The Chaldean community in metro Detroit has grown into the largest outside of Iraq, its war-torn native land from where hundreds of thousands have fled since the early 2000s.
In metro Detroit, the community faces unique challenges, from deportation and accurate representation in the upcoming U.S. Census to the vaping bans hurting Chaldean-owned smoke shops, said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
Manna said the Chaldean community has changed drastically over the past decade and is poised to play an increasingly important role in the region's business sector. One of his goals in 2020 is to make people realize it.
Manna said most independent supermarkets, liquor stores and smoke shops in metro Detroit are owned by Chaldeans, as are most hotels and mobile phone stores in the state.
"It's a growing, vibrant community," he said. "When we first started the chamber (in 2003), we were just small merchants. The next generation is not just your corner grocery store."
The 2010 Census counted around 35,000 Chaldean residents in metro Detroit. A survey commissioned by the chamber in 2017 found the number to be around 160,000, with an annual economic impact of $10.7 billion. Manna said he is mobilizing outreach efforts and coordinating with churches and community organizations to ensure an accurate count for Census 2020. It won't be easy.
"Coming from a Middle East country where there was no trust of government, often times people would not want to participate in surveys or provide any personal information.
"People need to understand the significant contributions that the Chaldean community is making here at the state and federal level. It helps with education and the fear of immigrants and refugee phobia. It helps to dispel the negative stereotypes that permeate."