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Chamber breakfast hosts talk by immigrants who succeeded in the U.S.

  • Arjen Vriend, of Pioneer Gardens, tells of growing his business here in the U.S. at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Abaz Cecunjanin, of Terrrazza Ristorante, tells his story from being an immigrant to becoming a successful businessman and citizen at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Geetu Shooken, who emigrated from India, tells of becoming the owner of Montague Dental Arts in the U.S. at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Geetu Shooken, originally from India, and other local immigrants tell their stories at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2019 12:17:16 AM
Modified: 4/27/2019 12:17:05 AM

GREENFIELD — Abaz Cecunjanin came to this country as an illegal immigrant.

The owner of Terrazza Ristorante on Country Club Road, who arrived in the U.S. from the former Yugoslavia when he was 11, said he left a worn-torn area for a better life.

“All I knew about America was from the movies,” he said. “I had family here. I knew it would be difficult, but I came.”

Today, his extended family owns 26 restaurants nationwide.

“We truly are made in America,” he said.

Cecunjanin said he went from working in a kitchen to owning the popular local restaurant.

“My dad told me, when I was younger, to keep the wind behind me and show people how hard I could work,” Cecunjanin said. “That’s what I did.”

He said that though it was very difficult at times, he did what he was supposed to do — worked hard and relied on the help of open-minded individuals and communities. He said he finally learned English and got his U.S. citizenship.

“Immigration is good for jobs and for all of us,” he said.

Cecunjanin was one of three immigrants who spoke at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning as part of the organization’s continuation of its 100-year celebration. The event was held at Terrazza.

Arjen Vriend, owner of Pioneer Gardens in Deerfield, followed Cecunjanin, telling his own tale of leaving the Netherlands for America.

“I arrived in 1988, when I was not quite 20 years old,” Vriend said.

He said it wasn’t always easy.

“It took me 16 years to get my green card,” Vriend said. “In 2015, I got citizenship.”

Vriend said he studied horticulture and in 1992, he owned 1 acre. By 1995, he was working at Pioneer Gardens full time and by 2011 or so, he and his colleague owned 60 acres.

“It was a bit of a struggle, but I found my niche and here I am,” he said.

Today, his business is known nationwide and in Canada.

Finally, Geetu Shokeen, owner of Montague Dental Arts, said she came from a middle-class family in India to study to be a dentist in the United States.

“I landed in America in 2006,” she said. “I already had a degree but had to start over, so I volunteered and observed for six months and then went back to school.”

Shokeen said she was accepted at Boston University as one of 60 in its dental program.

“There were 4,000 international seats and I got one,” she said.

She learned English and dentistry and now owns her own business.

“I finally got my citizenship in the land of opportunities and was welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I’m so happy to be here.”

Laurie Millman, director at the Center for New Americans in Greenfield, said the nonprofit helps immigrants and refugees adjust to life in America.

“People come from all cultures,” she said. “They really drive our economy, keeping important industries going here. They’re enthusiastic and persistent.”

Before the speakers took to the podium before a packed dining room, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation in Greenfield announced that the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year is the owners of the 12-year-old Hope & Olive restaurant in Greenfield — siblings Jim Zaccara, Maggie Zaccara and Evelyn Wulfkuhle — who opened the business in September 2007.

Greenfield Recorder

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