Tell us about the Chaldean community. Where is the origin of the community and where is the population most prevalent?
Chaldeans have a history dating all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, and are indigenous to Iraq, Syria, and parts of Iran and Turkey. Iraq has the largest population of Chaldeans followed by Syria.
Chaldeans are Eastern Rite Catholics who have their own patriarch in Baghdad with the Pope being the highest authority. Chaldeans speak Aramaic, which is the oldest continuous language in the world and the language spoken by Jesus Christ.
Most Chaldeans in the Metro Detroit area are from Iraq and their situation has been likened to American Indians; in the wake of the Iraq War, Chaldeans and other religious minorities have been relentlessly persecuted and driven from their lands by Islamic fundamentalists.
Outside of the Middle East, Metro Detroit has the largest Chaldean population with 150,000 people. There are also Chaldean communities in California, Phoenix and Nevada, and a large Assyrian community in Chicago.
What inspired you to start the Chaldean Chamber and the Chaldean Community Foundation?
The Chamber was launched by a 15-member steering committee to help dispel the negative stereotypes that existed about Chaldeans. The Chamber has become major planning organization for our community. Most Chaldeans are business owners; in fact, 61% of households own at least one business. Major business concentrations include hospitality, food and beverage, wireless, restaurants and development.
We have also had a large influx of New Americans to this region due to the Iraq War and its consequences, thus the launch of the Chaldean Community Foundation to help these individuals become self-sustaining, productive members of society.
Tell us about the Chaldean Community in Macomb County.
The fastest-growing segment of our population is in Macomb County. We have sizable populations in Warren, Sterling Heights, Shelby Township and now even more so in Utica. The largest Chaldean Catholic Church, for example, is in Shelby Township and we also have a church in Sterling Heights and in Warren.
We recently built the Chaldean Community Foundation facility at 15 Mile and Ryan to help acculturate the New Americans. Since 2007 more than 30,000 Chaldeans have come to Michigan; 15,000 arrived as refugees and the other 15,000 as sponsored. We still have more than 800,000 displaced Christians in Iraq because of the ongoing genocide being perpetuated against Christians in the Middle East.
We are a resource not only to Chaldean families, but to all who need assistance. Our Foundation office in Sterling Heights serves more than 20,000 people a year, more than 15% of which are non-Chaldean, with English learning, career services, citizenship services, access to healthcare, and many other services. The center is a true community center open to all. Although it just opened we are already expanding because we need more parking. We have purchased the two adjacent lots and are working on building a long-term special-needs center for Macomb County as well.
Where is the best Chaldean food in Macomb?
Probably at a Chaldean household but if you can't have dinner with a Chaldean family, I highly recommend Sahara Markets and Bakery, which have locations in Warren and Sterling Heights. That is the best food in Macomb County.
Are Chaldean businesses doing well in Macomb?
Yes, Chaldeans are blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit and strong work ethic. And as the Chaldean population grows, expect to see more Chaldean-owned business like shops, restaurants and markets, and other businesses attracted to serving this dynamic market. With the influx of New Americans you can see a lot of Chaldean owned business opening up in Macomb County.
What are the top priorities for new families in Macomb?
Many of our newly arrived families fled Iraq with nothing more than the clothes on their back, so have ongoing challenges dealing with general anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Our aim at the center is to help them become more independent from government subsidies and focus on helping them get on the right path as New Americans, mainly with access to new jobs and transportation. The goal is to make them become contributors to the local economy like the tens of thousands of Chaldeans who came to the United States before them. Chaldeans are mainly entrepreneurs and contribute almost $11 billion annually to Michigan's economy.
What are your favorite destinations in Macomb?
I am becoming more and more familiar with Macomb; I haven't been an Eastsider (although you guys are really cool people). I am really enjoying Lake St. Clair Metropark, CJ Barrymore's and Jimmy John's Field. There is so much that Macomb has to offer and hopefully one day I'll make Macomb my home.
Why Advancing Macomb?
I love meeting people and our increased presence in Macomb County has been deeply satisfying on both the personal and professional level. I am honored to be associated with such a forward-thinking organization.
Tell us about Martin. What is a core value for you?
Like all Chaldeans, I put family and faith above all else.