A Bridge to America’s Future: The story of immigrants to our region; a story of master craftsmen

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In Turkey’s vibrant jewelry industry, a young Armenian boy of 10 begins learning his trade, destined to become a master craftsman. Some 2,300 miles away in Portugal, an 11-year-old boy is learning to become a watchmaker.

They would hone their crafts in their native countries, learning from master craftsmen, the way many children learned some 60 years ago.

These are two immigrants, like so many, who came to this country to find the American dream … and did. Neither has written a book, scaled the highest mountain or found a cure for some otherwise incurable disease.

They are two hardworking individuals, who came to America with little more than their dreams, and with unique skills that they put to work in a 50-year-old plus jewelry business. They have raised families, working hard at their crafts, contributing to that American dream through hard-work and family values.

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It was President George Bush, who said upon the signing of the Immigration Act of 1990 that “immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future.”

Today, those words seem lost amid a constant cascade of rebuke for immigrants from around the globe by the current administration in Washington and many of its closest allies.

Artin Taskin and Mario Antonio are a “bridge to America’s Future.” And it’s with them that we begin an ongoing series about the immigrants who are helping to build our region’s future. We will be running stories of first generation immigrants who are making a difference in America, and in our community.

Our list is long, from those in professions, business owners, students, educators, and community organizers. From every corner of our region, with diverse backgrounds and skills … all sharing a dream that indeed they are part of that “Bridge to America’s future.”

We invite you, if you are a first generation immigrant, to let us tell your story, or if you know of someone you think we should be spotlighting … email me at frank.prosnitz@gmail.com.

Artin Taskin and Mario Antonio are two craftsmen, meticulous and creative in their work, and part of a vanishing breed.

Not long after arriving in America – in Rhode Island – they found employment with a young man, Joseph Audette, who, with a silent partner, had just purchased a downtown Providence jewelry company that primarily served as a repair and custom jewelry design shop for many of the area’s jewelry retailers.

Today, that company has become among the premier jewelry retailers in the region, with an expansive 7,000 square foot building, an extensive inventory, at 927 Warren Ave., East Providence. This year MRT celebrates 100 years in business.

And just as they had when the business was much smaller, in a third floor Providence office building, Artin and Mario are at their benches, repairing and designing jewelry.

Artin Taskin, that boy from Turkey, came to America as a young man. He, would become one of Joseph Audette’s first employees at MRT Jewelers, a business he and a silent partner bought in 1972 from the original owners, the Radoccia and Tasca families, who first opened the business in 1918.

Taskin was the perfect fit, a master craftsman. He was joined two years later by Mario Antonio, a young Portuguese watchmaker, who came to America shortly after he married. A chance meeting with Audette would bring Mario to MRT, where he turned his watchmaking skills into that of a jeweler.

The three worked and grew the business together, from a time when gold was just $35 an ounce to today when its value is more than $1,300 per ounce.

In a backroom of MRT’s upscale jewelry store, you’ll find Artin and Mario at their bench, not visible from the showroom, much as they have for so many years.

Both have been with MRT for more than four decades. You can hear the emotion as they talk of their relationship with this company and with Joseph Audette, who took them on as employees, but also became their friends. Joseph would be their language teacher, a word a day, five days week.

Taskin, who always seems to have a twinkle in his eye, asks how well they’re “doing with the language,” some 40 plus years into the one-word a day lessons. They’re doing well.

Joseph was best man at Taskin’s wedding, took the two craftsmen to their first ballgames and stood with them as their own families grew.

You hear the emotion in Mario’s voice as he talks of the relationship, of the growth of all three of their families, and Joseph’s son, David’s entrance into the business.

Joseph would caution David that he would have to “earn” the trust of the two craftsmen, something he did well, by what David says is “listening.”

Antonio and Taskin, immigrants from Portugal and Turkey, are part of what has brought the Audette family to this 100th-year celebration of the founding of MRT. And they are also emblematic of all those who have come to America with hope and have made this country a bit better for their having been here.

Here a podcast of the conversation with Artin, Mario, and Joseph below;

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