James A. Regas is a former attorney who, over the past 60 years, has successfully undertaken various civic and religious endeavors on behalf of the Greek community of Chicago. Before becoming a lawyer, he graduated from the University of Illinois where he enrolled at the age of 16. Subsequently, he earned a Juris Doctorate degree from DePaul University and began a successful career in law. In addition to practicing law, James A. Regas served as the president of the Hellenic Bar Association and was a senior arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. Mr. Regas was also the principal shareholder of the Western Springs National Bank as well as the First State Bank. One of his most prized achievements is converting the Illinois Central Railroad Hospital into the Hyde Park Community Hospital, an endeavor that earned him the Brotherhood Award from the Chicago Conference of Brotherhood. Outside the scope of his professional career, James A. Regas is a well-known activist for civil rights and equality.
Would you say that the Greek culture is underrepresented in the United States?
I am afraid it is. Back in the 1990s, data showed that there were a little over 90,000 people claiming Greek ancestry in Chicago. Today, almost 30 years later, this number is only up to around 120,000. This indicates there is a slower trend of immigration when it comes to people from Greece. Also, there is a trend of more people giving up their traditional customs and replacing them with American traditions. Although I would have to do more research, I feel these figures are reflective of the overall state in the country. I can’t honestly recall the last time Greek interests were represented adequately in the media.
What are some of the aspects of this culture that you admire the most?
The fact that Greek philosophers laid the foundation for a lot of the modern-day sciences is a very significant contribution to our modern society. I would even go as far to say that most people know of Plato, Aristotle, Homer, and Pythagoras and their respected works. Additionally, the country was always ahead of its time when it comes to engineering and construction. In fact, every time that someone asks me about my favorite vacations, I describe my visit to the Acropolis. For the readers who may not know, Acropolis is a series of temples located on a hill in Athens. In this vein, my favorite aspect of the culture would be its scientific knowledge and engineering.
You are an advocate for the preservation of Greek culture. Can you elaborate?
Due to the number of Greek immigrants slowly fading, Greek culture and customs in America are fading as well. The latest of these attacks is the push to renovate or demolish old Greek buildings in Chicago. I believe that any such action would undermine all the effort it took to create these structures. Furthermore, how will we teach the generations to come about their ancestors if we have nothing to show for their achievements?
What do you think would be a good solution to that issue?
Communication. A lot of these problems are created because the opposing sides are not effectively communicating with each other. In the future, I will welcome any leaders who want to resolve problems through compromise. To the Greek community, anything short of demolition will be worth negotiating for at this point.
You mentioned Chicago, could you briefly discuss how diversity has impacted the area?
Diversity helped it evolve. Chicago is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous areas in the United States right now. The crime rate is through the roof and residents are estranged. Due to my previous experience, I think that a lack of cultural development has partially contributed to this divide. Large companies are leaving, small businesses are not growing fast enough, and individuals are seeking better opportunities elsewhere. In my humble opinion, projects that aim to take away the few historically and culturally relevant sites are not helping.
What is your advice to people who are visiting Greece soon?
Try to schedule your trip for anywhere from May to September. Greece is currently dealing with a lot of economic issues that are generally less visible during summer. That time frame is when tourism is booming, and a lot of areas of concern will not be so obvious. Also, Greece has more than a thousand islands whose shores get splashed by the Aegean sea. My suggestion is to get ready to swim and enjoy meat-oriented meals. Besides the beach adventures, I would recommend that you must visit at least three historically-acclaimed sites. I would recommend that you go to the temple made for the goddess of love – the Parthenon in Athens.