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Large Chaldean Iraqi Population Is Thriving In San Diego Suburb

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Speaker 1: 00:00 California has the highest share of foreign born residents in the country. The biggest immigrant groups are Mexican, Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese, but in a suburb of San Diego there's a large and thriving population of cow. Demons are religious and ethnic minority from Iraq. As part of our ongoing California dream series, KPBS reported Claire Traeger, sir says that the community is now hoping for some political cloud

Speaker 2: 00:28 walk down main street in El Cahone and you feel like you're on the set of an old Western. The wide street is lined with old fashioned storefronts selling antique furniture and used clothes. On a recent Sunday, people were swing dancing to country music at a restaurant called downtown cafe. Across the street in a park, there was a different scene. More than 100 people gathered in solidarity with the protests in Iraq. They made speeches and saying in Arabic, I feel torn between my Kentucky United States and between my Homeland.

Speaker 3: 01:09 We dad slot up was a leader at the protest. She moved to the U S in the 1980s but still feels a strong connection with a rock

Speaker 2: 01:18 I can do in other States. To study end of his term, but they fell in love with the democracy and the sense of justice and the educational opportunities. El Cahone lies about 10 miles inland from San Diego and it's

Speaker 3: 01:34 [inaudible] is more than 70% white. It's politics are conservative Republican, but in recent decades the city has been changing. It's now home to one of the largest Iraqi Cal D and populations in the country estimated at over 15,000. This is something Michael called the Catholic church best Makoto strides through a large complex in El Cahone that houses a keldi in church, a Cal D in school and a Cal d'un radio station. This in the hub of the community. She works at a nonprofit that helps new arrivals adjust to their new city. Coda says once El Cahone was established as a destination for [inaudible], that's where refugees want to come. When they hear about the community here, uh, they would take their stuff after they resettle and then they come to [inaudible]. And the community here has been thriving restaurants, clothing stores, jewelry shops and corner markets are owned by keldi. Ian's catering to their community. But there is still one area where COTA would like to see [inaudible] make more progress. Political, we're not bad yet, but I'm hoping that the new generation that there would be involved with the politics and that they get into a high up positions and that may be beginning to happen. Mike [inaudible] is one of the area's top real estate agents.

Speaker 4: 03:02 70% of my clients are middle Eastern and Kelvion middle Eastern and 30% are, you know, local residents who are selling their homes to my clients

Speaker 3: 03:13 and now he's running for a seat on the city council vying to be one of the first to represent the interests of his community.

Speaker 4: 03:21 There is people who migrate and they are low income. They live in apartment and they are trying to improve their life.

Speaker 3: 03:30 Those people need reduced crime and better services. He says

Speaker 4: 03:34 the other people who was improving their lives, um, who was like trying to um, you know, improve alcohol as well by opening more business.

Speaker 3: 03:43 Those people need easier permitting processes and better city planning. So far, no one is challenging a crikey for the city council seat after years of enduring religious persecution in Iraq, the community is hoping new political power will move them from the sidelines to become an even more interwoven part of their city. Joining me is KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger, sir and Claire. Welcome. Thank you. Tell us a little bit more about the Cal and community in general because I believe the Kel DNS are a minority even in Iraq. Yes, they are a religious minority in Iraq. Um, the Kelvion community is mostly Catholic and there are two Catholic, uh, Kelty and Catholic churches here in El Cahone and their services are actually in Aramaic, I found out. And then they have, um, multiple services every Sunday to fit in all of the community members cause the churches aren't, aren't quite as big.

Speaker 3: 04:43 Um, but because they were a religious minority, they also faced persecution in Iraq, which is one of the reasons why they have such a strong community bond here. Um, when they moved to the United States. How long have many of the Cal Dean's been in this countries since the Iraq war yet? Um, there have been multiple waves of immigration, um, starting actually back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, um, that's when many came to the United States as refugees. Um, because of the, the chaos after the Iran Iraq war. And then again, as you say, in 2003 after the U S invasion of Iraq, um, there was a lot of sectarian violence and civil war and the rise of ISIS and that led to more persecution against Cal DNS, which led to another wave of people moving here to the U S and what kind of changes has [inaudible] undergone since the Kelvion community has grown there?

Speaker 3: 05:37 Well, the downtown in El Cahone, um, has had a huge change. There's a lot of businesses catering to the middle Eastern community, um, restaurants, clothing stores, jewelry stores, um, event spaces. Uh, there are a lot of signs in Arabic, especially in downtown. Um, and the community has really involved in local politics. I started following this story after [inaudible] first decided to switch to having district elections for city council instead of citywide. And members of the community were very involved in that process. They attended a lot of the workshops and drew up their own district map that would have created one really strong majority middle Eastern district and then that map was not chosen. Um, but that seems to actually have further bolstered their political efforts and now they even, for example, have a committee, a committee that's advising on the city's climate action plan. You know, the senior described in your report with the sort of line dancing on one side of the street and a protest over Iraq on the other.

Speaker 3: 06:39 It makes me ask, are there tensions between the old time residents and the Colombians? I think in some ways there are. I mean, the city has changed a lot. I haven't been able to find anyone willing to say, you know, straight out, we don't like the way that the city has changed. But there, there were attentions around maybe more prominent members of the community. For example, uh, I didn't get to this in the story, but Ben kalash show, um, he was elected to the El Cahone city council before there were districts and then he resigned earlier this year because of a variety of scandals. Other members of the city council actually ended up suing him for using city money on his campaign. Um, but if you ask members of the Kelvion community, they say, you know, he doesn't speak for them. He really doesn't. They don't want him to be an example of their community or demonstrate the, the values they want to hold up.

Speaker 3: 07:31 And as the Kelty and community is still growing in alcohol and the Trump administration has cut down refugee resettlement to a trickle, almost nonexistent, right? No, not right now. It doesn't seem to be, um, it's hard to track exactly. But the state data shows that refugees, there are no Iraqi refugees to San Diego County last year. That doesn't mean immigration data overall, but it doesn't seem like right now there are many people coming from your report. It seems like many in the community are doing quite well. Is this a wealthy community? Right. So as I said, it's a little bit hard to track exactly because census data doesn't single out middle Eastern, um, as a racial group and many members of the community actually would identify themselves as white. Um, so you can't get like hard data on it, but everyone you talk to says yes, the community is doing well because there's such a strong support network for newcomers and family members help each other start businesses and there's this big value on starting and owning businesses.

Speaker 3: 08:30 Okay. So as members of the Cal DN community move into local politics, is that expected to change the conservative Republican character of Elka hones politics? I think in some ways, yes. Um, it's hard to say exactly for sure because, uh, some members of the community are conservative in some respects and vote Republican, but members of the community may have a big impact on other local issues. Um, they're really focused on downtown and doing projects there. For example, with the climate action plan committee that I mentioned, they're having a big push toward making the city more walkable and with more public transportation because that's what they're used to, uh, back home. And how was Micah Crawley's campaign going? Does he have a good chance of getting on the city council? Well, El Cahone doesn't vote until November, so it's still a little early at this point, so there may be more candidates getting into the race.

Speaker 3: 09:25 Um, and it doesn't seem like he's actually done that much campaigning at this point. When I spent the afternoon with him, he seemed very busy. He's a real estate agent. He said he got about 20 calls while he had his phone turned off for an hour during our interview. And in El Cahone and other smaller cities, the city council position is only a part time position, so he would continue probably to work. And he also has two young children, including a three month old baby. And so he says his wife thinks he's crazy for taking on another responsibility, but I expect as it gets more towards the summer, um, he'll devote more time to his campaign and then we'll, we'll be able to follow up more than I've been speaking with. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Traeger, sir Claire. Thank you. Thank you.

In recent decades, the city has been changing — it's now home to one of the largest populations in the country of Chaldeans, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority from Iraq.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.