Fayette County

‘So many good things’: An immigrant family’s story of struggle and success

Hanan Froukh with her husband, Ayman, and two of their three sons: Fouad, left, who owns Cuts on Lime barber shop, and Ziad, a recent STEAM Academy graduate now enrolled at the University of Kentucky. A third son, Abdallah, is in Ramallah, a Palestinian city near Jerusalem, studying dessert-making so he and his father can open a Lexington bakery specializing in Middle Eastern sweets.
Hanan Froukh with her husband, Ayman, and two of their three sons: Fouad, left, who owns Cuts on Lime barber shop, and Ziad, a recent STEAM Academy graduate now enrolled at the University of Kentucky. A third son, Abdallah, is in Ramallah, a Palestinian city near Jerusalem, studying dessert-making so he and his father can open a Lexington bakery specializing in Middle Eastern sweets. teblen@herald-leader.com

There are many negative stereotypes of Muslims, Arabs and immigrants these days, especially among people who don’t know any of them.

So let me introduce you to Hanan Froukh, her husband, Ayman, and their five children. They are the kind of people who have always made America great.

The Froukhs are from Ramallah, a Palestinian city near Jerusalem, where he was an automobile safety inspector and she taught math. They wanted a better life for their children, so they immigrated to the United States in 2007 and moved to Lexington, where her brother lived. It wasn’t easy.

Only Hanan spoke much English, which she learned from watching TV during the 10 months they waited in Ramallah for their immigration paperwork to be approved.

During their first 15 months in Lexington, they lived with her brother in a friendly subdivision off Harrodsburg Road. Ayman worked at her brother’s gas station, and Hanan had to confront her own stereotypes — of Americans.

“Watching movies and TV and the news gave us the idea that there’s a lot of crime and kidnappings and those kinds of things,” she said. “I was so surprised how nice the people are in Lexington. It’s a very homey town. Neighbors are great to each other. I learned to never judge people before I experienced the life of them.”

Neighbors helped Hanan improve her English. When she needed a job, a neighbor told her Macy’s was hiring sales clerks. She applied, and the Macy’s manager took a chance on her. Within a few weeks, Hanan said, the manager was showing her emails from customers complimenting her work.

Ayman wanted a better job, but he struggled with English. He earned his commercial driver’s license and for six years has been a Lextran bus driver, a job he loves.

Like parents everywhere, the Froukhs have big ambitions for their children. So when the eldest, Fouad, decided to work evenings at a grocery to pay his way through barber school rather than taking on debt to study at a university, his parents were crushed.

“I don’t want you to be a barber,” Hanan told him. “I want you to be educated.”

“My parents didn’t believe in me,” Fouad said. “But I believed in myself.”

After completing barber school and working in a shop for 14 months, Fouad opened Cuts on Lime at 553 South Limestone. His shop quickly attracted customers, including some University of Kentucky basketball and football stars. “I’ve been blessed,” he said.

Fouad, 26, recently returned from Los Angeles. Former UK star Karl-Anthony Towns, now with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, brought him there to cut his hair for a Gatorade commercial he was filming with D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets.

Fouad has promised his mother that he will earn a college degree once his business is more established. But she already is proud of him. “He changed my mind about a lot of things,” she said.

The Froukhs’ second son, Abdallah, 24, likes to cook and has worked in a Lexington restaurant. He has gone back to Ramallah for six months to apprentice in a bakery. Making baklava and other Palestinian sweets has long been Ayman’s hobby. After his son returns next month, the family plans to open a Middle Eastern sweets shop.

Fatma, the eldest daughter, is a UK senior who plans a career in genetics. The two youngest children are 18-year-old twins Ziad and Zarin. They graduated in May from Fayette County Public Schools’ STEAM Academy and are enrolled at UK. Ziad plans to become a physical therapist. Zarin wants to study business and Spanish.

Last fall, Fatma and Zarin helped start Sister-Sister, an organization for Muslim girls in Lexington that meets at a local school for social events and monthly community service projects. About 20 to 30 girls are now involved.

Hanan enrolled in Bluegrass Community and Technical College to further her own education. On her way to class one day in January 2009, she blacked out. Later, she became paralyzed on one side. Doctors first thought she’d had a stroke. It turned out to be a brain tumor, which was removed.

After several years of health struggles, Hanan has recovered — and has changed her career goals. This fall, she plans to begin her studies at UK to become a hospital chaplain. Female Arab Muslim chaplains are rare, but she hopes to comfort hospital patients of all faiths.

“We are all human,” said Hanan, who turns 50 on Aug. 6. “We feel the same feelings. We suffer the same pain.”

Immigrants are eligible to earn U.S. citizenship after five years of residency. In 2012, five years after moving to Lexington, the Froukhs all became citizens.

By 2013, they had saved enough money for a down payment on a house in a nice subdivision off Tates Creek Road. But it was many more months before they could afford to buy any furniture.

It has been a difficult decade, but the Froukhs are proud to be English-speaking Americans. They have suffered the occasional bigoted remark and rude stare. But Hanan says they have been far outnumbered by acts of kindness, such as the time a couple stopped and spent a couple of hours helping Hanan when her car broke down.

When the Froukh daughters chose to wear hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering, they expected some harassment at school, and they got it. But the girls have many friends. Residents of the retirement home where Zarin works part-time recently gave her a graduation party.

“There are so many good things happen to us,” Hanan said. “This is our country now. We are trying our best to find a good life.”

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen

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