While Nazis were invading the Greek island of Chios during World War II, my grandma, her sister and their uncle got in a rowboat and rowed to safety on the nearby Turkish shores.
My grandmother was taken in as a refugee in Turkey and Gaza before being moved to work in Cyprus.
Eventually, she moved to the United States, married my grandfather, and had a son and a daughter who had sons and daughters -- one of whom was me.
Over the last year, refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries have made that exact opposite escape route, traveling on a boat from Turkey to Chios.
They’re seeking the same thing my grandmother was: safety and the opportunity for a productive life.
In many ways, my grandmother was lucky she was able to escape and find refuge, as many other refugees in Europe were barred from safety.
Although I consider my grandma’s story extraordinary, it’s not that different from many of my friends’ family stories.
At one point or another in history, every one of us had a relative who was a refugee. Even if they weren’t literally marked as one, there was someone who had to move or change lifestyles to avoid violence and persecution.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, herself a refugee, wrote yesterday:
I will always feel an immense gratitude to this country, one shared by the millions of other refugees who have come to our shores in the years since — including Eastern European Jews, Hungarians, Vietnamese, Somalis, Cubans and Bosnian Muslims.
These stories make up the fabric of the United States -- keep that in mind with Thanksgiving pilgrims -- and, really, most of humanity.
This is part of the reason why I’ve been getting so mad about people saying they don’t want to welcome refugees due to fear of a Paris-like attack.
To be clear, it’s not like the United States is just letting anyone in who says they’re a refugee. The country has a strict screening process before a Syrian refugee is let in that takes an average of 18 to 24 months.
The refugees, including children, are escaping turbulent violence in their homes, from bombings to individual attacks and personal threats.
All they want is a better future for themselves and their children -- just like my grandma did, and just like pretty much everyone’s ancestors did when faced with severe adversity.
Chios remained under Nazi occupation for years while the country suffered from a devastating famine. Immediately after WWII, Greece launched a civil war.
I don’t know what would have happened had my grandma not taken the risk to row to Turkey and hold onto whatever safety she could find.
But what I do know is I’m here right now because of refugees who got on a boat to escape violence in their countries for the possibility of safety in another one.
I’m here because my refugee grandmother was taken into international care rather than turned away and sent back.