Nov 18, 1999
Authors: Christopher M. Singer / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Chaldean Town. It's a Dream of the Chaldean Federation of America.
Asaad Yousif "Steve" Kalasho is president of the Community Education Center on Woodward near West Seven Mile on Detroit's north end. He's also in charge of what's called the Chaldean Town Association that seeks to build a shopping and entertainment destination along West Seven Mile from Woodward to Interstate 75.
That's the goal, Kalasho explained: A Greektown or Mexican Town in the old Chaldean neighborhood bounded by West McNichols, West State Fair, Woodward and I-75.
The vision is to make Chaldeans more of a visible presence in Detroit, "to put the name of our ethnicity on the map," Kalasho said.
"The Chaldean community is more of a religious community than a political community," Kalasho explained. "We are a unique people. How can we go wrong?"
Chaldeans are a Semitic people from northern Iraq. They are Catholics. Chaldean Town was formally launched this September with a cultural gathering and a celebration of a mass.
There already are about 40 businesses along Seven Mile, including a few specialty shops and a couple of restaurants. Most are owned by Chaldeans, a few are owned by African Americans. Kalasho estimated those 40 small businesses together generate around $5 million in annual income.
One such specialty shop is Modern Meat Inc. Butcher Samir Kada learned his trade in Iraq and claimed that, "ever since they named it Chaldean Town (in September)," business has increased.
Kada offers "pacha," a Chaldean specialty that is a lamb or even a sheep stomach filled with ground meat, vegetables and rice and roasted in the oven. He also offers a traditional Mediterranean breakfast meat called "basterma," strips of beef rubbed with red pepper and slowly dried in the sun.
"That's what we intend to do," observed Kalasho, exiting Modern Meat, "enhance what we already have. We need to put in traditional, nice, family atmosphere restaurants."
Fr. Jacob Jasso, pastor of Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church on Seven Mile, has been ministering to his flock in the neighborhood for 35 years. Ordained in the Vatican, Fr. Jasso began celebrating mass in the back yards of his parishioners in 1972. He still celebrates mass in the late afternoon because that's the time Chaldean traditionalists take a break for tea and conversation.
"This (Chaldean Town) is an old idea, from the '70s," Fr. Jasso recalled.
The neighborhood consists of about 4,000 mostly blue-collar households. Most of the housing stock dates to the 1920s and '30s. Pointing to a burned-out house near Sacred Heart Church, Kalasho remarked that part of the Chaldean Town plan includes razing such structures and renovating other homes.
It was the recently elected chairman of the Chaldean Federation, Sam Yono, who got the commercial project rolling in earnest earlier this year. Kalasho was picked to head the effort and Fr. Jasso has promised to serve on Chaldean Town's 11-member board of directors.
Fr. Jasso added that while many Chaldeans have left the neighborhood for the suburbs, he's not about to move and even the "suburban Chaldeans," as he labels them, still own businesses in the old neighborhood.
In fact, Mother of God, the cathedral church for Chaldean Catholics, recently marked its 50th anniversary.
Now on Berg in Southfield, the church was once located near Hamilton at West Chicago in Detroit. Kalasho himself belongs to St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church on Maple in West Bloomfield Township. Tradition holds that it was St. Thomas the Apostle, "Doubting Thomas," who converted Chaldeans to Christianity.
Chaldeans can trace their history in Mesopotamia back as far as 12 centuries Before the Common Era, when tribes of desert nomads moved onto the plains along the Euphrates River. They are linked to the rise of the Babylonian Empire beginning around 625 years before the Common Era.
Kalasho added there are about 120,000 Chaldeans living in and around Detroit and many are small business owners, mainly grocery stores, service stations and auto dealerships. There are also a presence in the hospitality industry, mainly in hotel management.
Chaldeans began moving to Detroit, Chicago, San Diego and Phoenix at the beginning of this century. They were attracted to Detroit -- like other ethnic groups -- by auto industry jobs.
Since the Persian Gulf War and UN embargo on Iraq, Kalasho added, about 10,000 Chaldeans a year leave Iraq for Australia and the Netherlands.
In a nod to that long history, Kalasho pointed out that the Chaldean Town Association plans a gateway at Seven Mile at Woodward to be called "Ishtar Gate." The ancient Mesopotamian mother goddess, Ishtar, tradition held, gave birth to the universe. Portions of the written-much-later Book of Genesis are based on that tradition.
Kalasho said the Chaldean Town Association plans to hold a public town hall meeting soon to discuss plans for the commercial strip with the community.
The Chaldean Town Association can be reached at the Community Education Center at (313) 867-0562.
Did you know?
Education: Almost 40 percent of Metro Detroit Chaldeans are college graduates.
Population: The number of Chaldeans in Metro Detroit -- about 120,000 -- has doubled since 1960.
Beliefs: Judaism, Christianity and Islam all revere the Prophet Abraham as the father of all Semitic people. The Hebrew Bible and the Holy Koran have Abraham coming originally from the ancient city of Ur in the Iraqi desert.
History: Ancient Chaldeans spoke Aramaic. Tradition holds that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Hammurabi, a Babylonian king, is credited with the first known code of written laws, some of which, like "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," are still referred to.
This is another in a series of weekly profiles of Detroit neighborhoods. To have your neighborhood profiled, contact Staff Writer Christopher Singer at (313) 222-2127.
Photo: 1:The Chaldean Town Association wants to build a shopping and entertainment destination along West Seven Mile from Woodward to Interstate 75,where several businesss are located.2:Asaad Yousif Kalasho is president of the Community Education Center on Woodward. There are about 120,000 Chaldeans living in and around Detroit and many own small businesses.
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