By Vasilis Papoutsis, LA Correspondent
In an event that was dedicated to the late iconic community leader Aris Anagnos at the LMU Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies, former Governor of Massachusetts and the 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’ held a conversation with community members and students but his comments began with an alarming assessment.
“I am just not seeing enough young Greek-Americans getting involved in the political process these days,” the Governor said and argued that the Greek American community and the American society, in general, will benefit a great deal by the involvement of young people in public service. “I came along at a time when John Brademas was our hero. I went to law school with Paul Sarbanes who served with distinction in the US Senate for 30 years; and his son John, who is terrific, is now in Congress.” John Brademas was the first Greek-American member of Congress and he served as Majority Whip of the Congress for the Democratic Party from 1977 to 1981. After his remarkable public service career came to an end he became the 13th President of the New York University and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Brademas was just one of those Greek Americans who served with distinction it the US Congress, Olympia Snowe and Paul Tsongas were among others.
Governor Dukakis is probably the most successful Greek American Governor and the only one to run for President of the United States as the Democratic nominee. He is a strong believer of prominent Greek statesman during Athens’s Golden Age, Pericles’ principals who said the Athenian citizens are expected to be deeply and actively involved in the political life of the city. Dukakis made a point to emphasize that those who were not involved were called “ιδιωτες” a word that translates to “private citizen”, a self-centered individual that chooses not to contribute to the greater good. He also emphasized that the English word idiot derives from that same Greek word “ιδιωτης.’’ Governor Dukakis is very proud of what Greek Americans and other immigrants or first-generation Americans have accomplished and he said that “It’s awfully important to stand up and remind our fellow Americans of the immigrant contributions made to this country and that without those contributions the country would be a shadow of what it is today. Especially in the face of what we are experiencing today” the Governor said without mentioning by name the Trump administration. In particular, he praised two of those Greek Americans Peter Caloyeras the founder of the LMU Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies and Aris Anagnos, a co-founder of The Caloyeras Center and one of the principal founders of the American Hellenic Council. “Those two men were extraordinary Greek Americans who I’d like to think are representing a lot of us, who either immigrated to this country, or are the children of immigrants and did great things, in many, many ways. That is why one thing that drives me nuts…it’s this anti-immigrant business.” Anagnos and Caloyeras were both very successful businessmen who felt that they needed to help others achieve their dreams and dedicated their fortune and leadership towards that purpose.
Michael Dukakis has been committed to government reform since the 1960s when he was one of the founders of the Commonwealth Organization of Democrats (COD). Dukakis actively recruited idealistic and honorable professionals to run for office, candidates who are committed to the idea of a genuine Democracy. And Dukakis continues this effort even today. Like his hero Brademas, after his public service ended the Governor entered the teaching profession. Governor Dukakis became a professor of political science at Northeastern University and visiting professor in the Department of Public Policy at UCLA. “I have never seen my students as “turned on” to Public Service as they are these days. Part of that, I think, is a reaction to what is going on. I am very proud of the fact that two of my UCLA students are now serving in the Congress of the United States-both Latinos: one a young woman, the other a young man, Nanette Barragan and Jimmy Gomez. He shared the story of Jimmy Gomez, “his story is particularly important because his parents came here in the 1970s illegally, got Amnesty under the Reagan Amnesty Bill in the 80s and went through the school system. When he got into UCLA I got him in a class I teach on California policy issues and asked him if he was involved in politics. When his reply was no, I encouraged him to take advantage of this experience. And in doing so he is now a member of Congress.”
Andreas Kyprianides the Honorary Consul General of Cyprus who was involved in the Dukakis’ Presidential Campaign in 1988 and have been family friends since the Governor started teaching at UCLA for the past 24 years shared a story about Dukakis that he recalls fondly. “During a discussion, Dukakis told me that one of his heroes was Stylianos Kyriakides, the famous Greek Winner of the Boston Marathon in 1946. To his surprise I told him that Kyriakides was born and spent his early years in the village of Statos, very near my village of Houlou in Cyprus, and that my father who was only four years younger than the runner, used to watch him running as a boy up and down the hills between the two villages! He expressed the desire to see the house of Kyriakides’ birthplace and I made the arrangements. The village and house of Kyriakides birth are both abandoned now because of the ground moving in the area, but Michael and Kitty visited anyway. On the way back they stopped by my village and my now deceased mother Iouliani said to me that Dukakis is a very nice and humble man and that he had chosen a very pretty wife. She was right.” Dukakis is now 85 years old and he promised to continue to contribute as long as he is able to do so. The event was filmed for a documentary currently entitled Greek Diaspora by producer/director Nikolette Orlandou.
Photo Credit: Photographer Sara Hanson, Courtesy of Nikolette Orlandou