Love where you live!
LA MESA -- The strength of America is woven with a fabric of immigrants. Arriving from literally all corners of the world, newcomers remain insular at first, learning the new culture while clinging proudly to the old.
In the upstairs balcony of La Mesa's Bo-Beau Kitchen + Garden restaurant on Tuesday night -- in the warmth of the conversation, in the genuine handshakes and business card exchanges among strangers -- it was possible to see the process playing out anew.
The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce held a mixer and it was clear from the diversity it attracted that the American story was playing out once again.
Realtors and bankers from La Mesa and La Jolla met young Chaldean entrepreneurs from Baghdad, and now of El Cajon. Local charities sent representatives to meet this emerging group of young leaders who are trying to help their Chaldean community shed a reputation for staying, perhaps, a bit too isolated in their new land. Jerry Fazio was there from the East County Boys and Girls Clubs. So was Frank Tsimboukakis, who hopes to defeat State Senator Joel Anderson in November.
"There are 81,000 Chaldeans in San Diego County, 41,000 in East County alone,'' says Ben J. Kalasho, president of the fledgling Chaldean chamber. "How many of them are members of their local chambers of commerce? Less than 1 percent. That's why we are doing this.''
Kalasho and his wife Jessica have been making the rounds to local municipalities, explaining the effort and holding a monthly mixer. They have attracted more than 160 members to the organization "and about 50 of them are Chaldean,'' he said. It's a start.
On this Tuesday night, Kalasho had booked two speakers, financial advisers from La Jolla and San Diego, to talk taxes, investment and business planning. The speakers were appreciated, yet it was clear that this audience was there as much for the time-honored networking tradition. It was a reminder that business, the shared interests of commerce, the basic jobs of supporting family and community, is what time after time has bridged cultural divides in this country.
Kalasho was born in Baghdad and made his way, like so many Chaldeans displaced by war, to San Diego's East County. And like many converts, he can be more zealous about America than the native born. He wants to bridge the cultures.
His answer is this new Chamber and events that attract a diverse crowd even as they emphasize the efforts and successes of Chaldeans and other Middle Eastern peoples.
"We are planning a beauty contest for April 3rd,'' he said. "It is Miss Middle Eastern of California.'' A beauty contest, to be held at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art -- what's more American than that?
"We will have people from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Palestine -- all in one place,'' Kalasho said. "Everyone is invited to attend.'' A real Chamber mixer.
When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1800s, the French political thinker noted that this is a nation of joiners. Even then we gathered together, mixing class and careers in organizations that de Tocqueville believed were key to the nation's growing strength, wealth and optimism.
Despite his relative youth, Kalasho seems to have learned that lesson too, and La Mesa, and much of East County, is clearly warming to his efforts.