NEW YORK – “The Ethnikos Kyrikas newspaper was my first contact with my country when I came to America in 1962 for a better life. Illegal, without knowing a single English word, without having one of my own people and a relative, the National Herald became my companion and my comfort in those difficult times. From then until today, for 56 years, reading the newspaper is a daily way of life,” said Theodoros Halikiopoulos in an interview with TNH.
Asked how he decided to immigrate to America, the 81-year-old Greek pointed out the difficulties of life in the post-war years on Lefkada, as well as in all of Greece.
He told TNH, “Many young people, myself among them, had a great dream to come to America for work and a better quality of life. Many times I tried to leave without success either because of my young age or because I did not have a relative here to invite me. I tried my fortunes in Athens, but I did not even like it. America had always been in my mind. I was dreaming about living in such a rich country.”
Halikiopoulos continued, “One day, miraculously, I read in the Athenian newspaper ads that the then Greek government would grant naval licenses to people aged 16 to 25, ‘That’s my opportunity to go to America,’ I immediately thought. Without any delay I did all the necessary procedures, I took the leave, and a few months later shipped out on the boats. On my first trips to America I could not leave the ship because I was not allowed as a young man at work.
“Later on one of the trips, we went to Philadelphia to load oil. They let me go out in the evening with a group for fun. I did not say anything to anyone about my plans. As soon as my foot touched the ground, I slowly moved away from them, got a taxi and went to Washington. There, an acquaintance, an elderly gentleman, hosted me for a few days in his home and found me a job in a restaurant. My dream slowly became a reality.
“But joy turned into fear when a few days later I learned that they were looking for me from the immigration service, apparently someone betrayed me that I was illegal in America. They went to the house where I was staying with my photo, asking for information. I was afraid, I hid, and a few days later I fled for New York. My first stop was Time Square. There were many Greeks in the area during those years. I asked for a job with a fake name for fear of being recognized as a wanted person. I stayed in hotel rooms and worked in restaurants.
“I always had the fear of being arrested and deported back to Greece until I got the green card,” he said.
“As a legitimate citizen, my life calmed down. I settled in Long Island, changed profession, from the restaurants I went to the insurance business, where I am until today. I married my beloved wife Irene and we have two good kids Krystallo, a gym owner, and Demetris, an ophthalmologist, and two beautiful grandchildren, Nikos and Alexandra.”
“My life in America looks like Odysseas’ adventure, but I glorify and thank God for all that He has given me,” he said.