Beverly Hills, Ca.- By Penny Adamopoulos
Andreas Borgeas is a Greek-American educator and politician in California. He is a professor of law at the San Joaquin College of Law and serves as a Fresno County Supervisor.
Andreas, by way of background, attended public schools, was an altar boy, enjoyed playing tennis and was very active in the Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. His parents encouraged education and instilled in him a strong work ethic by starting Andreas working at the age of 11. Through hard work, Andreas went on to receive his education at Northern Arizona University, Harvard University and Georgetown Law School, becoming a Fulbright Scholar and in 2000 a member of the California Bar.
He came to Fresno, California to serve a term as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Oliver W. Wanger at the U.S. District Court. A chance introduction to a girl at Starbucks piqued his interest, and after becoming active in church and community he quickly fell in love with Fresno and decided to make it home. Andreas later went into private practice where he specialized in business and international law, and recently was a Policy Specialist Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan. Drawn to education, Andreas is the Professor of International and Comparative Law at the San Joaquin College of Law.
He is married to Anna (that very girl from Starbucks!) who is the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. Andreas and Anna are blessed with two children – Aleko and Aris – and they enjoy sharing with them their Greek heritage in the vibrant and dynamic Fresno County they are working to create.
Andreas was first elected to serve as a member of the Fresno City Council (2009-2012) and in January 2013 was sworn in as a member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
*Penny: Yia sou Andreas! It is a pleasure meeting you! Thank you much for agreeing to do this interview with me on behalf of American Hellenic Council. It is an honor to have accomplished individuals in our community.
Andreas: Yia sou Penny! The pleasure is mine! Thank you for having me here.
Penny: As a Husband, Father, Law Professor and Fresno County Supervisor, how do you manage these demanding responsibilities?
Andreas: You’re right; I am a very busy person these days. With a wife and two young boys – Anna, Aleko and Aris – and the demands of public office plus the law school, I have to be very efficient with my time and the ultimate multitasker. My work ethic definitely came from my father, who used to work in the leather factories, and he started me working at the age of eleven. Since then I have never been afraid of the demands of a busy schedule. In fact, when you are passionate about what you do, somehow the toll is far more manageable. I love being a family man, serving my community as their elected representative and teaching eager minds about the powerful contribution of law to our daily lives. I will admit, though, having a second child with this schedule has pushed the envelope, and if Anna and I didn’t have the best Yiayia (Grandma in Greek) in the world our family would not eat as well as we do!
Penny: What inspired you to become politically active?
Andreas: I don’t remember a time when I was not interested in politics, Greece and world affairs. For instance, in college I interned at the Greek Mission to the United Nations and later studied international law for a summer at the University of Athens when I was a student at Georgetown Law School. So my interest in these subjects always seemed present, but I would say the key moment came when Anna and I returned to California after living in Greece. I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Greece and for a year was a Visiting Fellow at the Hellenic Centre for European Studies. There I really developed an actionable passion for politics and upon our return I decided to really get involved. Well, “involved” transitioned quickly from peripheral participation into candidacy for elected office. Shortly thereafter I was elected to the Fresno City Council in 2008 and then in 2012 to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. I believe that public service is truly an honorable pursuit, assuming it’s for the right reasons, and should be premised on one very simple principle: that one can help improve the quality of life for the community. I believe that, and that is why I enjoy serving as a Fresno County Supervisor.
Penny: Where are you from originally? Your Family?
Andreas: I had the traditional Greek-American experience. My family is from Samos and my wife’s family is from Thessaloniki. I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, which has a surprisingly large Greek community, served as an altar boy at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, folk danced, spent summers in Greece and as a youth attended Greek school. My wife too had a very similar upbringing. I am very proud of my Greek identity and Anna, and I plan to instill in our sons, Aleko and Aris, the Hellenic values and identity we hold dear.
Penny: What impact has being Greek had on your life in general, and in politics?
Andreas: I am not sure the impact of being Greek on my life could be understated. Almost intuitively I have been drawn to the notion of Hellenism that education; civic engagement and community service underlie any great civilization, the U.S. being no exception. I suspect being Greek is one of the reasons why I have always felt a strong connection to other immigrants. Their sense of optimism, their assimilation challenges and the presumptive generational progress have always resonated with me and my view toward American politics. It’s a uniquely American tradition to embrace those who come to this country in the pursuit of freedom and prosperity. That is not to say, however, the rights inherent to citizenship are without responsibility. Based on our family’s immigrant struggles, I too believe there must exist a strong sense of personal responsibility, that there are limits to state welfare and the best social equilibrium is to give more than you take from the state. Being Greek has helped me appreciate that the citizenry must fight for progress and often the best way to do that is to act locally. That is why I believe in helping my community through being an educator and public servant.
Penny: How did it happen that you met at Starbucks coffee shop a Greek girl who was to become your wife? Did your family “expect” you to marry Greek?
Andreas: I am glad I am answering this question and not Anna, as she has her own account of how things transpired. But the following is the true story. After school I had accepted a one year judicial clerkship with a federal judge in Fresno, California. Assuming my stay in Fresno was only temporary, I would spend my weekends at Starbucks working on my thesis for Harvard University. It was there I could not help notice an attractive woman doing graduate research of her own. A few coffees later the conversation eventually led to an invitation for dinner. Much to my surprise, however, it had to be at her parents’ home. It was a very traditional beginning. Yet it was a very untraditional courtship.
Unbeknownst to me, and after only three weeks of dating, Anna was to leave for six months on a research program to Armenia. Undeterred by the distance, and a lot of long distance phone cards, six months later I flew to Yerevan to meet Anna. Shortly thereafter we left Armenia for Greece and on her family’s island of Amorgos I proposed… In all, I think Anna and I only spent about four weeks together before we got engaged. The old saying is right, as my father would emphasize, “You know, when You know.”
Penny: You were a Policy Specialist Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan and a Fulbright Fellow to Greece. Can you elaborate on the work you did?
Andreas: As the Professor of International and Comparative Law at the San Joaquin College of Law, I conduct advanced research on a number of areas related to international security law. Two such topics are security relations in Central Asia and security legislation in Greece. A recent article I published in the Yale Journal of International Affairs summarizes the work I conducted while a Policy Specialist Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan.
“The spread of Islamic militancy amongst the Uighur of Kazakhstan is of particular importance to understanding Kazakhstan’s security and economic relations with China, Russia, and the United States, and, ultimately, to the advancement of U.S. strategic interests in the region. … This paper investigates this topic through original research that examines the extent to which Uighur extremists in Kazakhstan pose a realistic threat to Kazakhstan’s national security. It specifically asks whether the prevailing Islamic practice amongst the Uighur in Kazakhstan has been made fundamental, and … whether it is bound by Islamic ambitions that may manifest in widespread terrorist activity…. The United States can take specific steps to help Kazakhstan ensure that Islam remains a moderate—rather than extremist—force in the country”. (Yale Journal of International Affairs (Spring 2013), available in paperback and online at http://yalejournal.org)
In addition, I conducted research in Greece while a Fulbright Fellow at the Hellenic Centre for European Studies. The Hellenic Centre is a think tank in Athens and as a Visiting Fellow I researched the evolution of Greece’s security policy and legislation. In particular, I examined a number of the indigenous extremist groups known to operate in Greece, such as the former organization November 17. I was able to interview many of the key government and security players involved in the dismantling of that organization and a number of other outfits. It was an amazing experience and an article of my research is soon to be published as well.
Penny: As a Greek-American Politician what are your thoughts on the situation in Greece and Europe?
Andreas: What’s happening in Greece is very troubling for a number of reasons. As both an American and Greek citizen, I want what is best for both countries. It is shocking how quickly the Greek economy collapsed, especially after the last decade of European zeal with its seemingly limitless optimism, and how America’s financial security could be following suit unless dramatic and austere changes are made. I happen to be of the opinion that, with the explosive growth of the eastern and emerging powers, America and Europe need each other more than ever. It is in America’s interest to have a solvent, integrated and forward operating Europe, and conversely it’s in Europe’s interests to have an America capable of strong leadership and a respectable advocate for western institutions and democratic values. Our transatlantic goals are mutually oriented but if the European experiment fails I fear that America alone will be unable to withstand the seismic political realignment underway in favor of Asia.
While America certainly has its own house to put in order, I am proud that so many members of the Greek-American community are coming to the aid of Greece. On a personal level, we brought over our cousin from Athens because she is a part of the group referred to as the “lost generation,” those youngsters confronting staggering unemployment and few opportunities in the Greece remarkably different than that of her parents’ generation. With the significant resources of our Diaspora community, I hope we as Greek-Americans take the initiative to find individual and collective outlets to improve the lives of those in most need. Our cousin has since returned to Greece after learning some important new skills in America. Hopefully she and others like her will help reverse the talent drain and, coupled with the economic reforms and investment packages, Greece will be on its way toward recovery.
*Penny Adamopoulos is a journalist and TV news producer possessing extensive professional experience in governmental and private sectors worldwide. . She has worked mostly in American and European Networks like CBS, ABC, CNN, NBC and ERT, in the USA and abroad. Prior to her journalistic uprights she was appointed press attaché with the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in New York. She served also as the Director of Communication with the Foundation for Hellenic Culture in New York. She currently resides in Beverly Hills pursuing her dream in writing.