaves were sent here to become an economic opportunity. 133 years after the Emancipation Proclamation my parents, Salome and Karen Rushdan, found themselves somewhere in the middle when they decided to uproot a life in Barbados and move to America.

In the 2010 US Census estimation report, over 62,000 Barbadian Americans live in the U.S., the majority in the New York City area extending from Rhode Island to Delaware. In past years, some also moved to the regions of Chicago, Illinois, and Boston, Massachusetts.

“I had to get a friend of mine in NY to apply for me. Basically, she had to give in all our information.” Karen said. “Salome was already a citizen, so it was a little easier.”

“When we moved here in 1996, Salome and I switched between evening jobs trying to find one that paid the most,” Karen said.

“Every job wanted experience, and none cared what you did in Barbados before you came. Everything was based on the here and now. We bought a car and lived very, very humbly as the reality of not having ever established credit hit us in the face, also having a new driver's license meant we had to pay higher premiums for insurance.”

Because of the lack of American work experience, Salome became a man of many trades.

“I was even turned down by the sanitation department to drive or pick up trash. In the beginning, one of the jobs I had was driving cars off the trains in Baltimore. Most of the people I worked with were convicted or something because they all wore ankle bracelets.”

After a series of brief stints at a host of other jobs in Baltimore, Salome got a job in the car sales market in the District of Columbia. He met a man named Abu Muaz Khan who helped him turn his passion into an economic opportunity.

“In my mind, I was helping a friend by telling him about buying and selling cars. He took a class at Prince Georges Community College in auto mechanics and started buying from the car auction in DC.

“He became a member of the auction, and he would go buy the cars, and between him doing the maintenance he would have any body work done by a body shop in DC,” Khan said.

Karen and Salome Rushdan became the embodiment of hard work paying off. A couple of houses and cars later, they comfortably lead an upper-middle-class life.