So what do Cleveland’s immigrant business owners think of Trump, the billionaire businessman, who has suggested a pause on legal immigration, a temporary ban of Muslims entering the United States, and a requirement for Muslims to register in a database? Could Trump be good for small businesses in cities like Cleveland? Will local entrepreneurs forgive his controversial rhetoric for a chance to have a president who understands their daily struggles in business? Most are divided.
Azizullah and Laese Solemanshah, 27 and 28, respectively, grew up outside of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Their father disappeared when they were children, prompting their mother to move the family, including two other siblings, in with her father outside Jalalabad, they told me. Their life took an abrupt turn following 9/11. The Solemanshahs moved five times in six years between Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and a camp just inside Pakistan’s border, Azizullah Solemanshah said. Relief came when their father contacted them from the United States, where he had been granted asylum. With help from an inter-governmental organization, the Solemanshahs were reunited with their father in Cleveland in 2006, they said.
After high school, the Solemanshahs said they worked as translators in Afghanistan, Laese Solemanshah for one year, Azizullah Solemanshah for more than three. When Azizulllah Solemanshah returned to Cleveland in 2015, he said a psychiatrist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He and his brother opened Ariana Market to escape menial jobs and be their own bosses, but because of his condition, Azizullah Solemanshah said his brother does most of the store’s work.
Solemanshah was shocked by Trump’s surge this election. “He’s using racism and anger to get more votes,” he said. “He doesn’t even have a problem with Muslims.” He shrugged, adding, “He’s just a good businessman.” The Solemanshahs said they plan to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, but only reluctantly. They respect Trump’s business record, admitting he would probably have their votes if it wasn’t for his immigration policies and characterization of Muslims. Citing his many flip-flops, they believe his campaign rhetoric is more negotiation than policy, and still have confidence in Trump’s ability to create jobs.
Velimir Lucic, a 38-year-old Cleveland resident and owner of Tomo Sushi and Hibachi Restaurant in the city’s Warehouse District, relates to Trump. Of Serbian and Croatian decent, Lucic and his wife, Valentina, immigrated to the United States in 2000 from Croatia after fleeing their home in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following a stint in Baltimore, the Lucics moved to Cleveland, where they knew of larger Serbian and Croatian immigrant communities.
After years of working overtime in Cleveland and gathering savings, Lucic opened Scripts nightclub in 2004, and then Lucic Contracting a couple years later. Both have since closed. He attributes part of the success of Tomo, which opened in 2013, to his failures, and laughs at the notion that Trump is a bad businessman because of Trump Steaks, Trump Mortgage, or any of his other ventures.