Tarek and Diana Guerbatou

Transcript of Tarek and Diana Guerbatou
Interviewees: Tarek and Diana Guerbatou
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Chicago, IL
Date: July 21, 2014
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is July 23, 2014 and I’m Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society interviewing Tarek and Diana Guerbatou. Is that correct? And thank you so much for being willing to be interviewed.

TG: Thank you.

DG: Our pleasure.

DN: I’d like to start off by asking Tarek when you came to the United States.

TG: Let’s see. I have one year seven months.

DN: And what country did you come from?

TG: I come from Algeria. My city is Annaba. At the time when the Romans come, they call it Hippo. When the French come, they give it name Bone. And of course, the city is now something to see. The city I born in, my city is Sucara. The name for the city. Meaning that (unintelligible). But they don’t know he born in Algeria, not far from my city is a small village called Sucara.

DN: Can you tell us a little bit about what life was like when you were growing up as a Young child? Something about your family life. Something about your brothers and sisters, mother and father… school… playing?


TG: Yeah. Because I don’t grow up with my brothers. My parents they work all the time, non-stop. My grandfather grew me. By chance, my aunt likes to have…works in cinema with a camera. I have one works in music…traditional. All famous [people] come to him to ask him about how it works. So here I start [to] grow up with this artistic family. So I get the chance before I know how to dance, I know how I sing. But my auntie, she gives me the chance to act at age five to make a movie. This movie was filmed in French of course, “Les Enfants des Roses.” It means “The Child of the Roses.” And then when I have six [years], I make another short movie [with] my aunt of course. Me, I go back to….I think I have twelve [years] and I came back to my family. And we are three, because now we are six. Before we are three. Yeah. We are four brothers. I can see myself. Yes. I am different with my father. It’s true.


DN: So you have three brothers, but you went to live with your grandparents by yourself.

TG: Yeah.

DN: So you were almost an only child for all that time?

TG: Yeah. It’s true. I feel myself like that. It’s true. I feel like my grandfather, he gives me everything. My grandmama too. My aunt… likes to have seven or six…people come. Imagine. And (unintelligible)…. Now I sell the business, because I travel everywhere with my family, my aunt.

DN: When you were young, you went to school in Algeria.


TG: Right.

DN: Was it a public school or a private school?

TF: In Algeria, at the time it isn’t public. Yes, it’s like here. They started now, but before no. It’s different. But there is grade school. True, there is different. The bad, the good. Because all the time like they say, “Rich school; poor school.” It’s true. Yeah, I was in the rich school.

DN: Did you grow up speaking two languages, Arabic and French?

TG: Sure, sure. Because my dad and my mom…now I’d say, (can’t translate)…. “Thanks to God.” My mom, she learned Arabic because Algeria often… for people like my mom and my dad, who did not speak Arabic. So now they do. My mom, my dad they speak in Arabic and in French. So yes, I have trouble, me and my brother, when we study Arabic, because when we do homework, my mom or my dad have to pay for somebody….

DN: To tutor?

TG: Yeah.

DN: So you grew up, when you were very young, speaking French and then you learned Arabic?

TG: Yeah. I mean, the first language is Arabic; the second is French with my country. I mean, not just with my parents, but…. We do have other languages in Algeria. Algeria is, like I told you before, is a very old country. I told you is Amazigh. Amazigh mean Berber. It’s the Muslims who come to Berber. They have mixed…. There is three language(s) Berber, Amazigh….You have to respect this because it’s the first language. It’s the first population.


I mean right now I don’t know who I am, because it’s the one who is French too. Because my name, for example, when you ask me, “Tell me your name.”…I’m going to tell you my name is Guerbatou. O – U. It’s not Italian. Italian - O. It’s O - U and it’s Spanish. Yes. There is something that happens between Algeria and Andalusia, that’s old time Spanish. When the Christians come and the Spanish start (unclear) Muslim, because old time the capital of Spanish, and there is Muslim. So we say Muslim is Algeria old time. They call old time Algeria because it’s the rich man (unintelligible) mother.


DN: So Algeria has a very diverse background. You have Berber with three different roots, Berber, Arabic, French. When you were growing up as a child, you had all these influences forming you?

TG: Right.

DN: How did you feel about that? Did you feel you belonged to all the different groups, or to one group, or was there some confusion?


TG: I mean, what’cha going to say? Of course, when I am like a kid, like here. There is something like…. Because you know, in principle, when you ask somebody, he’s going to tell you…. Because I knew when I grew up… Of course, I didn’t know the Berber were the first people in my country. I don’t know like my country, not just French. And the Spanish too. Italian too. I don’t know, for example, my city speak Arabic and I speak French. You go to another city, for example, like Oran. When they fish, or for example they talk, they talk Spanish. They don’t talk French. I mean, [I] say, “How this work?” They say, “Because this city, the Spanish live more than in your city.” OK. For example, I find I’m not old time Jewish, but my country is not. Especially this city – city…Berber, is not far from my city…like two hours. And the Jewish who made our mellah – we call it mellah - this music “mellah”…. It’s Jewish music. And here I start doing like… Ah, Algeria have different culture…different traditional…like I find myself, Algeria take from Turk, from Spanish I tell you, from Italia, from France. I grew….

DN: Very cosmopolitan.

TG: Yeah. And we did like…


DN: So you were living your life in Algeria, spent your time in Algeria, in an artistic background, going to school and so on. Then, at some point, Diana got in touch with you. You met Diana. This is a very interesting story. Could you tell us how you met?


TG: Before it’s true I grew up with my friends. His name is … I’m going to say it in Arabic because he died. We grow up like we have a small house city. We call it city Berber. And yes, I sing a capella. I sing different styles. I find I have to make money. We find that hip-hip works a lot. So I changed. We make as small house studio. We record people. A chorus. We sing. We start. And here, I find myself…. When my friend died, I stop everything. I stopped. I opened business on my money. I sell cards. Like here. Like something here, it doesn’t work. But every day I sing by myself. I decided to go out by myself and yes. I make an album. This album talked. I said, “It’s true.” Because I feel bad. I lost my parents. I lost my grandfather too. My grandmamma. My god. Things happen in my life. I have to sing. I took all my stress. I meet somebody. His name. I have to say his name…. A little bit crazy, but he’s a great man. He does things like (uninbtelligle) He sings like… Electronic. He traveled to America. (Unintelligible) So I make a program. I make my album. I say, “Hey guys. We have to make hits now. I have to show myself to the world. Our music. Now guys. ” Our chance, but it’s really good. She [Diana] comes. She come like…She think she know better than everybody. She say, “Ah, it’s good. I like it. But the music is not.” She doesn’t know stuff from Africa….


DG: I think I said something like, “The quality of the sound is bad.” A good start of the conversation…

TG: So I explain how it works. It’s not like here. What we doing. What she knew. It’s on one mouth. She doesn’t agree. She comes to my country.

DN: Stop right here. What we’re talking about here is communicating on youtube and facebook?

TG: No. She came with a friend. This woman, what she do? Her job?

DG: She’s a music promoter.

TG: She took my video. She liked it. It’s true. She took it to Chicago. She’s from Chicago. She’s [pointing to Diana] friends with this lady. But she come here so I can see. But she came here different. I don’t like it. It’s true. I try to be firm.

DG: So we make a plan, Tarek.

TG: Julian?…We make a plan to be friends on facebook?

DG: I don’t know. The bottom line was we decided that I would have to meet so I could actually see this music.

TG: How we talk.

DN: I just want to put this in a timeline. What year was this that your grandfather died? Five years ago? Two years ago?

TG: My grandfather. Yes my grandfather… one year?

DG: 2009. And then we met right this right after this.

TG: Seven months after my grandfather died.

DN: And how old were you then?

DN: So you had been living with him for over thirty years? Very close.

TG: I mean, when I go back. (Unclear) Distance from Chicago…When I come to my parents, my friends, they give me space by myself. I call it (unintelligible) like by myself, No. I told you, I’m not easy too with my parents.


DN: So, Diana, you went to Algeria to meet with Tarek about his music?

DG: Yes, and then a romance started from that point. Eventually I traveled back and forth. I traveled back and forth seven times. But after we knew that we would be married, it took me traveling back and forth seven times to go through all…. We got married in Algeria…and to go through all the paperwork….

TG: Yes. We had to finish, because I was discouraged it would take seven years. I was making a movie. The seven. (Unintelligible) So she has to (unintelligible). And I have to finish. And I have to close my business.


DN: So you got married in Algeria, took care of the paperwork. Then Tarek, you came to join Diana where she was living in Edgewater. What year was that?

DG: One and a half years ago.

DN: One and a half years ago.

DG: It was exactly January 1, 2013.

DN: Wonderful, wonderful. Now I’d like to ask Tarek a question about you found the U.S. Was that your first experience of America when you came here?

TG: Yes.

DN: And how did that strike you. Did some things seem strange to you?


TG: Sure.

DN: Can you share some of the things that seem strange.

TG: Yeah, when I come, it’s different from my country. How people, or when you go to store, it’s a

DG: Let me tell her one a little story. When you go to Algeria, there’s no uniform crossing area. People just cross wherever they want and the cars just stop for the people to cross. I had to tell Tarek, “Stop. You’re going to get killed. You have to use the crosswalk. There are a lot of rules and regulations.”

TG: Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes when I talk, my voice sometimes goes above. I don’t talk lightly. I can’t lie. It’s my culture. From my apartment I talk to my family. I talk to my friends on Skype. Sometimes the connection in Skype is not good. So my neighbors think there’s a problem and they call police on me. So I’m shocked. I thought these police…they come and they have immigration. They have the power. My God! Right, it’s my first time I see the police being strong. But nice, when I think back. But my neighbors, they don’t know me. I come and I’m Arab. I talk (Unintelligible) So I explain to the cops. ”It’s my apartment. I’m sorry if I talk up. It’s Arabic. It’s like this when they talk.”

DG: They talk with our hands.


TG: Yeah. So I make a mistake too. I mean, I’m not good [in English]. Right now I’m good in English. Someone say you, “She talks. She talks.” So I say, “OK. Can you give me a chance please to talk?” So she keep going and talking. I say, “Hey, woman.” Here you can’t say, “Woman.” you have to say “Hey, man!” (Diana giggles) So when I say, “Hey, woman,” she starts to explode more and more. I say, “No problem.” Because I don’t understand. Why she stay so mad? ‘Cause she’s crazy mad. She [Diana] explains because I’m not good in English. I don’t know you have to say, “Hey, man” not “Hey, woman.” OK. I don’t know about that. I’m learning. It’s fun.


DN: I want to ask you… we know since 9/11 there’s been a shift in some people’s attitudes… unhappily… about people who speak Arabic or are Muslim. Have you ever suffered any discrimination because of that?

TG: Yeah.

DN: And by the way, if I ask you a question and you don’t want to answer it, just tell me you prefer not to answer. So could you share with us experiences that you feel that you’ve had, negative experiences, because of your background… that you’ve experienced here in Edgewater…or in Chicago?


TG: I mean… I’m going to tell you something. It’s supposed to be within the family, but no problem. Her ex wants something (unintelligible) when I come the first day…. I mean I come the last day the end of the year. Second day, when I open my eyes, four cops.

DG: At our house.

DN: This is January 2?

DG: Yeah. As soon as I opened my eyes I knew…I remember “Go back to Algeria!” I mean, yes. I’ve traveled everywhere in the world. They shocked me on how they treated me. They came at eight o’clock in the morning. I thought like I told you [it was] immigration because they would be the first to come When I opened the door, directly they [Tarek makes a grabbing gesture on his arm.] But why they do [that]? Didn’t give me a chance to…. “What’s going on?” Why they do like this to me without… I mean I’m not easy because I know the law. (Unintelligible)

DG: And he’s here legally, so they have no right.


TG: I say, “Give me a chance to talk to you,” because I know my right. I understand they come… “I open to you my passport and my visa for him to see.” “How many days?” I said to him, “It’s my second day. I mean it’s my first day. I came at night. I don’t see anything here.” When they start to act like this, the chief, I mean the boss, the chief…he judged. “No, I’m going go see your boss…. It doesn’t sit lightly.

DN: So Diana’s ex, as the expression goes, profiled you and they reacted. But once they saw you were legal, they ceased.

TG: I’m Muslim. Muslim…Algerian. They think terrorist family. But they came back. The chief, he tells me, “Look. We are really sorry what happened to you.” And I me here and I keep going and say, “No. It’s not… Today if something happen to me…so who’s going to give me my security? She’s a woman. How can she give me protection or something like this? Tell me what I have to do?” He says, “I’m going to tell you the truth. If somebody come to you and say, ‘This guy is a terrorist.’ What’cha gonna do? I’m sorry too.” (Unintelligible) They know how….

DN: So I don’t understand. If someone comes to you and says you’re a terrorist, how are you supposed to react? What should you do?


TG: The cops like this. They…. Somebody tell them, right? And he talked really bad about me. He showed Texas missile (??) like he make this voice like me. They think this guy is me, dangerous. Sometimes some guy comes from Algeria who I have no idea about this guy. I have never seen him. He would smile at the day….It’s true.

DN: So what was their advice if somebody treats you in a bad way?

DG: If somebody treats you that way, are you supposed to do something? No, I don’t think they gave you advice.

TG: You know what? I told you I meet them just so far. Well I stopped. You know why I stopped? Because they have child. So it was… I could think I could see myself if I do something like this, it’s not illegal here. I come from…a boy is going to run, like he’s going to see me and lie to me. The first time I stopped doing this, but now yes I. The two last night, I just find a lawyer. But I made the lawyer.

DG: We don’t need to get into this.

DN: No. What I wanted to ask….

TG: I’m talking different because I’m going to tell you something. This country you have to make a lawyer. This country you have to make a lawyer. Why? If you don’t make a lawyer, you are ppsst!

DN: For taxes?


TG: It’s one - for taxes and protection too. I have neighbors that are crazy; the third floor neighbors are great, but the second [floor niehgbor], I can say…..yeah they are crazy. I think they are jealous.

DN: Jealousy because you are successful as a musician….?

TG: Yeah, yeah.

DN: … not because they think you are a bad person?

TG: No, no. They see me when there when there is one snow and the parking, I work (makes gesture of shoveling) on her floor. She says, ‘Hey we pay for people to do this job.” I say, “No problem, because I do my way [landing] and I help you.” So she start helping. Once she starts helping, I say, “Let me do it. It’s really hard. I help you.” I mean, the garden. I make flowers. I give every day help. They don’t like it. She says to me, “Here, it’s a business. We are not supposed to do it.” I say, “Here we are like a family.” This woman, she calls police or she calls the [management] company. She puts a flier on our door like we are criminals, like we are bad.


DG: She’s making a wrong judgment.

DN: When you say, “She don’t like that.” Do you mean Diana didn’t like that or the other woman?

DG: Oh no, the woman. She didn’t like it that Tarek was so helpful. She let him know the [condo] association pays people to do this. Tarek said, “No. Why do we pay people to do this? With pleasure, I’ll shovel the snow, take care of the garden.”

TG: And of course she sees how life changed. I love animals. Birds come to my hand. Squirrrels come right to my house.

DG: He feeds them peanuts with his hands.

TG: Yeah, with my hands. They come.

DN: Wow. That’s amazing. I’d like to ask you when you are walking down the street in Edgewater do you feel accepted by people or do you feel people are picking on you?

TG: Yes, much [accepted]. It’s the best. She [Diana] wants to move. I say, “What place am I going to move? Andersonville is the best. Wow.” I’m going to say Andersonville is the best. Yes, people, wow!

DN: Do you think Edgewater….

TG: It’s the best - how people, I mean…. It’s here, when you walk. I walk in the city, but I don’t see it like here. This eighty year old man – he knows you for a long long time. Or for example, when you go to the store…when you walk, you get an education when you walk … here.

DN: Great. I’d like to ask you, do you feel at home here in Edgewater or do you feel still at home in Algeria and that the United States is not your home? Or do you feel that you’re at home in both places? Where do you feel at home?


TG: What happened to me, I came here by accident to Chicago. We have to say this. I cannot lie. I’d have to say the United States. I’m happy in Chicago. The tourism is here. It’s clean. I don’t see Algeria clean like this. I don’t know how people are going to think about Chicago. They’re going to have to come here to see Chicago.

DN: But in your heart?

TG: The first time I went [back] to Algeria I have no feeling [for here]…. I can’t say it by number, the first or second time… but now it’s home. (Turns to Diana) Algeria – I still feel something. You remember? (She nods her head.) But now the United States gives me what I come for ….

DG: Also, I have to say that in America Tarek is like the Algerian ambassador. He always says very good things. Whenever he plays music, he always represents Algeria. He always tells people proudly, “I’m Algerian.” He’s not ashamed to tell people he’s Algerian. He’s very proud of his country and he is like the ambassador for Algeria in Chicago because there are not very many Algerians in Chicago.

TG: It’s what I love. Before my friend, he is Jewish. We are in the same band. His name is Ryan. We just finished a new album. We are going to release it next month: mixed Arabic, French, English, Spanish different languages and different music. You hear Jewish music, Arabic music, American music, Oriental music. It’s a great album. It’s like I told you before. I find my peace. I find my work here. Without any problem. Without any obstacles.


I have to say, my first opportunity is from Dorothy, from Edgewater Historical Society. It was my first opportunity in Chicago. I was somebody new. It’s my first time. I’m going to sing but I’m bad in English. But I can’t sing in English. When I try, I start to sing in Arabic. Wow!

DG: They appreciated it.

TG: How people loved me. How people prefer to hear Arabic than different things like French, or mixed, than just in English. But my problem with the words. Just tell them. The songs. Yes, people enjoyed it. Wow. I tell myself to keep going.


DN: I’d like to go back to the things Diana that mentioned before. What kind of values or history of Algeria do you think is important to share with Americans?

TG: For America? I don’t want to forget this. The history for my name; our name of course; my family; my country. I told you I am the first one in the entire marriage of Algeria and America (pointing to Diana and him.) She’s the first one to act in what happened in the history between France and Algeria. She’s the first one to support… because we wait for France to say “I’m sorry” for what they do, because right now they don’t say it. So my movie now… I want to show everything through my movie. To show to the world. Thanks to God, by chance, when I married her, when she came to meet me, she is producing it. Never happens. It never happened that an American act in this. Yes, this explodes in my country. She gets in the newspaper, talking on the radio. The president meets her. All the country - Algeria melts with her. Her niece is a singer of opera but I am the first to make the voice matter.

DG: You have to tell them that you do the cinema score.


TG: Yes, I do the cinema score. She [the niece] helps me. For free. Just for Algeria. And when they find out she is American too. It is here where I get the chance.

DN: That’s very interesting Tarek because you’re saying that in America you’re getting the chance to show the history of what happened in Algeria through cinema. It’s because of your alliance with Diana, both romantically and professionally.

TG: Yes, and thank you so much because we need for Americans to come to Algeria, because they don’t know. The last time it was J.F.K. [former President John Kennedy] who met our president. It’s J.F.K. who talked about Algeria. The new generation is here. It’s the last one for tourism. No tourism now. They just come for business. They don’t come like tourists.

DG: It’s a beautiful country so we want to advocate the beauty of Algeria in America. We want to promote how beautiful Algeria is, and then to get Americans to go to Algeria and discover how beautiful it is.


DN: Where do you see yourself living in the next few years? Here?

CG: Yes, in Edgewater.

DN: Where do you see yourself living ten years from now? Do you see yourself here or do you see yourself back in Algeria? Or do you see yourself going back and forth.

DG: We’re already starting this transitional going back and forth, back and forth.

TF: When I talk to my mom or my family, sometimes I forget myself and speak English, because every day I speak three languages. Sometimes I can’t get each one.

DN: What do you think is the best part of your Algerian heritage? If you had children, what values would you like to remind them about the importance in their lives from their Algerian background?


TG: I told you I cannot lie. In America, it’s peaceful. I told you about Ramadan. I make Ramadan today. Monday is the last day for making Ramadan. I mean, Wow! True it’s different here. People smoking, not…. You don’t feel like Ramadan. But now I feel Ramadan. When I was eight or ten I was serious. You know Arabs, they are crazy. They talk; they pass gas; they smoke; people use the hookah. When Ramadan starts, no boy talks to you know [girls], nobody eats. But here I see ….

DN: You mean that here in America people that observe Ramadan are more strict?

TG: Yeah. It’s very nice.

DG: It’s more peaceful.

DN: It’s more meaningful?

TG: In America, you can’t play with the law. But in my country, you don’t need to observe the law. If you are rich, or you know somebody, nobody can touch you.

DG: But here, the law is the law. But what do you want to bring from Algeria here to people?


TG: I told you, I want to bring cinema. Cinema can show people in trouble.

DN: You mean you want to show your culture and your history?

DG: Through cinema.

TG: Yes. You meet my friend last time, Teddy. (Tewodrous Aklilu), because we are working together on a movie - true, historic. We’re going to talk about what happened between Algeria and France, between Italians and Ethiopia. Teddy’s family suffered in Algeria. So the French they search for him to kill him. So an organization in Algeria saved him and paid him to come to New York. From New York he came to Chicago, like his father did too. So from Ethiopia they came too because during the revolution they killed all this family, and they come here. From Algeria. From Egypt.

DG: They come to the United States.

TG: The girls make babies here. Ethiopia ladies. They bring these kids. The kids grow up in America. What happened in Algeria? What happened in Ethiopia? They don’t know. When they’re going to marry, it’s traditional. They have to go to Algeria. They have to go to Ethiopia. They have no idea about Algeria. They have no idea about Ethiopian culture. They think American. They study American. So think what’s going to happen.


DG: So this movie is like reality. This is the reality of what happens every day; how people from other cultures grow up but they don’t really know their cultures. So what we want to do here is to show that although you are American and you came from other countries, you can go back to your country and discover your culture.

DN: I interviewed a Burmese woman from the Karen tribe and asked her how she felt. She said, “I have to continue to speak my language. I have to continue to know my history. I have to continue to share this because otherwise I would be nothing (as far as having a meaningful identity). Even though I’m American, this is part of me.

DG: This is how Tarek feels. He wants…

TG: Yes. It’s right in my neck. God willing, from my original language, fine. God is going to see. . Here’s something: last time I signed a contact in Algeria, the teachers liked me. Now the cinema in Algeria charges like here. By chance, thank God, I waiting for this chance…from America they came to build… people from Hollywood come and they teach our people the camera, etc. Thanks to God at that time it’s going to happen. They put her and me like ambassadors.

DG: So he opened up a production company.

TG: Yes. We opened a production company.

DG: It’s called Che for Chi because Che Guevara with the history he has in Algeria and Chi for Chicago, so we incorporated the name of the production company of both Algeria and Chicago.

DN: I was wondering about that because I had your card and I was going to ask you about that. That was a wonderful journey that’s you’ve had together – rather yin and yang, like hot and cold.

TG and DG (together): Yes.

DN: I think I’ve asked all my questions, but this is your story Tarek. Is there anything else you would like to share in this interview?

TG: Yeah, thanks so much for Edgewater (Historical Society). Again, I can’t forget this. We got the opportunity to get involved in Edgewater from the Edgewater Historical Society. My first chance came in Edgewater. To play my music here. It’s great. I play other places. They don’t give me like Edgewater. I sing last week somewhere else. Today they call me and text me to be sure to come. It’s neat. I see Edgewater how thankful we are.

DG: And it’s all a volunteer organization. Dorothy volunteers her time to do all these things. She also doesn’t get paid for it.

TG: Yeah.

DN: But I do it because think that community building is important. I think that making connections between people are important, particularly in a society that’s so fast paced. You see people rushing all over the place. It’s so rare to even have the opportunity to sit down in a beautiful garden and hear beautiful music.

TG: And me too. I love people. To me, people work for a cause. I love it. You have to say this.

DN: Thank you very much. It’s such a beautiful thought that I can’t think of any way to say better so I’m going to stop the interview.