LOS ANGELES, CA – Governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic Party’s 1988 presidential nominee, spoke to a packed room full of college students and young professionals on March 28 in Los Angeles, emphasizing the importance of civic engagement.
Since his early steps in public service during the 1960s Dukakis has been committed to government reform, cleansing the political system of corruption, and encouraging young professionals to serve.
As one the founders of the Commonwealth Organization of Democrats (COD), Dukakis dedicated several evenings each week to actively recruiting idealistic, honorable, and able professionals to run for office in an effort to reinvigorate local and state government with a new generation, committed to the ideal of a genuine Democracy with respect for human and civil rights.
Almost 60 years later, Dukakis is still at it.
At the talk, organized by Dr. Christina Bogdanou, Director of The Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies of at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), the former Massachusetts Governor, Northeastern University Distinguished Professor, and visiting professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs contemplated the current state of U.S. politics and the country’s future.
Evgenia Beniatoglou, the Consul General of Greece in Los Angeles, introduced the Governor to a standing ovation.
During his presentation Dukakis cited Pericles as well as Plato’s Republic. He said, among other things, that “thousands of immigrants have defined what this country is all about and yet we have had this persistent history of anti-immigrant sentiment: the Chinese exclusion Act of 1882; the incarceration of German aliens – one of whom was the Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – during WWI at camps in the South; prejudice against the Irish at some point, and then Southern Europeans, us…(Greeks) or the Italians especially after WWI,” he said.
“I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the Sacco and Vanzetti case: two Italian immigrants were put to death for a crime they never committed. It was all about anti Italian prejudice.”
He also said that “similar things happened to Japanese Americans in WWII, and now it’s Muslims and I don’t know who is going to be next. One thing I hope is that we, as Greek Americans, will be using every opportunity we have to remind our fellow Americans that without the contributions of all of us who have come to this country and have done great things, this country would be a shadow of what it is. Aris (Anagnos) understood that, Peter (Caloyeras) understood that. I hope all of you understand it and I hope we never forget it.”
Dukakis also said that “as a Greek American, I am proud of what we’ve done, and what other immigrants, or first generation Americans, like us, have done, and I think it’s awfully important to stand up and say that, in the face of what we are experiencing these days!”
He then noted that “there are some pluses to what is going on in our country today, but I can tell you (and I assume this is true here LMU) that I have never seen my students (both at Northeastern and at UCLA) as ‘turned on’ to Public Service as they are these days. Part of that, I think, is a reaction to what is going on.”
Dukakis said, “I am very proud of the fact that two of my UCLA students are now in the Congress of the United States both Latinos: one, a young woman, the other a young man – Nanette Barragan and Jimmy Gomez. And Jimmy’s story is particularly important. His parents came here in the 1970s, illegally, and got Amnesty under the Reagan Amnesty Bill in the 80s. Jimmy went through the school system, graduated high school, went to a community college.
I think his mother was still cleaning houses when he transferred to UCLA. I got him in a class I teach on California Policy issues. And there was something about this kid that impressed me.”
Dukakis said he called him in and asked him: “Are you involved politically?” The answer was “no.”
He then told him, “If you are interested, do everything you can to take advantage of this experience.” He did, graduating with honors, and then attending the Kennedy School at Harvard.
“Kitty and I had him across the river for two years; he got his Masters in Public Policy, and came back out here. He got elected and reelected three times at the Assembly. And he just got elected by 20 percentage points at the special election to fill Javier Becerra’s vacated seat. That’s the American Story. The American Dream. Isn’t it? At its best.”
The event was dedicated to Aris Anagnos, the Los Angeles Greek-American community leader and Dukakis friend, who passed away last year. Anagnos, co-founded, chaired and financed countless cultural, philanthropic and political organizations and initiatives, including The Caloyeras Center. Daughter Thalia, his son Demos, and daughter-in-law Carol Anagnos attended the event and received an honorary plaque.
“Our family is honored to be a small part of Governor Dukakis’ journey to inspire Hellenism in American civic life today,” stated Demos and Thalia Anagnos, adding, “our father strongly encouraged young people to effect change and get involved in politics. He was very proud of Governor Michael Dukakis’ success. Together they frequently fought for social justice and a better America for everyone.”
Dr. Bogdanou said, “We think that Governor Dukakis’ life and mission exemplifies the ethos of Aris Anagnos’ life and commitment to democracy, freedom, and human rights. Mr. Anagnos’ long-time commitment to social justice and human rights was aligned with LMU’s mission to educate our students in their civic duties and responsibilities. We are honored to have Governor Dukakis speak to our students today and to have Aris Anagnos’ name in several courses offered every semester.”
Governor Dukakis spoke briefly about the founders of The Caloyeras Center, which was under the directorship of Dr. Demetrios Liappas for over thirty-five years. “Peter Caloyeras and Aris Anagnos were two extraordinary Greek-Americans, who I’d like to think are representative of a lot of us, who either immigrated to this country, or are the children of immigrants and did great things, in many, many ways. As a Greek-American, I am proud about what we’ve done, and what other immigrants like us, have done,” he said.
Dukakis expressed his hope that, like Pericles, “this university and other schools around the country will encourage young people ‘to get deeply, and actively, involved in the political life of their communities.”
The occasion was filmed in connection with Nikolette Orlandou’s documentary, titled Greek Diaspora.
The Caloyeras Center offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum in Modern Greek Studies. Courses are offered in Modern Greek history, the Greek Orthodox tradition and spirituality, Modern Greek literature, language and culture, theater, and film.
Every summer the Center organizes the Odyssey Program, a four-week travel and study program in Greece. The academic program takes place primarily on Spetses Island and is open to all LMU students.
The Center also sponsors and organizes lectures, readings, film screenings, concerts, symposia, and exhibitions on topics of interest to the university and the community at large.