Miss Kosovo made an appearance in Westchester. It was not a public appearance, There were no sparkling evening gowns, no silk sashes and no diamond tiaras. The TV cameras were not there, the photographers’ cameras did not flash and there were no runways to walk down. Just a 22 year old girl from Kosovo with an American Dream.
Mirjeta Shala came to Mamaroneck for a retirement party for a woman she did not know. Her fiancé, Rory, works for my family’s real estate company. They live humbly on the Upper East Side in a tiny apartment which Rory looks after as the building superintendent. They are expecting a baby in a few months. They are hoping to build a life together in New York. By the way, they are both Muslim.
Rory is also from Kosovo. He is part of a family of 5 brothers that came to New York after serving in the Kosovo Army during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. Kosovo was war-torn, much like Syria today. Rory’s uncle Jack was the first to come. Jack worked for us for 25 years, but has now moved on. Jack bought a house up in Mahopac and is investing in real estate on his own. He is living the American Dream.
Mirjeta was crowned Miss Kosovo in 2013. In 2014, she was to compete in the Miss Universe contest in Russia. However, because of the long-standing conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, Miss Kosovo was not allowed to compete in the pageant in Russia. As you probably know, the Miss Universe pageant was owned by Donald Trump. Mirjeta told me, “Because I was not allowed to compete, Mr. Trump did the right thing and offered me a three year contract with the modelling agency that he owns in New York – Trump Models”. Mirjeta got to come to America.
In 2015, the Miss Universe pageant was in Las Vegas. Mirjeta was given the opportunity to represent her country as Miss Kosovo. She told me she was on stage when Steve Harvey famously blundered the winner. Mirjeta said “Everyone loved Miss Columbia and in her country winning the pageant was like winning the Super Bowl, so we were sad for her when the mistake was made..although we all loved Miss Philippines too.” Mirjeta has the manners and poise of a debutante.
Mirjeta sat with my wife Rina, who came to this country from Peru when she was 5 years old. Rina had been a model with Ford Models for 32 years and still models. She shared stories with Mirjeta and gave her advice about the modelling business. They also talked about babies since Mirjeta was having her first and my wife, the mother of 4, has some experience in that area as well.
I asked Mirjeta what she thought about Donald Trump. She said he gave me an opportunity so I am grateful, but people in my country don’t like him. They are afraid of his immigration policies. I asked her about Putin. She said they definitely don’t like Putin. So who do they like? “They love Bill Clinton. There are statues to him in my country”.
The former owner of the Miss Universe pageant is now our President. His generosity as a private citizen in giving Miss Kosovo a contract shows he knows the power of giving someone access to the American Dream. Certainly his own experiences with a model from Slovenia named Melania who is now our First Lady informs his perspective as well. However, his latest actions as President regarding immigration have people concerned that he does not fully comprehend the awesome power, and responsibility, he now has as President. To be sure, it is not an easy job. Balancing national security against providing access to everyone who wants to come here to pursue their own American Dream is extremely difficult. But what is also sure is that no one is building statutes to Donald Trump in foreign lands at this point. Maybe some Clinton “statue-envy” will put him on the right track. Trump doesn’t like to lose at anything.
A few months ago, I went to a wedding in the Bronx. Jack’s son was getting married. It was a Muslim wedding. All of the 5 brothers from Kosovo were there. Their mother flew in from Kosovo. There were over 500 people there who now live in the United States from the former countries of Yugoslavia – Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most were new Americans and the rest were hoping to be. The wedding was a colorful celebration of their traditions from their old country, not unlike an Italian, Irish or Jewish wedding with its own unique customs.
We are a country of immigrants – especially in New York. We wish Miss Kosovo all the best as she pursues her own American Dream in our great land. We all have our own stories to tell. Some American Dreams are further along than others, but they all begin with a dream. The President must get this right. Because American Dreams are like threads in the gown of Lady Liberty that make up the fabric of this country - threads that connect us all.