BY MANUEL MAGPAPIAN
Everyone grows up hearing about the American Dream and the incredible people who achieve it. Growing up, I heard about Hakop, a man who immigrated from a Soviet country with nothing to his name and achieved his maximum potential.
In the stories I’d heard about Hakop’s life, I learned that his childhood came to an end when he was 16 after the sudden passing of his father. As a result of this, Hakop, the only son in the family, took it upon himself to be the burden-bearer of the family. He continued going to school, but after school, he would work long hours to be able to provide for his mother and siblings. It was this work ethic, this life experience, that paved the journey to success in the future.
Hakop’s story is the story of an immigrant fleeing the Soviet Union and seeking refuge in the United States. He didn’t know the language, the customs, the culture, or what the future had in store for him in a completely foreign land. It was his desire to overcome obstacles and succeed that helped him continue striving for greatness, even if his path to it was not clear yet.
His story is not a unique one. It is the story of the Armenian spirit struggling but succeeding to bend their arc of history toward survival. A spirit that has gone through thousands of years of turmoil only to establish an independent Republic. He is one of many individuals in similar circumstances who found a home in another country, but ultimately maintained their identity and above all, provided a better life for the generations that would come after them.
In the early 1980s, Hakop bought a lunch truck and made deals with local factories that would allow him to drive into their parking lots and serve the best Mexican food; a novel concept at the time. It was a financial risk, but it was something he saw potential in so his determination never faltered, his resolve never betrayed him; he needed to survive and flourish at all costs and he made it happen.
By the mid-1990s, he had grown his company to 20 trucks with “Jack’s Catering” written in red, white, and blue colored font. He made something he was proud of with his own two hands, his perseverance, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. Throughout his life, he would wake up at four o’clock in the morning, drive to his trucks, prepare for his shifts, and come home at 9:30 at night after a long day’s work, all to ensure that his family was provided all the options this country had to offer.
He was a man who never judged someone based on the color of their skin or where they were from but rather based on the virtues of their character. He was a person who gave people second and third chances by providing them jobs on his trucks in the hopes that they would turn their life around. He taught me to never treat someone differently just because they were of a different ethnicity or believed in a different faith; instead to treat every person with the same amount of respect you would expect for yourself.
Ten years ago, on July 22, 2010, Hakop passed away after having achieved the American Dream. He left behind the legacy of hard work, determination, and success against all odds.
This man, Hakop Magpapian, was my father. I was 21 years old when he passed away. My college graduation was just weeks before his passing. Though I am glad I shared that accomplishment with him, I was right on the cusp of my own path toward accomplishing the American Dream. I was heartbroken that he’d never see where that path would take me. I wanted him to know that I appreciated the sacrifices he made for my future and that I would make something of my life.
Now, ten years later, I realize that he does see the path that I am on. He just doesn’t see it from the same angle that I see it from. I know he would be proud of how far my sister and I have gotten, but it pains me that he can’t be here with us to share his pride in person, to see the fruit of his labor, and to see that the next generation is building on the dream that he had.
My father once told me “Someday you will tell your child that you had a great father and you will realize all the sacrifices I made to give you and your sister a better life.” 10 years later, I can proudly say that I truly did have a great father. He was a man who immigrated here from the Soviet Union, looked for a better life for his family and created an empire out of nothing. He knew little of the English language or the American culture but he had an American-like resolve, determination, and work ethic. He knew that as long as he worked hard nothing was going to be able to stop him. It’s the story of us; the story of America.
Rest in peace Hakop Magpapian. You were a great father and I miss you dearly. Until we meet again.