Downtown El Cajon is classically American. Main Street is a wide, two-lane road with a rundown western vibe. A quaint bakery, a dress shop, and a café vie for attention. An old hand-painted typewriter-repair sign remains etched on one building. During the summer months, Main Street hosts weekly antique car shows.The article continues with an interview of Ben Kalasho, "founder and president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce."
On those days, downtown El Cajon looks like a midcentury time-warp. But perhaps what aids the most in making Main Street authentically American is the multicultural vibe. Most notably, the steady stream of Middle-Eastern owned restaurants and grocery stores. Many business signs are written in Arabic — not surprising, as El Cajon is home to the largest population of Iraq War refugees in the world. It hosts the second-highest population in the United States of Chaldeans — Aramaic-speaking Christians from Iraq.
Roughly 50,000 Chaldeans live in El Cajon. With an influx of refugees fleeing their homelands due to religious and political persecution, those numbers are growing.
Regular readers may recall that San Diego is my home town. I grew up near Lemon Grove, which is some distance from El Cajon, but I was there fairly often over the years. El Cajon was known for its hot and humid climate — probably not dissimilar to that of Iraq. So that may be why it has attracted so many Iraqi Chaldeans (Chaldaeans).
Incidentally, the Mandaeans (Mandeans) also have an Aramaic-speaking community in San Diego. The Mandaean American Association is likewise based in El Cajon.