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First jobs: Coming to America

Journalist Fareed Zakaria speaks to Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak during an interview at the Council of Foreign Relations during the United Nations General Assembly in New York Sept. 26, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Chris Taylor


NEW YORK — If there is one subject at the forefront of the 2016 U.S. election, it is immigration.

For the latest installment of our "First Jobs" series, Reuters talked to a few immigrants whose success has become part of the rich fabric of American life.

Reza Aslan, Author

Born in: Iran

First job: Pizza shop

"My first job was at Stuft Pizza in San Jose, which had opened up next to my high school. Every 15-year-old in my class applied for a job there.

As immigrants, my family brought nothing with us, even though we had been wealthy landowners in Iran. I remember watching my dad go to work at a job he hated, and that really had an effect on me.

Right away, I decided that I didn't want to work for anyone else, so I worked my ass off and then became shift manager. That was uncomfortable being the boss of my classmates, because they refused to listen to anything I said.

"I got a 75-cent-per-hour raise. But I also got to wear a different color apron, which to me was way more important. To this day, by the way, I can still spin a pizza.

"Since then, I have gone back there to eat. But the whole time I just judged everybody on things like the spacing of the pepperoni. I guess that tells you about my personality."

Ashleigh Banfield, Host, "Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield," on CNN

Born in: Canada

First job: TV jack-of-all-trades

"This was back in 1988 at a tiny little TV station in the middle of nowhere. It was in Keewatin, in northwestern Ontario, not that far from my hometown of Winnipeg. I got the job by offering to empty their wastepaper baskets.

"It was a total staff of six people, and it paid maybe $7,000 a year Canadian, which was around $5,000 in U.S. dollars. It didn't matter and I didn't care. It was there that I learned how to be a one-man band: Operating a camera, writing, editing, anchoring. It was a baptism by fire.

"Believe it or not, I had to get there by boat. I had to jump into an 18-horsepower, 14-foot aluminum fishing boat, and drive 15 minutes to the TV station. I couldn't even afford the gas, so my parents had to help me. I used to put on my fancy clothes and high heels, and then get in a tin boat and arrive looking like I just survived the Andrea Doria.

"I still go back there every year, which brings me back to my roots. I have pictures in front of the TV station from 28 years ago, of me just starting out in my hiking boots, and then of me today. Nothing behind me has changed at all - except the bushes have grown larger."

Fareed Zakaria, Host, "Fareed Zakaria GPS," on CNN

Born in: India

First job: Cookie inspector

"My father used to be a politician, and he was an honest one, so when he left office he needed to make some money. He decided to start a little company that made biscuits. It was a very small operation - there was literally only one oven.

"They were short-staffed, so I used to commute 1-1/2 hours each way from my home in Mumbai and inspect sugar cookies. We had a high number of defective cookies, so my job that summer was to figure out what was going on. I tend to look at everything analytically, so I thought of it like a puzzle that had to be solved.

"And we did solve it: Turned out the conveyor belt had some soot on it that was getting on the biscuits. So we exposed the belt to 800-degree heat, just like cleaning a grill. I was so incredibly hot afterwards that I had to jump in an ice-cold swimming pool. I felt sick for three days.

"I got paid nothing, by the way. It was a classic family business. But I did earn the respect of my father."