The Legend of How a Family Came To America


“My great grandfather, or so the legend goes, was an apprentice in a barbershop in the Ottoman empire in this town of Gaziantep, and um one day um the chief barber was out um and so my great grandfather was just sweeping up, just engaging in sort of barberly, apprentice activities, and some official of the sultan came in for a shave, and my great grandfather really wasn’t prepared to engage in the art of shaving with a straight razor because it’s quite arduous, um, you need to be trained to do it or else it can be quite ugly, um but seeing it was an opportunity to win favor, you know, with the sultan, and it’s interesting to note that although Jews were not the majority religion they still favored the rule of the sultan, who had invited the Spanish-Jewish refugees to come live in the ottoman empire and treated them quite well, they favored him to the secular young Turks who for Jews to serve in the army, and the Jews who were an observant people and had their religious beliefs and observed dietary laws and what not didn’t want to eat food that wouldn’t have been kosher and to not observe their holidays and secularize, they wanted to have their own educational system and what not, so they were more on the side of the sultan than they were on the side of the secularizers. So as a result I think he saw this probably as a way to win some of the favor of the sultan, give him a good shave or whatever, so he, the apprentice goes and gives this guy a shave, um… you know what happens next (claps hands)…you know like blood dripping down from a terrible botched shave and this guy, this official in the ottoman government, like, like threatens to like kill him, like run him out of the country. So what the next thing that happens, according to family legend, is that he runs away…to America, and that’s how we got here.”


This is a story that the informant, a 19-year-old USC student born and raised in Los Angeles, has been told “many times over” by his family. He is not sure about the “actual, factual element of it,” though he claims it “has been passed off as something that actually happened.” He says that it “has been told so many times” that it has become a part of his family’s legacy. “It can’t be true,” he says, “or could it?”


That the informant says that the story “can’t be true” and then immediately returns with “or could it?” coupled with its real-life setting indicates that it is a legend. That said, that the story has been passed down and told so frequently points to its important position within the informant’s family history. Whether or not it is true is irrelevant; what matters is that a prominent event in a family’s history, its moving to America after being rooted in the same place for hundreds of years, is remembered as an extraordinary event.