Winning the green-card lottery

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
“Nobody judges you here,” said Arzu Demircan, left, an immigrant from Turkey and the co-owner, with Ozgul Ucan, right, of Leggings World in Crossgates Mall. “When I smile, I get the same back.” 

GUILDERLAND — For Arzu Demircan, who came to the United States from Turkey a year ago, being allowed to wear a headscarf is a form of freedom.

At 33, she co-owns a new legging store in Crossgates Mall.

She loves living here, she said this week, because she feels free here.

She spoke to The Enterprise through an interpreter, Ozgul Ucan, the store’s co-owner; Ucan’s spoken English is more readily proficient, since she immigrated here 18 years ago.

Demircan received a green card in the USA Diversity Lottery in 2016. She was one of about 55,000 people worldwide selected that year — all are from countries with low immigration rates to the United States — to win permanent residency cards.

Women in Turkey now are free to wear headscarves, said Demircan — both she and Ucan are Muslim — but she remembers the days, about 15 or 20 years ago, when she was in school and headscarves were forbidden. At that time, she said, “You could not live your religion freely.”

Girls in Turkey are encouraged to stay in school and go to college, just the way boys are, she said.

Demircan spent eight years in Turkey working as a preschool teacher. She had done two years of study toward a master’s degree in early-childhood education and was close to finishing when she won the green-card lottery.

Her dream is to become a teacher in the United States, when her ability in English allows.  “Because of language, it takes time,” she said through Ucan. Eventually, she would like to get a doctorate and work in the field of education, perhaps as a professor. She has learned that some of her coursework in Turkey will count toward a degree, she said.

Demircan is here with her husband, who works delivering pizzas, and their two sons, ages 9 and 5. The older boy attends Westmere Elementary School, and the younger is still in preschool. The family is living in an apartment complex in Guilderland. Demircan said she is slowly making friends in the complex, with people, for instance, she regularly sees walking their dogs.

Her main reason for wanting to come to the United States was for her children, she said — so that they could have a good education and have the freedom to make whatever future they want for themselves.

Demircan and Ucan did not know one another in Turkey, but met in the United States through their husbands, who are friends. Ucan is 31 years old, and has two children as well, who are 10 and 5.

Their husbands both help out a lot with the child care, the women said; Ucan’s husband recently finished a long-term temporary job with the state and is now looking for work when he is not helping out behind the scenes at the store.

The children sometimes come to the store in the evening, the women said, and play together. Ucan said her daughter likes to help out at the counter.

Asked why they picked leggings to sell, Demircan said, “It had to be something that would catch the interest of women. Women like shopping.”

The two women thought about leggings, because they are very popular, they are comfortable, and “almost all ladies wear it,” they said. They had friends who had opened leggings stores in other parts of the state and decided to do the same. The leggings come from a wholesale distributor in Texas.

They borrowed money from friends to be able to start the business.

Leggings World, which opened in August, is on the mall’s first floor, across from the escalator leading down from Best Buy. So far, business has been a little slow during the week, and better on weekends, the women said. Just this week, Demircan and Ucan opened a second shop, in Viaport Rotterdam.

Asked how much rent they pay at Crossgates, Demircan simply said, “Our earnings are somewhat OK to pay for the rent and supplies.”

One customer recently looked around the Crossgates shop and then gave Demircan a hug, the women recounted. The woman was happy to find so many leggings in one place, Demircan said.

Demircan grew up in the country’s capital of Ankara, and got her education there. Asked what she misses about Turkey, she said, “Family, Istanbul, and my friends.”

Istanbul is a place that she loved to visit a couple of times a year, Demircan said, for its historical sites like the Topkapi Palace; the Sultan Ahmet mosque; and the Hagia Sophia, the first cathedral of the Roman Empire, now a museum. She loves seeing the Bosphorus, or the Strait of Istanbul, “where we can see Europe and the Asian side of Istanbul at the same time.”

They have not had any negative experiences in the United States, both women said. There have no hostile comments about headscarves or about going back to their home country.

“Nobody judges you here,” said Demircan. “When I smile, I get the same back.”

More Guilderland News