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Dr. Tony Kireopoulos

I am the grandson of immigrants.  My paternal grandparents came from Greece, by way of Canada, in the early part of the last century and settled in San Francisco.  My maternal grandparents also came from Greece during the same period and settled in the Chicago area.  Growing up in the next town over from the latter, I remember hearing their stories most of all.  Yes, there were tales about their struggles, usually about the poverty and bigotry they initially faced, but many were about the everyday ups and downs experienced by their growing family, certainly still Greek in heritage, but by then American by birth and sentiment.  The family has grown from their 11 children to 30 grandchildren and, after their passing many years ago, to seemingly countless great- and great-great grandchildren.

This sprawling family has become like other American families, and among our brood we can count teachers and nurses, truckdrivers and builders, administrators and business executives, lawyers and doctors, soldiers and theologians.  And because of marriages, our collective heritage now includes a wide mix of ethnicities.  We had a reunion a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful to see how big, varied, and fruitful our family tree had grown.

As it happens, one of my aunts long ago married a man from Mexico, and soon they moved to Mexico City.  The way I hear it, my grandparents were initially dismayed that one of their children would move to another country after they had toiled so hard to make a life in the US.  Still, they loved their new son-in-law, and soon they became used to having a daughter and grandchildren so far away.  I remember going to one of my cousin’s weddings, now some 30 years ago, and remarking in my family toast how amazing it was that, from a tiny village in Greece, part of our family had taken root in “la ciudad mas grande del mundo” (the largest city in the world), a comment that was met with Mexican pride and applause, and that prompted the band to start up a rendition of “Zorba the Greek!”  It drove home to me that we all are indeed one.   

That is why today I am heartbroken to see how we, as Americans, are treating the immigrants at our southern border who are struggling to find freedom and opportunity.  When I see pictures of the children, I remember the eyes of my Mexican cousins when they were children.  When I hear the cries of the parents whose children have been separated from them, I remember the laments of the poor and oppressed in Central America with whom I once had the honor to stand in solidarity against an injustice.  When I read the stories of the violence many are trying to escape, I remember the stories of the war that ravaged the village from which my own family had sprung. 

And when I listen to the rantings of those who espouse “replacement theory” and advocate for policies limiting, or even barring, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from entering the US, I wonder what is happening to our country, the country that once welcomed my grandparents and witnessed the contribution my relatives have since made to American society.  If my family was welcomed, why not these families?  If we were able to prosper, why not offer others the same hope?

My faith teaches me that we are all “alien(s) residing in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22, NRSV).  We hear the words of Jesus, that we are to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:31-46).  But we need not rely on religious belief to lead us to help our neighbors.  Common decency informs our understanding of how we are to treat others.  Common sense tells us we should not privilege ourselves over others based on the randomness of where we were born.  And our common humanity calls us to love one another.

Dr. Kireopoulos is Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

About this blog: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original author and were prepared in the author’s personal capacity. These views and opinions do not represent those of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, its member communions, or any other contributors to this site.