Reaching the American Dream
By Emily Wright
Reaching the American dream is hard work. That highest point in life is not easily checked off a list of things to do. Passion, dedication and commitment all play a part in staying on course to achieving that huge goal that comes with perseverance: your own personal American dream. And for immigrants who have become U.S. citizens, reaching the American dream furthers their admiration for both their careers and country.
Associate Professor of Performing Arts at Bossier Parish Community College
Gulya Chandler is a Russian pianist. She has come a long way on her journey for happiness and success, and though she is grateful for the experiences she has had in reaching the American dream, she continues to strive for excellence in seeing her dream grow.
At age six, she developed an interest in piano and the violin, which sparked her love for the art of music. Born and raised in Russia, she received a different form of elementary education that nurtured her interest in music.
“Growing up in the Soviet Russia in the ‘70s almost all children were educated in music,” Chandler said. “They had a music school system that was separate from the main school system, so in the morning we would go to elementary school, then in the afternoon we would go to music school. This music school went on for a maximum of seven years and when I finished it I got a certificate of completion. After that, I went on to college and then later studied at a conservatory.”
Music was a big part of her life as a young person, and then she met her future husband, Randy Chandler, who became another important part of her life.
My husband is from Haughton. In the early ‘90s, his work brought him to Russia,” Chandler said. “We got married in Russia in 1995 and then his company wrapped it up there so we moved to the U.S., and since then, we’ve stayed in Louisiana. Then I had my daughter, Eleanor, so we’re a family now and it’s what has kept me here in the U.S.”
“I feel like I can give my daughter a better future in America.”
Chandler said some of the greatest challenges she had to overcome in the U.S. were personal and cultural. “I had to find myself in this country,” Chandler said. “I had to learn the language, the culture, traditions and customs. I had to ask myself ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I belong?’ Honestly it was very hard to leave my family in my homeland and separate from my mom because we are very close. I miss all of them and their family support but now with all of this technology we are more connected and we can communicate easily.”
She found that where she fit in best was in music and she was interested in teaching. Chandler followed this path in her life and has enjoyed her career journey.
“I wanted to learn about the education system in the United States because even though my background was in music, I didn’t know how to teach in an American system,” she said. “I enrolled at Centenary College and earned my Masters of Arts and teaching degree.”
She eventually found her place at Bossier Parish Community College as an associate professor of performing arts where she teaches piano, music theory and music history and also accompanies the school’s concert choir on the piano. As Gulya Chandler thinks about the American dream and her own journey, she is happy with her life in the U.S.
“I am lucky that I was able to use my passion for music and find my place in educating young people; I like it,” she said. “Working for BPCC is great. They have been good to me and the college has helped me to grow professionally and personally.”
The music teacher is currently working on a doctorate degree in higher education administration from Louisiana Tech that she will use to one day become a music program director or gain a leadership position in an academic setting. Although she is unsure of what is next, she is positive about the future.
“The doctorate is very challenging and I like that a lot,” she said. “My work is challenging but at the same time it’s rewarding and I still have the opportunity to take the summers off and travel to see my family in Russia. I am all around lucky and I feel like I can give my daughter a better future in America.”
Vice President CPM® and Senior Vice President CFP®, CIMA®, CPM®, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
Brothers Denis and Davor Poljak, natives of Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, enjoy living the ultimate American dream. Their participation in tennis brought them to the U.S. and opened an avenue to start their own business in finance.
“I enjoyed playing tennis and the sport brought me to America in the early ‘90s after I had completed my mandatory one year of service in the military in my homeland. I played tournaments in Tyler, Texas and was honored to be recruited by the legendary tennis coach Jimmy Harrison from Centenary College,” Denis said. “While I was studying in the United States, my younger brother, Davor, was in our homeland serving in the military like I had done and he eventually followed me to Centenary.”
Although the brothers were enjoying their time studying and living in Shreveport, their relatives in their homeland were living in uncertainty and difficulty.
“While we were in college, the war broke out in former Yugoslavia. We didn’t know anyone here at the time and suddenly we were here on our own,” Denis said. “Then the communication with our homeland stopped completely because the war raged and they were cut off from the rest of the world. It was very tough.”
“This is the best country on the planet and that’s why people want to come here and be a part of this.”
One cold night in February 1994, Denis and Davor received a message that changed their lives forever.
“In the middle of the night we got a phone call from our dad who said they had just crossed the border in Croatia and that he and the family were alive and fine,” Denis said.
The surprising call came just a few months before Denis graduated from Centenary College.
“That was the best graduation gift ever,” Davor said. “Some people get things like cars but that was our graduation present. We are a very close family and the war helped us to be even closer. Now our parents live in Shreveport, too. This is the best country on the planet and that’s why people want to come here and be a part of this.”
Both brothers received business degrees from Centenary College. Denis continued his education, something that is very important to him, and got his MBA from Louisiana Tech University.
“I then got my Ph.D. in economics from the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2011 because I wanted to complete my education where I started,” Denis said. “I always wanted to be in business and it has always been a passion of mine. The Shreveport-Bossier area gave us the opportunity to establish the best kind of business — a family business.”
After starting and running a successful tennis academy in his homeland, Davor retired from the sports industry and began working alongside his brother.
“As the business was progressing and becoming more and more successful, I talked Davor into joining 12 years ago. I have been at it for 22 years,” Denis said. “We are passionate about what we do.”
Denis and Davor joined Morgan Stanley in 2009. A year later, they established the King Poljak Group at Morgan Stanley, a financial advisory group.
At King Poljak Group, Denis is the portfolio management director; Davor is the senior portfolio manager.
“It means the world to Denis and me just to be working together in the family business. And the people of Shreveport-Bossier made it all possible. That’s why we want to give back to this community as much as we can because we were (scholarship) recipients when we were at Centenary College,” Davor said. “We have truly experienced southern hospitability in Shreveport-Bossier. It’s the goodness of the people and their willingness to be open to us that has made a difference. Shreveport is our home and we feel that it was always meant to be that way. We are so thankful, proud and appreciative of it all.”
The two brothers are members of the Shreveport Rotary Club, where they are Paul Harris fellows. They also support the Shreveport Opera, Shreveport Symphony and Red River Radio and Centenary College.
Chef and Owner of Chianti Restaurant
“It was a dream of mine, like it has been for so many people, to come and live in America.” It wasn’t until Enrico Giacalone reached his early 20s that he realized his desire to be a chef, which led him to fulfill his dream of coming to America.
“Any child or person in Italy has the tendency to enjoy food because of the rich flavors and fragrances of the dishes,” Giacalone said. “When I was a kid, Sundays were the days we went out to eat at restaurants. The flavors and the smells in the restaurant and the presentation of the food interested me.”
When Enrico reached the stage in his life when he had to decide what he wanted to do for a career, he realized cooking would give him an avenue to develop the creative skills he acquired by being a musician. He just didn’t realize that he had to peel potatoes and carrots for a while before he could work his way up to a higher level in the business.
“In 1977 my brother, Nino, and I moved from our home in Palermo, Italy to Shreveport to join our cousins who had opened an Italian restaurant called Firenze Restaurant,” Giacalone said. “Firenze is where my training began under my cousin Giuseppe Brucia, the chef. We explored recipes and flavors and I learned very much from him. I spent some time in Dallas developing my trade and then returned to Shreveport and Firenze Restaurant, now owned by my brother and I. We eventually moved the restaurant location and changed the name to Chianti Restaurant in 1986. Nino later left the business to pursue other interests, but he is still my mentor when it comes to the business side of things.”
“It was a dream of mine, like it has been for so many people, to come and live in America.”
Chianti Restaurant serves authentic northern Italian cuisine including a variety of pasta dishes, veal specialties and fresh seafood.
Slowly, as the restaurant became more successful, Giacalone was able to expand the restaurant to seat more patrons and train more employees, many of whom have stayed with him for a minimum of 16 years.
“It’s rewarding to be able to get to a level where you’re in charge of 30 or so people and their lives depend on your providing a place where they can make a living and support themselves and their families,” Giacalone said. “That alone makes me feel so happy that I can help them. I could have stayed in the kitchen working for someone else but ambition allowed me to step out and achieve my dream. For almost 30 years I had to work hard to get to where I wanted to be, where I am now. People who see me now think ‘Oh, he’s got it made because he gets to run the business,’ but who made it? I made it.”
Another aspect of running the business that Giacalone enjoys is interacting with his customers.
“After so many years, I’ve gotten close to so many customers,” Giacalone said. “You know one person who has a son, and then that son comes to see you, he frequents the restaurant and you get to know the family, and then that son brings his own child. So there’s that attachment that is really difficult to explain, but it’s an identity. I have an identity here because everyone knows me and I know the customers and it makes me feel like this is where I belong.”
Even though he misses the rich flavors of the vegetables and herbs in Italy and the fragrance of spring and bus trips to Mondello Beach, he said Shreveport is his home.
“There are so many childhood memories in Palermo that no wonder I reminisce and feel nostalgic about it all. But I love America and would never think about moving back. I visit Italy, but it feels good to get back home,” Giacalone said.