Story published in September 2016 | Interview conducted in July 2015
Bünyamin was born and raised in Ghent. He is first generation Belgian. His parents moved from Turkey to Belgium in the 70’s. His wife, Kenniesha, is a Belgian African American. They decided to move to Florida to live in a place where they felt more accepted. Bünyamin shared his life story in the video interview below.
Bünyamin spent all his life in Ghent, Flanders. He described his experience of being brought up in two cultures as challenging. “I have always been very comfortable in Belgium but there is always an invisible wall between you and other people. It’s not only about being Turkish but being Muslim on top of that. In my heart I feel 100% Belgian. I always say “I may look Turkish but I think Belgian”. But still, the wall has always been there because of things I can’t control. It is very heartbreaking to be pushed away while you really want to belong and be accepted. In Belgium, I’m seen as a Turk and in Turkey, I am “the Belgian”. It never prevented me from being who I am or realize my dreams, but it is challenging to be stuck in the middle”. Watch Bünyamin’s interview to learn more about his intercultural experiences.
Bünyamin met his future wife in 2008 when he was 18. He is Muslim and she is 7th Day Adventist (a branch of Protestantism that follows many Jewish traditions). As Bünyamin was the first one in his family to date outside of his community, he acted very distant at first to protect their relationship. They made a video about their journey:
At the time they met, Kenniesha had already set her mind about moving to the United States. She had tried to move there since she was 16. Soon enough her American Dream became Bünyamin’s dream as well. Together, they dreamed of a place where they could become whoever they wanted to be and start their own business. They launched the visa procedure in 2012. Little did they know that the process would drag on for a couple years! They did not let the obstacles get in their way.
In March of 2013, Bünyamin and Kenniesha got engaged. In September 2013, Kenniesha moved to Florida to secure an apartment and a job. Bünyamin moved 7 months later in April 2014. They got married at the Courthouse in June of 2014 (Bünyamin’s visa required the wedding to take place within ninety days of his arrival). Thanks to his multicultural background, it only took him a couple months for him to adjust to the American society. “Plus, I have traveled a lot since I am 18 so I am quick on my feet”.
He found a job at a local company and was promoted twice within 16 months. He is now Team Leader and manages 24 employees. “In Belgium, that would have never happened! In the United States, especially in Orlando, your origins or your religion don’t matter as much as your hard work. You can build your way up from zero here. I don’t feel American yet, but I feel like I am moving in that direction: to feel home and be accepted.”
Bünyamin still feels a little sad that achieving success required him leaving his home country. “Belgium is pushing its best people away: motivated, hardworking and international people like Kenniesha and myself. I love Belgium with all my heart, I have a Belgian flag at home. It is sad we had to leave the country to create a life for ourselves.”
Thanks his success, Bünyamin was able to support Kenniesha in realizing one of her goal: becoming a full time YouTuber. She often includes him in her vlogs. Bünyamin is a lot more reserved than his wife. The results can be hilarious. “Kenniesha always feels the urge to make a video at the worst times, either when I just wake up or when I am going to sleep. That’s why you always see me yawning in our videos. It’s not that I am bored, it’s that she literally pulls me out of bed and says “let’s make a video NOW!”. Nevertheless, he feels really proud to support Kenniesha in her dreams.
Outside of work and YouTube, Bünyamin is passionate about Real Estate. He reads everything he can about flipping houses, renting them or selling them. He spends a lot of his free time educating himself about that industry. “I really love real estate and doing research about the housing market. My American dream would be to become my own boss and I can see myself as a Real Estate Agent. The more I learn about it, the more I want to learn!”. Bünyamin also loves running. He has not had much opportunity to run a lot lately, but he is looking forward to do it more.
In June of this year, Bünyamin and Kenniesha went back to Belgium to organize the wedding celebration that they couldn’t have in 2014. They invited all their friends and family in Ghent. The gathering was intercultural and interreligious. The red veil (bride) and the green belt (groom) symbolize purity in Turkish traditions. The white dress and cake comes from the Christian world. Finally after the celebration, Bünyamin and Kenniesha jumped over the broom. The jumping of the broom is an African American ritual that represents sweeping away the old and welcoming the new.
Bünyamin and Kenniesha are pregnant! They are expecting their first baby boy in November. I asked them how they felt about raising a Christian Muslim Belgian Turkish African American in this day and age. “Whenever something happens, we are hit on all sides. Our heart hurts by terrorist attacks in Belgium and in Turkey, we hurt when we hear about police brutality towards African American or about discrimination against Muslims. But life is beautiful and we will not let world events take away the joys of giving the gift of life and being parents. There are many interfaith and intercultural couples like us. But in the media, all you hear is about hate. There is so much love and strength in our diversity! Our son is the proof of that. We hope that our story will inspire people.”
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