By Mimi Pollack
A new documentary explores how El Cajon became home to one of the largest groups of Chaldeans, the Christian Iraqis who fled their worn-torn country on the other side of the world.
For those who have never heard of the Chaldeans, the film does a compelling job of introducing them, telling a little of their background, how they chose El Cajon, and the horrors many of them lived through before getting here.
The documentary focuses on the lives of several students at Diego Valley, a charter school in El Cajon. The school offers one-on-one teaching, and has helped many Chaleans’ become civically engaged, culminating in an effort to convince the El Cajon City Council to declare September as Chaldean-American month starting this year.
The filmmakers, Peter Alkatib and Miguel-Angel Soria, made their film with a passion that comes from the immigrant experience. Alkatib was born in Baghdad, and Soria grew up in Tijuana. Both are teachers and activists.
Chaldeans, like so many immigrant youth, struggle when they first arrive in the country as they navigate a new language and culture. It is heartening to see the majority of them receive their high school diplomas at the end of the film and witness their optimism about their future in their new country.
A Chaldean Festival will take place in the Prescott Promenade Park in El Cajon on Sept. 19-20 as part of Chaldean American Month in September.
Mimi Pollack is an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Grossmont College who has taught many Chaledeans.