Chaldeans In Metro Detroit
Martin Manna, Executive Director of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce says, “Of 84 supermarkets in the city of Detroit, about 75 are owned by Chaldeans. 61% of Chaldeans own at least one business. 39% own two or more. Selling is part of the heritage of Chaldeans — it is a heritage that goes back to ancient times.”
Chaldeans have a history spanning about 5500 years and dating back to Mesopotamia, which is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It includes present day Iraq. But what separates Chaldeans from other Iraqis is their religion and language
Manna says, “Chaldeans are from the Arab world, but they are not Arab.” Chaldeans are defined by their language, Aramaic, which is the language of Christ. Manna also told us Chaldeans are defined by their religi, “They’re Eastern Right Catholic which means they have their own right within the Roman Catholic Church.
The first Chaldeans came to southeast MIchigan in the early twentieth century. The majority came in the late 1960′s as Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party came into power in Iraq.
There were three main reasons they chose Detroit. First — proximity to Canada, because there was already a Chaldean community in Windsor. Second — there was a Lebanese Maronite Catholic community here that Chaldeans could relate to and Chaldeans could attend their Masses. Third — the availability of jobs in the growing auto industry.
Since many Chaldean immigrants did not speak English they were not able to get jobs in the auto plants. So they turned to the business they knew.
Manna told us,”Historically Chaldeans have always been merchants and understood that industry.” So when major supermarket chains moved out of the city, Chaldeans took over.
Shirley Stancato, President and CEO of New Detroit, explains, “They found that vacuum. They made a decision to fill it because they felt they could be profitable in that area.”
Eventually there were clashes between merchants– some Chaldean, some Arab–and their African American customers.
Toni McIlwain, President of Ravendale Community, Inc., said after a couple of shootings and some beatings, she knew something needed to be done. Members of the community had other complaints about some of the store owners. They repeated the myth that Chaldeans don’t pay taxes the first seven years they’re here — a common belief that is completely false. Community members also believed store owners were talking about them when they didn’t speak English. And they complained that store owners wouldn’t hire African Americans.
Store owners had complaints too. There was theft and loitering. According to Manna, 100 Chaldeans have been murdered in their place of business.
Members of the Ravendale Community and Chaldean store owners have begun a dialogue. Over a nine month period they met to discuss how each side could help the other. They came up with a set of principles that each side could abide by. For instance, store owners agreed to speak English in front of customers. Customers agreed not to use vulgar language in the stores.
And store owners became more involved in the community. The owner of Harper Food Center in Ravendale donated paint, and young people from the neighborhood painted a wall by the store that had been covered with graffiti. The store also donated scrubs for students in the community’s medical assistant program.
At Mike’s Fresh Market on Detroit’s west side, the owner has received numerous awards from the community. The store is recognized for a number of gestures, including donating everything the community needed for a neighborhood cookout a few days ago.
The Chaldean community in southeast Michigan is expected to continue to grow. But the younger generation is interested in a much wider variety of careers.
Most important was the