Choosing America

Journeys to be celebrated

Written by Julie Underwood Burton

As we all celebrate living in America, particularly during the month of July, here are the journeys of four Wichitans who immigrated to America years ago, each eager to proclaim their love for this country.

Meet Mzia Gibson

Mzia immigrated from the country of Georgia, a former Soviet republic located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia and bounded to the west by the Black Sea. Growing up in the Soviet system, she recalls how her apartment building was surrounded by Russian tanks when the Soviet collapse began, and how her family spent years in darkness as post-Soviet Georgia suffered from extreme economic crisis. But Mzia succeeded as a teacher of languages, including English, Georgian and Russian, and met her husband-to-be, an American from Houston, Texas, who was on assignment in Georgia. They agreed to raise their children in America and eventually settled in Wichita 11 years ago.

Mzia recalls, “It did take some time getting to learn about the diverse cultures here, but it was not too difficult since I was already aware of the American goals and values.” She stays involved locally with the Wichita Symphony and Wichita Grand Opera and has made many friends through her church. She has returned to visit Georgia three times. She took her last trip in 2017 accompanied by five Wichita families with kids and recalls how much it filled her with joy to share her home country with a total of 17 Wichitans.

Meet George Youssef

Originally born in Lebanon and raised in Canada, George settled in Wichita at the age of 25 because of family who reside here. Over the years he certainly has become a familiar face in the Wichita community as a chef and restaurant owner. After working in the family’s Nouvelle Café, he left after three years to achieve his own American dream of owning a restaurant. He opened and owned several well-known dining establishments in Wichita for many years before deciding to take a break to enjoy more family time, and then became executive chef at the Independent School. In 2015, George returned to restaurant ownership and is the chef and owner of another popular restaurant fittingly called Georges French Bistro and also became owner of Chester's Chophouse and Wine Bar in 2019.

“You walk through the door and you have been given a big lottery ticket. You can choose what you want to do and there is no limit to what you can do or accomplish here in America.” — George Youssef

When asked what he likes about living in America, George emphatically states “I love everything about this country. I love the freedom, the people, the culture. This is one of the most powerful countries in the world because people from all over the world helped build this country.” He adds, “You walk through the door and you have been given a big lottery ticket. You can choose what you want to do and there is no limit to what you can do or accomplish here in America.”

Meet Mitesh Patel

Growing up in Ahmedabad, India, Mitesh believed he and his brother would study somewhere in America and then return to India. At the age of 18, they first ventured to Columbia, Missouri where his parents and an uncle had business investments. After studying civil engineering in nearby Rolla, Mitesh accepted an engineering position with McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. But after two months, he knew he wanted to honor his true calling to a career in the hotel industry. Over time, he owned multiple hotels throughout both Missouri and Kansas. At one point when he decided to sell out and move “somewhere bigger like Denver, San Diego or to Florida,” he chose to stay in Wichita, recognizing the hotel market was strong in Kansas and he has since invested in multiple hotel properties across our state.

What does Mitesh like about living in America? Mitesh shares, “I love the people and how most people are really honest and trustworthy. You can believe what people say; they have faith and they have values. I also love how people here respect our country. Plus, if you work hard, you can achieve anything you want.”

Meet Ipek Born

Born in Ankara and raised in Istanbul, Ipek said she always knew her parents wanted to move out of Turkey to pursue advanced education opportunities for their children, and at the age of 16, Ipek’s family moved to Toronto. Ipek finished her senior year in high school there and then continued her education at the University of Toronto where she double majored in human biology and psychology, with an emphasis in global health. Her sights were next set on pursuing a graduate degree, however, a holiday family vacation aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas changed everything. It was on that ship that she met the love of her life, her future husband, who happened to be from Wichita.

It’s a wonderful love story. After dating long distance, they were married in a small ceremony in Wichita several years later and also traveled back to Istanbul for a larger church wedding where they were surrounded by family and friends from all three countries — Turkey, Canada and the United States. Today, Ipek is a licensed real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway, and after seven years of marriage the couple is currently raising their first baby.

When asked what she likes about living here and about America, Ipek shares, “Wichita is an easy place to live, the people are friendly and I’ve made great friends. And it is slow paced, so different than Turkey, and I like that. It’s just a nice quality of life.” Ipek adds, "What I like about America is it's a blend of so many cultures. We love learning about other cultures and sharing experiences. And people live together peacefully. We have freedom of speech to do things and be who we want. That can't be taken for granted."

These individuals, their stories, amazing achievements and particularly their love for America, serve as wonderful reminders of why we live in one of the greatest countries and are so fortunate in our independence and freedom. Happy July everyone!

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