OUR CHALDEAN STORY
CHRISTIANITY, CONFIDENCE AND COURAGE
Although allied with Detroit’s Arab American population based on the lands of their origin, Detroit’s Chaldean Americans are quick to correct the misconception that they share traditions, ancestry or religion.
Having descended from the area of the northern Tigris-Euphrates Valley, presently located in the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq, the majority of Chaldean’s in the United States call metro Detroit their home. Estimates of our Chaldean population range to 150,000 people.
Proud Chaldean’s point out that the major differentiation between themselves and the majority of Iraqis, who are Muslim, is that they are Roman Catholic and for thousands of years, their native tongue is not Arabic, but rather a dialect of Aramaic (the language spoken by Christ, featured in the Mel Gibson film The Passion Of Christ).
The first significant wave of Chaldean immigrants to Detroit began around 1910. At the time, the city had hosted many outside groups attracted to job opportunities in the automobile industry—prior to that, Detroit’s Middle Eastern community consisted primarily of immigrants from Lebanon. In 1947, there were 80 Chaldean families living within in the city limits of Detroit; by 1967, this number had grown to about 3,400. Changes in U.S. immigration laws during the mid-1960s allowed Detroit's Chaldean American community to grow dramatically.
FACTS AND FACES
An overwhelming percentage of Chaldean’s in the Detroit community can trace their origin to a single town, Telkaif, which is one of several Christian towns in the northern Iraqi province of Mosul, near the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh.
Some of the earliest members of Detroit's Chaldean American community recall hearing stories from their grandparents about the conversion of their town from Nestorianism. This occurred in about 1830, when the town recognized the Roman Pontiff as the head of the Church.
Once members of the Telkaif community had settled in the area, they encouraged others from their homeland to join them. Thus began an immigration process, known as "chain migration," between Telkaif and Detroit, that continues to the present.
As full members of the Roman Catholic Church, Chaldean’s follow the same rules and hold the same beliefs as other Catholics. However, they have their own leader, or Patriarch, and the rituals used in their mass and other ceremonies are quite different from those practiced in the Western Church.
Muslims, by religious law, do not consume alcohol and pork. Chaldean’s have no such restrictions.
Since World War II, Iraq has taught Arabic in schools throughout the country. As a result, most new immigrants speak Arabic and their Chaldean/Aramaic languages.