Book Review: Chaldeans in Michigan

Now who are the Chaldeans and what are they doing in Michigan?

Some may have heard of them in relation to the Bible. Abraham is from Ur of the Chaldeans. There are the stories of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who was also the King of the Chaldeans. He destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and the city itself when he put down the rebellious people of Judah. He took many of the precious vessels and other things from the Temple back to Babylon. He also took many of the Hebrews back with him to serve him and his descendants in various capacities.

If the reader knows what the biblical world map looked like and where these places are today he or she will realize the Chaldeans are from present day Iraq.

In Chaldeans in Michigan by Mary C. Sengstock (Michigan State University Press, 2005), she discusses this and how the Chaldeans immigrated to the United States in the 1890s and 1900s. Sengstock discusses why they settled in Detroit, Michigan.

The Chaldeans do not consider themselves to be Arab because they are mostly Catholic Christians and not Muslims. The Chaldeans are Christians who are in union with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Of the 6% of the Christians in Iraq the Chaldeans are the largest group. The Chaldean community in Detroit who attend church was estimated in 2003 of being around 120,000. There are smaller Chaldean communities in other parts of the United States.

Stengstock discusses not only the religious aspects of the Chaldeans but also their culture and economics. For many decades these three: religion, culture, and economics, were intertwined in the Chaldean community. The Chaldeans made their livings by owning or being involved in grocery markets. Usually these were and still are family operations. They would not marry outside of their group. Like other immigrants they helped their relatives to leave present day Iraq and come to America to find a better life.

The Chaldean community came under suspicion during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and then the Iraq War because they originate from Iraq although they really do not want to be connected with the Arab Iraqis especially Saddam Hussein. Life for Chaldeans still in Iraq is not safe since Muslim fundamentalists and terrorists connected with Al-Qaeda want a Muslim state set up in Iraq which would barely tolerate non-Muslims.

Sengstock examines how the Chaldean-American community is changing and becoming more Americanized just like other immigrants did. They want to become less known as having connections with Iraq or Arabs. They want to be Americans and seen as such. Many do not know the Chaldean language of their recent ancestors or even living elders. Some Chaldean is still used in the Church and many Chaldean Catholic churches look more like Roman Catholic churches. Sengstock points out that this might pose a threat to the continued existence of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the United States if it continues to modify itself along Roman Catholic lines.

Mary C. Sengstock is a professor of sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit. She is the author of Chaldean-Americans: Changing Conceptions of Ethnic Identity (1998). She provides many illustrations, a few maps, endnotes, a bibliography, Chaldean food recipes, and Chaldean organizations and contacts in this present book. This book is short, but full of interesting information on a minority group that has biblical connections who live in Michigan. This book is part of the Discovering the Peoples of Michigan series. It is worth reading!

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage