Ex-refugee shapes new life as owner of her own salon
Arizona Daily Star
November  9, 2008

 

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Neto's Tucson by Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/266381

Had Shahin Ebadi Urias stayed in her native Iran, she's not sure how life would have turned out for her two sons. But she has a pretty good idea.

"There would not have been any opportunities for them," Urias said.

There would have been even fewer opportunities for Urias in patriarchal and theocratic Iran.

But 17 years after leaving behind all that she knew, Urias owns a business in Oro Valley, and her two sons are doing well in college and in the U.S. military.

"We're not going anywhere," said Urias, who owns a Sport Clips franchise at North Oracle and West Magee roads in the Oracle Crossing shopping center.

There was a time in her not-so-distant past when life was harsh and the future uncertain.

She was married, mother of a 3-year-old and pregnant with her second child. They were living in the midst of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that exploded in 1980.

"It was a total devastating time for millions of people," she said. Her family, like many others, left Tehran for the safety of rural villages. But running water and electricity were scarce and treasured in their village. The winter was cold and snowy.

"The thought of giving birth to my son in the village with no clinic and no doctor was pretty scary," she added.

The family returned to Tehran as bombs continued to threaten the city's inhabitants.

"We made a shelter for ourselves underneath the staircase so in times of attack we would hide," Urias said.

She gave birth to her second son and the family moved again to the village for safety.

Several years after the war ended, the family left Iran for Austria. Her husband could not legally work because they were considered refugees. They applied for U.S. visas, and they waited for nearly a year.

The family's time and papers came, and they immigrated to Texas where Urias' brother-in-law lived. He helped the family make the transition.

Urias' experience mirrors most immigrant families. They speak little to no English. They have few or no family or friends.

However, they have drive and desire and a hunger for a better future for their children. They move forward with no assurances, but with resolve.

In their first years in Texas, Urias said she and her husband were filled with doubt. The devastating war notwithstanding, they had left family and familiarity, and a comfortable home.

In Austin they lived in an apartment. Jobs were hard to find. Their lack of English made them feel more visible.

"You feel like everyone is looking at you like you're dumb," she said.

But she knew better. The boys learned English quickly and excelled in school. She found a job in a cafeteria, then she went to beauty college and got a job in a salon, learning English along the way.

It wasn't easy. What options did they have?

"We had no desire of going back," she said.

However, her marriage fell apart five years after arriving in Texas. She raised her two young sons.

Urias did what she had to do. She worked 12 to 15 hours a day at two jobs the hair salon at night and an office job during the day.

Although her life became more of a struggle, Urias possessed a gift. She had the freedom to decide her future.

"It was a life I chose," said Urias, who has not returned to Iran since she left in 1991.

Her moxie bore fruit when the owner of the salon where she worked created Sport Clips, a Texas-based franchise chain of sports-themed salons aimed at men and boys. She could have stayed in Texas, but Urias had met Larry Urias, a Tucson engineer whom she married in 2006 after her sons completed high school.

Love and marriage brought her to Tucson and presented her with the opportunity she probably would not have had in Iran.

She and her husband opened the first Tucson Sport Clips franchise in February and are considering a second salon farther north near Tangerine Road.

"I always wanted to have my own place," said Urias, 46.

Meanwhile her first son, Elias Yousefi, 24, graduated from college and is a pilot trainee in the U.S. Air Force. Edris Yousefi, 21, her second son, is in a Texas college, said the proud mom.

While she feels confident about her future, she continues to work long hours. When she's not cutting hair, she is mapping out marketing strategies or completing the obligatory paperwork with deep satisfaction.

Said Urias: "I've come a long way."

Neto's Tucson

Ernesto

Portillo jr.

● Reporter Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. has deep roots here. His maternal grandparents came to Tucson in 1931. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Argentine-born Onofre Navarro, lived in Tucson beginning in the 1860s. Portillo can be contacted at 807-8414 or eportillo@azstarnet.com