For Congresswoman Alice Costandina “Dina” Titus, a Greek life was hard to come by growing up in southern Georgia.
“We had to drive as far as Jacksonville, Florida to get a jar of Kalamata olives,” she recalled.
Thankfully, there was her Greek grandfather and his restaurant. That was enough to give her a love of Greece, politics and a sense of giving back.
Congresswoman Titus, a Democrat, left the small Georgia town of Tifton and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1977.
Today, Titus is in her fourth term representing the 1st Congressional District in Las Vegas. She was also U.S. representative for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional district from 2009 to 2011 and served 20 years representing the 7th District in the Nevada Senate.
She’s the only Greek American woman serving in the U.S. Congress and is one of five Greeks in the Congressional Hellenic Caucus.
The group, including one Republican, all work closely together on Greek issues, she said.
While in office, Titus has:
•Sponsored a resolution honoring the consecration of the new Greek church in Las Vegas
•Sponsored a resolution recognizing Macedonia as Greek
•Stood in strong support of efforts to protect the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul
•Stood in strong support of efforts to reunify Cyprus
•Supported resolutions recognizing Greek independence
She received the Pericles award for civic leadership from the American Hellenic Council in Los Angeles in 2009 and was recognized by PSEKA at the 26th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.
She is also a founding member of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance.
These days, she’s looking at the Turkish aggression against Greece and Cyprus, and the Turkish exploitation of gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The possibility of conflict with Turkey has just been increasing over the last month or so,” she said, particularly as Turkey continues to enter the waters of Cyprus and Greece as it explores natural gas reserves there.
She was initially heartened to see Turkey recently pull back one of its survey ships from those waters as a hopeful sign of de-escalation.
But Turkey is claiming the ship was pulled back for maintenance, and has since re-deployed it in Greek waters. Its mission is set to end Oct. 22.
The Congresswoman still hopes tensions can be defused, possibly by having discussions through NATO.
“They will certainly not be eliminated so that will be a serious problem,” she said.
It doesn’t help that the U.S. sends a weak signal to Turkey over its aggressive acts as President Trump seems to favor Turkish leader Recep Erdogan.
“We’ve sanctioned Turkey for buying the Russian weapons but it’s back and forth, back and forth. I don’t think we’ve had a strong enough position against Turkey from the United States,” Titus said.
She’s also condemned Turkey’s conversion of the historically Greek Orthodox church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque.
“it’s been a museum for so long, protected as one of the international sites that everybody recognizes.”
Turkey has taken similar action with other Greek churches and destroyed churches in Cyprus.
“We’ve introduced an amendment that the Greek Caucus signed on to, an amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill to denounce the converting of Hagia Sophia,” the Congresswoman said.
It’s critical that the United States and NATO pressure Turkey, to let them know their behavior is unacceptable, she said.
The Greek Congressional caucus has sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressing their concerns.
Titus, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs also supports the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act that establishes relationships between Greece, the U.S., Cyprus and Israel.
Congress has also restarted the CYCLOPS program, a U.S/Republic of Cyprus training center. It focuses on security and safety in Cyprus in customs, exports, port and maritime security and cybersecurity.
Talking With Biden
Titus said Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has a long record of supporting Greece and has the support of the Greek members of Congress.
Biden has condemned the actions against Hagia Sophia, protested against Turkish aggression in Cyprus and received an award from the Greek Orthodox Church for his efforts on behalf of Greece.
“We’re confident that his position as president would be very good for our Greek relations,” she said.
Where it all started
Congresswoman Titus is the granddaughter of a man who started off as a dishwasher when he came to America in 1911 from Trikala, Greece. She credits her grandfather, Arthur Cathones, with giving her his appreciation of their Greek heritage and love of politics.
Cathones successfully pursued his own American dream and went from a dishwasher to the owner of several restaurants.
“That’s a very typical Greek American story,” she pointed out.
Cathones settled in Georgia, married and raised a daughter, Titus’ mother.
Titus was born in 1950 in Thomasville, GA, but was raised in Tifton.
Titus helped her father and grandfather run his restaurant in town and picked up what Greek she could at home.
The small southern town had no Greek church, no Greek school.
“I missed that,” she said.
It wasn’t until she moved to Las Vegas that she started attending a Greek church, St. John the Baptist. Just recently, she was able to help a Greek iconographer travel to the church to paint icons for them.
She believes it’s important to embrace her heritage, especially in an age where so much of life is homogenized.
“I think you want to cling to those things that make you an individual and those values of Greece are something I hold dear and I think are worth protecting.”
She took her Congressional oath of office using her grandfather’s Greek Bible and remembered his life by purchasing a brick with his name on it at the restored Ellis Island, his entry point into the U.S.
Interest in politics
Congresswoman Titus half jokes that her interest in politics is genetic, going back to a café her grandfather owned in West Point, Georgia, before she was born. It was just down the street from the Little White House, where FDR went for polio treatments.
“His restaurant catered to him and served the troop trains that went through there so I’m sure he was a big fan of FDR and that’s also what made him a Democrat,” she said.
She grew up in a politically active family. Her father, Joe Titus, ran for Tifton City Council, while her uncle, Theo Titus, served in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Her grandfather’s restaurant in Tifton was across the street from the courthouse.
“There was a big table in the back where all the politicians…and people like that came and drank coffee in the afternoon. I think that must have been my first introduction to politics,” she said.
Her grandfather was proud to be an American citizen and civically minded. He instilled that in her.
“It’s about service as well as about legislating. It’s about representing people. That’s how I view it. I think of myself as a public servant, not as a politician.”