Updated is a new Mission Local series that is doing just that: updating old stories to see what has happened to the people and places we have written about.
Eleven years ago, Murat Celebi was playing World of Warcraft in his 22nd Street apartment when he heard a knock at his door. He remembers that as he walked to the door, his home smelled of lemons – one of the ingredients he used in the muffins that he sold from his “Amuse Bouche” cart at the 24th Street BART station.
When the amicable 36-year-old Frenchman opened the door, agents from the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement department stood on his threshold.
That was the Amuse Bouche man’s last day in the Mission. For Mission Local, his story became front-page news. For the young game designer turned food vendor, it was the end of his life as he knew it.
“I don’t know why I opened the door.”
Originally from Dijon, France, Celebi came to the Mission in 2009 for love, following his then-girlfriend Pelin Ariner, who held dual citizenship in Turkey and the United States. When they married in August 2009, they joined their names as Celebi-Ariner.
“I was in love with Pelin,” he said. “I just wanted to live with her, whatever happened.”
Celebi arrived through the Visa Waiver Program, which allowed him to reside in the United States for 90 days without a visa. He didn’t have a plan for making a living in San Francisco, but the Mission was in the midst of a food-cart renaissance, so Celebi embarked on his “muffin-making adventure,” he said. Amuse Bouche emerged from that.
Murat and Pelin married, but they turned in Murat’s green card paperwork late. When ICE agents came to his door, his second 90-day stint in the visa waiver program had expired.
“I don’t know why I opened the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone,” Celebi said, looking back on this day 11 years later.
Celebi knows now that if he had not opened the door, ICE would not have had the right to enter his apartment.
“I could have stayed for a few more weeks,” Celebi said. “By that time, my paperwork would have been filed, and I could have stayed.”
But he did open the door. ICE kept Celebi in detention for more than two weeks and then sent him back to Paris, where his wife joined him.
“We lived a normal life”
The Amuse Bouche street cart did not move with Murat and Pelin. (Alas, Parisians are not as accustomed to buying food on the streets as Mission residents are, Celebi says.) In September 2010, Pelin and Murat’s son, Yunus, was born.
The Celebi-Ariner family next moved to Lille, a city in the north of France near the Belgian border. There, Murat returned to game design.
“We lived a normal life, nothing extraordinary,” he said.
After three years in Lille, his wife, Pelin was ready for a change.
“Lille was hard for me because it was always cold and gray. It made me unhappy,” Pelin said in a recent interview. “I wanted to look for a more Mediterranean climate.”
In late 2014, the family packed their bags again, this time for Tekirdag, a small town on the Balkan peninsula in the west of Turkey. The couple also moved back into the food industry. Pelin managed and Murat was in charge of food and drinks at Pelin’s uncle’s restaurant and winery.
“I enjoyed being able to cook again,” Murat said. “I made tarts, cookies, and other desserts, and I really enjoyed it. I liked that life.”
The Celebi-Ariners gave up working at the winery to move to Istanbul so that Yunus could attend a French school. Pelin became an English teacher, and Murat went back to working full-time in game design.
“I didn’t feel free”
Istanbul depressed Murat.
He attributes his dark mood to Turkey’s failed coup in 2016. During the turmoil, Murat and Pelin witnessed shootings and explosions in their neighborhood. After the coup attempt, Murat continued to suffer.
“There was no more freedom of expression in Turkey, no more justice,” he said. “I was raised in France, a country of freedom where people say what they think. I couldn’t continue to live in Turkey. I didn’t feel free.”
But Pelin didn’t want to leave Turkey. In February 2019, the couple split, and Murat moved back to France, settling in Sartrouville, a suburb outside of Paris, where he still lives.
Amuse Bouche era: “It was the best experience of my life”
Celebi now works as a game design teacher for students aged 18 to 20 who are just out of lycée, the French equivalent of high school.
When asked if Yunus wants to be a game designer like his father, Celebi laughed.
“Like any kid, Yunus wants to do what his dad is doing. Although, his first choice is a professional football player and his second choice is a veterinarian. His third choice is a game designer.”
Yunus currently splits his time between living with his mother in Istanbul and his father in France. Celebi said goodbye to Yunus on a recent Monday when Yunus’s trip to France ended. Celebi doesn’t know when he will see his son again. The Covid-19 travel restrictions have made reunions more difficult.
Almost 11 years after his deportation, Celebi says he still thinks about his time as a street vendor in San Francisco often – not every day, but often enough.
“It was just one year, but it was the best experience of my life. I felt accomplishment, well-being, freedom. I learned so much about myself,” Celebi said.
Celebi, who was banned from entering the United States for 10 years when he was deported, can now return. He would like to visit the Mission, but for the moment, his budget doesn’t allow it.
If he was able, Celebi says, he would take Yunus to the Mission, and they would eat tacos at Pancho Villa Taqueria.
“I would cry if I could see the people at my street cart again. I would say thank you for that wonderful time,” Celebi paused. “It’s hard to turn pages.”
See all in Updated.
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