Refugees, Immigrants, and Halabeoji Hospitality

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Courtesy of Dallas Morning News

The 93-year-old Texan was affectionately called “Ellis halabujji,” which is Korean for grandfather (할아버지). Mr. Ellis Baskette Reed, Jr. spent more than twenty years mentoring foreigners, most of whom were Koreans.

Ellis would tip his hat to me each time he entered the office foyer and address me as “boss-lady” as if we had been transported to the rugged West where I managed ranch hands on a massive spread. He was a straightforward fellow, curved in spine and aged in years, possessing a simple, no-nonsense style. His family moved to Dallas in the early part of the twentieth century where his father started a hardware store which his two sons later ran. To my knowledge, these two brothers and their sister never married. They spent their years together and led quiet, unassuming lives.

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Courtesy of Eunbi Grace Choi

Ellis died in February, flooding a rush of memories to me. Ellis had been one of my English tutors for a program I oversaw while I directed the International Office at a local graduate school. He came twice a week for the ten years I worked there, and he continued after I moved. He assisted international students in strengthening their command of the language at a  graduate level. He was particular. He was incisive. Ellis was exacting when it came to English grammar and syntax, yet his demeanor was reserved, kind, and warm.

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Courtesy of Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home

He dedicated at least ten hours a week to these nonresidents, often joining them in family events outside of class times. He did all of this to serve the minority in our community, for over twenty years and for free. As he aged, he became unable to drive himself to the school, so he began to pay to volunteer. He began to hire a driver to shuttle him back and forth to his lessons, and he continued teaching until his health prohibited it.

With the current furor regarding refugees and immigrants, Ellis’s example arrests me. What if humans did something unexpected? More than begrudging acquiescence or militant opposition, what if we paid to help the immigrants in our land? Far from patronization, since resident and newcomer are both guests on earth,[1] what if we shared our resources, as we would want done to us?

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Courtesy of Eunbi Grace Choi

[1] See the work of Gemma Tulud Cruz in An Intercultural Theology of Migration: Pilgrims in the Wilderness. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

 

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