By Ashourina Slewo
Almost as if it were a right of passage for students from the Chaldean Community Foundation’s (CCF) citizenship class, the bus ride to the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing was one filled with excitement and anticipation. On Thursday, April 11, a group of about 30 students took the opportunity to see the state’s Capitol as a part of Chaldean Legislative Day.
At varying levels in the process, students from the foundation’s citizenship classes are studying hard in an effort to earn their citizenship. The CCF is committed to guiding each student through the process, whether their process starts with ESL classes or with filling out a citizenship application.
Looking beyond the studying, tests, and applications, the foundation wants their students to experience being an American beyond traditional confines. A trip to the state’s capitol would allow for that.
“The new Americans that attend have the opportunity to tour the Capitol and witness firsthand how bills are passed,” explained foundation President, Martin Manna. “They also get a chance to learn about Michigan’s history and its natural resources.”
Started more than 10 years ago through the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, Chaldean Legislative Day has transformed as a means of exposing new Americans, typically students from the foundation’s citizenship class, to state government. Originally, Chaldean Legislative Day was geared towards educating legislators about the many contributions the Chaldean community makes to this region.
“For years the Legislators misunderstood the community and its contributions,” explained Manna. “Still today, many of the Legislators assume we are from Dearborn and do not understand the rich history our community offers.”
Each year, the CCF works with legislators to make the annual outing as successful and fruitful as possible.
“Each year a Michigan House Member and Senate Member co-sponsor Chaldean Day. This year it was Representative Brandt Iden and Senator Jim Runestad,” said Manna.
Today, Chaldean Legislative Day serves to educate new Americans as well as legislators who may not be familiar with the Chaldean community and the contributions it makes to the region.
Coming off the bus, students were greeted with the grandeur sight of the history laden state Capitol. Following a tour, the new Americans learned about some of the lesser known details of the historic building. From its inception and its move from Detroit to Lansing to avoid attacks from the Canadian border to the financially savvy methods utilized to make certain building materials throughout look more expensive than they are.
The students learned that the Capitol is the state’s third Capitol and that while the Senate and House of Representatives convene in the building, most of the legislators do not work in the building, but rather in buildings in the surrounding areas. Legislators that work in the Capitol are typically those who are also in leadership positions.
In addition to touring and learning about the Capitol, the students had the opportunity to watch a meeting of the Michigan House of Representatives convene on the House floor. Observing from the gallery, many of the students learned for the first time how laws are passed in the state of Michigan.
The students looked on from the gallery as one of the co-sponsors spoke out on the House floor. Senator Jim Runestad spoke in support of his resolution, Senate Resolution 32, to name April 11, 2019 as Chaldean American Day in the state of Michigan during the day’s session of the Michigan Senate.
This comes just one day after the Republican senator introduced a resolution that opposes the detention and threat of deportation of thousands of Iraqi nationals in Michigan and throughout the United States.