Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Ibrahim Bakoush, May 14, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Growing up in Libya

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I am Jack Wilson I am interviewing Ibrahim Bakoush.

Segment Synopsis: Ibrahim Bakoush was born in Benghazi in August, 1957. He is one of six children. His family is still in Libya. He studied business and accounting for an associate degree. His father was in the importing furniture business. Ibrahim had a dream to come to the United States but his father said no until in 1979 Gaddafi nationalized his father's business. Then he said, "Go." Ibrahim said, "Any young man would want to go to the U.S."

Keywords: Benghazi (Libya); Business; Family; Libya; Muammar Gaddafi; Nationalization

Subjects: Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.

GPS: Benghazi, Libya
Map Coordinates: 32.116667, 20.066667
00:05:57 - Coming to the U.S. and education

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Partial Transcript: Uh, so how did it come about? You, you just applied for a visa?

Segment Synopsis: Bakoush's cousin who went to the U.S. two months earlier sent him a student visa form and he applied to the American Embassy in Tripoli a few months before the Embassy was closed. He came in summer 1979 to go to the University of Southern Mississippi where his cousin was. He had enough English to go through the airport. He went to the English Institute for ESL. Then he studied business administration at Phillips College in New Orleans and then went to Brevard Community College in Florida for an associate degree in business administration.

Keywords: Brevard Community College; English as a second language (ESL); I-20; Phillips Junior College; Tripoli; University of Southern Mississippi

Subjects: Education; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants

GPS: University of Southern Mississippi
Map Coordinates: 31.329638, -89.333847
GPS: Phillips Junior College
Map Coordinates: 29.894928,-90.1073432
GPS: Brevard Community College
Map Coordinates: 28.169972, -80.668911
00:10:05 - Adjusting to America

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Partial Transcript: And what--did the u--was the United States what you expected it to be when you came?

Segment Synopsis: He talks about coming to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. "It was a hard time for a Middle Eastern student." The Iranian hostage crisis had just started. "Everybody who is foreign is Iranian. People told us where to go and not to go." There were kind-hearted people at the school and he was accepted by students. He could be confused with an Iranian. Five students from Benghazi moved to Florida so they had a small community of Libyans.

Keywords: Adjustment; Florida; Hattiesburg (Miss.); Influence; Iranian Revolution; Iranian hostage crisis; Libyan student community

Subjects: Acculturation.; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants

GPS: Hattiesburg (Miss.)
Map Coordinates: 31.315833, -89.308611
00:15:02 - Coming to Lexington, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: And when you finished your, uh, associates degree--

Segment Synopsis: At the end of Ramadan in his last semester, Bakoush was invited by a cousin to come to Lexington. He visited the new mosque on South Limestone and felt he belonged. So he came to Lexington in 1983. With a scholarship from Gaddafi's government because Gaddafi wanted to keep students out of the opposition, he went to Eastern Kentucky University for a business administration degree but stopped in his senior year because he was working with the opposition believing that Gaddafi would be overthrown. Then the Libyan government stopped paying tuition and he needed to work full-time. He counsels refugees: "Do not depend on the government here for help. I encourage everyone to work."

Keywords: Further education; Libyan opposition; Mosques; Muammar Gaddafi; Participation in Libyan opposition; Ramadan; Relocating to Kentucky; Relocation; Scholarships

Subjects: Eastern Kentucky University; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Eastern Kentucky University
Map Coordinates: 37.734155, -84.301434
00:23:58 - Jobs

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Partial Transcript: And so what kinds of jobs, uh, did you do?

Segment Synopsis: Bakoush has done many jobs: worked in construction, had a cleaning business for hoods and exhaust systems for restaurants, drove a tractor trailer, and managed doctor's office doing billing. He was the second person with an accent to drive a cab in Lexington in 1987. He had a gas station and convenience store in Richmond but he got tired of working seven days a week so he ran a car lot for a friend for about 11 years. He now has a body shop on his own and sells cars here and in Libya when things are peaceful.

Keywords: Body shops; Car lots; Careers; Cleaning; Gas stations; Jobs; Occupations; Taxis; Work

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment--Kentucky; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Richmond (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.724167, -84.292778
00:28:20 - Family

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Partial Transcript: Since, uh, I have, have met your daughter I know you have a family.

Segment Synopsis: Bakoush's first marriage was 1984-1994 to a Muslim American. His second marriage was a traditional arranged marriage to a Libyan. The families met in Egypt for the wedding and he applied for a visa for his wife. He has a son studying at Eastern Kentucky University, a daughter who has just graduated from high school and beginning at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, a daughter in middle school, and a daughter beginning kindergarten.

Keywords: Bluegrass Community and Technical College; Eastern Kentucky University; Egypt; Traditional Marriage

Subjects: Children; Education; Families.; Marriage

GPS: Egypt
Map Coordinates: 26, 30
00:32:35 - Lexington as place to live

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Partial Transcript: I'm, I'm going to say something about when we first start talking, talking about North Africa...

Segment Synopsis: Bakoush talks about Lexington not being the best place for exporting cars so he thought about moving to Savannah or Houston. His wife said, "I am not moving from Lexington, Kentucky. This is home." Lexington was the place for Libyans to come in the 1990s. The community was very close knit. They have the same background, all involved in opposition against Gaddafi. On holidays like Ramadan, Libyans from elsewhere will come to Lexington and will sometimes move here because of the close community. "Lexington has almost everything you want, a good city. I really love it." Today there are about 40 families from Libya, with about 10 doctors coming.

Keywords: Gaddafi opposition; Home; Libyan community; Muammar Gaddafi

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.).

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
00:39:25 - Acculturation

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Partial Transcript: Uh, in, uh, what ways do you think--you've been here a number of years now.

Segment Synopsis: In summer 2012, after the revolution, Bakoush went home for the first time in 33 years. "Extremely beautiful for me." A group called the Breakfast Club used to meet at Great Harvest Bakery. "To them [in Libya] I am Americanized and to my friends in America I am still a little different in culture, but to me living here I don't know which came from Libya or which I picked up as a habit here I couldn't separate one from another. Totally, this is just me."

Keywords: Adjustment; Americanized; Libya

Subjects: Acculturation; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Libya
Map Coordinates: 27, 17
00:42:40 - Why immigrants come to America / Identity

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Partial Transcript: Uh, maybe, maybe going back a little bit now, but maybe now too. What kinds of questions do people ask you about Libya, for example?

Segment Synopsis: Americans ask Bakoush about culture, infrastructure, education, and why he didn't go back. "Some people now come to America for economic reasons, for chance to improve their status, some people come for peace of mind, some people come for doing something better, doctors to do research, some for political reasons." Americans may still ask where Libya is, they do not realize that Crete is only 200 miles away. He "sells" Lexington and Kentucky a lot. He tells a story about someone asking for directions, then hearing his accent, and going on the wrong way. When asked, he says, "I am from Lexington. I lived here longer than in Benghazi. Deep down I am from Benghazi."

Keywords: Kentucky; Living in Lexington

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Identity (Psychology); Immigrants--Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.).

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Benghazi, Libya
Map Coordinates: 32.116667, 20.066667
00:49:32 - Contributions to Kentucky / Advantages of the U.S.

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Partial Transcript: I think I said before we s, we s, we started that one of the reasons we got into this project was...

Segment Synopsis: "Immigrants contribute education, culture, taxes." He works with "refugees who value the chance in this country." Americans take some things for granted. He tells a story about being stopped by a policeman for speeding and he disputed it in court and it was worked out. "That would not happen in other countries." He talks about opportunity: "Where in the rest of the world, for example, would a person of color come, meet a Caucasian lady, have a child, and that child become president." That is the value a lot of people born here don't think about. "My son and the son of whoever is here have the same opportunity." He doesn't think they have same chance in Europe, maybe in Canada. In the mid '80s one shelter at Jacobson Park would be enough to break Ramadan for the Muslim community. Now it takes Heritage Hall at the Convention Center. He is active in the mosque on Limestone. He concludes, "I value this country in a different way than people who were born here because I have seen both sides. There is nothing wrong with loving two countries."

Keywords: Contributions; Heritage Hall; Jacobson Park; Justice; Ramadan; United States; Value of U.S.

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants--Kentucky

GPS: Kentucky
Map Coordinates: 37.5, -85
GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722