By Ashourina Slewo
Working with his students, author and Michigan State University journalism professor, Joe Grimm, has published a number of cultural competence guides about various cultures. His fifteenth and latest guide puts the spotlight on the Chaldean community.
100 Questions and Answers About Chaldeans came on the heels of the raids led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in June of 2017 that lead to the detainment of hundreds of community members. These community members faced deportation.
With these massive raids came many misunderstandings regarding the Chaldean community. It became clear to Grimm that a cultural competence guide about the community was now more important than ever.
“With people being detained for possible deportation, we had to act,” explained Grimm. “It is a journalist's job to report relevant information when it is needed. We saw this guide and these times as our clear obligation to serve the public.”
While the deportations play a part in the making of 100 Questions and Answers about Chaldeans, Grimm had always planned to write this guide about Chaldeans. The raids bumped it up on his list of guides to write, though.
“What makes a guide about Chaldean American special is that this place – southeast Michigan – is the heart of Chaldean America. That gives our people a tremendous advantage and a big responsibility to learn what we can locally and to share it widely,” said Grimm.
“Personally, the first peer of non-European descent I spent an extended time with was a classmate when I was a student at St. Bede's School in Southfield. That was more than 50 years ago. After St. Bede's, I attended Brother Rice High School, where I met more Chaldeans. Living my whole life in the Detroit area, I have known Chaldean Americans in many contexts.”
In order for Grimm’s guides to be useful, the process of writing each guide is thorough. First, they begin by conducting interviews to learn what Chaldean Americans to describe basic, everyday questions or assumptions non-Chaldeans have about the community.
“These can be questions or assumptions that Chaldeans hear all the time or questions they think people really ought to have the answers to,” said Grimm.
In writing these guides, Grimm and his students have four ethics. They are to be respectful of the people they write about, be accurate in portraying the identities, be authoritative by using solid sources, and be accessible.
The guides are meant to be accessible as possible. For this reason, the books are made available in print and digital at a low cost across a number of platforms.
Grimm and his students then edit each other. In addition, they solicit critiques at the formative and question writing stages as well as at the end of the process.
In this process, several members of the Chaldean community have had the opportunity to guide Grimm and his students.
“These guides cannot possibly be done without help from experts in the community. They have been kind, knowledgeable and patient with us as they explained things or corrected our work,” said Grimm. “We approached people from many perspectives. People we worked with directly included Bishop Francis Kalabat and Fathers Manuel Boji, Pierre Konja and Patrick Setto. Others were Vanessa Denha Garmo, who advised before the class even began and who then visited it. Martin Manna has a similarly vital role.”
Other community experts include author Jacob Bacall, Mary Romaya, Mariann Sarafa and Ann Rabban from the Chaldean Cultural Center, Zina Salem and Jane Shallal of the United Community Family Services (Chaldean American Ladies of Charity) and even the president of the Chaldean Heritage Foundation, Tom Alkatib.
Other notable community members assisted, including Judge Diane D’Agostini, State Representative Klint Kesto, Assistant Metro Editor Sally Tato, Margaret Saroki-Shamoun, chair of TEACH, and Joe Sarafa. Providing several photos is Wilson Sarkis.
Topics covered in 100 Questions and Answers About Chaldeans will range from the church, employment and entrepreneurship to myths and stereotypes in the community.
“The church is very important and not widely understood. The church is central. So is family. The distinctions of religion, nationality and cultural tradition have to be explained,” said Grimm. “The growth of our Chaldean community in terms of education and employment, especially entrepreneurship, is a real story of success and needs to be understood.”
“Things are not as they were. We wanted to examine Chaldeans' historic origins and, of course, contemporary history in the United States and Iraq. It is both tragic and hopeful.”
Grimm hopes readers of this guide will learn about the flourishing Chaldean community of metro Detroit and be confident in their interactions with Chaldean Americans.
“It is very simple. We wish to give people the confidence to have better conversations with Chaldeans,” explained Grimm. “We want them to feel less afraid that they will ask a question that is hurtful or that embarrasses them. This is a slim little guide and is just a starting point, not the whole story.”
There is not yet a release date for 100 Questions and Answers About Chaldeans. When released, it will be available for purchase on Amazon.