Karli_Flipbook_6th Flipbook PDF
FLIP PDF 5.12MB
Babamız (Our Father)
By Karli Tosun Narrative of Kasım Cyrus Tosun
A note to readers: As you read, consider the role of Kasım's various immigrant experiences and family upbringing throughout his American journey and how they shaped him into the person who he is today.
My grandmother, Zeynep, cared for her two children as a single mother in the rural town of Malatya, Turkey, waiting for her husband, Hasan, to return from New York and bring the family to America. Zeynep lived off of the remittance sent by Hasan and spent her days cooking, cleaning,
and playing games with her kids. Although the siblings were only a year apart, Kasım's older sister, Mine, was incredibly protective of her brother and played a significant role in helping Kasım adapt to life throughout their immigration journey. The two grew up playing kickball outside on the dirt roads, sleeping on the rooftops of village homes during the summertime, and spending quality time with relatives.
This top image shows Kasım with his cousins (Sema, Ali, Kasım, Ismail), whom he and Mine spent much of their time with throughout their childhood, living in separate levels of the same housing unit. Something that the children shared in common was the absence of their father. Kasım's uncle sponsored Hasan to come to America, and both men spent years trying to bring their families and start a new successful, stable life in the country. The photo captures the cousins' close relationship, as they stand together in front of a mudbrick village home. In the photograph to the left, Kasım and his aunt pose in front of a nearby elementary school. Before indulging in their favorite dessert, Kasım and his cousins would place the tubes of chocolate paste on top of this school's gate, waiting for the chocolate to melt just enough so that they could easily push it out and devour the sweet treat.
The Tosun family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1977 when Kasım was just short of his fifth birthday. The bustling, urban environment filled with busy workers and loud horns stood in stark contrast with Kasım's quiet, simple life in Turkey characterized by cordial villagers and horse carriages. On bitterly cold winter days, the kids would bundle up and walk to school, sometimes to find that it was cancelled due to the snow. Not only did Kasım and Mine have to assimilate to American culture, but they also had to adjust to the notion of having a father; their family was now finally intact. As the assertive, hard worker he was, Hasan was rarely emotionally available and usually was not at home, working two jobs to sustain the family.
Eventually, Kasım's uncle moved to San Mateo, California, and Hasan decided to follow his brother to the suburban city. Moving to California was a big transition for Kasım; he had left all of his family friends and school friends in New York, but he was also happy to be together with his cousins and spent most of his free time playing basketball for fun. This is a family photo of the Tosuns during their first year in San Mateo. Kasım and Mine attended San Mateo Park Elementary School, and both Zeynep and Hasan established a small tailor shop business, continuing their work as tailors that they began in New York.
During his high school years, Kasım and his family lived in the San Mateo Knolls neighborhood, where they would see a constant stream of visitors throughout the week. Turkish family friends would be chatting loudly, smoking cigarettes, and playing backgammon late into the night, which was disruptive at times for Kasım as a student. Being immersed in Turkish culture and values would sometimes bring about questions of identity with the American culture he experienced at school and with friends. Because of this, he looked forward to a fresh start in college. Graduation from Hillsdale High School came quickly, and with it came the unfolding of a new chapter of Kasım's life.
In 1994, Kasım (now Cyrus, his middle name that he preferred to go by), graduated from UC Berkeley as a political science major and as the first college graduate in his family. University was a "life-altering experience" during which he grappled with his identity as a Turkish-American, relished the academic rigor, and was inspired by the depth of his professors and the community of Berkeley. The progressive nature of the school also helped the student shape his view of politics and discover a passion for understanding the deeper roots of societal issues.
A few months after his graduation, Cyrus worked as a Congressional intern for Tom Lantos (12th District CA, House of Representatives). For six months as an intern in Washington D.C., Cyrus conducted research in the Library of Congress, sat in on hearings of the Human Rights Caucus that Lantos chaired, and enjoyed visiting Georgetown and downtown D.C. with friends. This image of Cyrus in front of the U.S. Capitol building represents his accomplishments as an immigrant from a working class family; having the chance to work in the halls of Congress was something he had never dreamed of. While he learned a lot about politics, he also discovered that it was not something he was passionate about pursuing further. He decided to return to the Bay Area and pursue a career in the private sector.
On April 28th, 2001, Cyrus married Thuy Anh Truong, whom he met in 1997 at work. Like Cyrus, Anh was also an immigrant who overcame the odds of growing up in a working class family.
Cyrus's father Hasan was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2000. This photograph was taken a year before Hasan passed away, when Cyrus was grief-stricken and in a state of shock that his father was battling the terminal disease. Looking back on it twenty years later, he points out, "From getting married to having a death in the family was a very 'rollercoaster' experience." Cyrus's father's death in 2002 was a sobering moment that brought him to Genentech a few years later. He joined the biotechnology company hoping to make a difference in people's lives and help find a cure for cancer.
This is a photo from 2014 of Cyrus in his Genentech office. Alongside being an IT leader at the company, he has facilitated a lot of leadership development and has been coaching and mentoring others in servant leadership principles. Through his work, he says, "I realized that my true passion was awakening other people to their fullest potential."
Post-script: Cyrus continues to live in San Mateo with Anh and their two daughters, Karli and Melodi, watching them grow up supported by the foundation he was able to build for them. Listening to stories about my father's American journey has deepened my awareness and empathy for immigrants who dream of creating a better life for themselves. They must work though and overcome obstacles such as family separation, poverty, and cultural assimilation throughout a transformative journey, motivated by the desire to thrive in an environment with opportunity for all.