Sterling Heights attracts large immigrant po

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 2:21PM :

The Detroit News (Detroit, MI), Jan 19, 2003 p05
Sterling Heights attracts large immigrant population; Chaldeans are biggest segment. (Metro)

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2003 All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co. Inc. by the Gale Group, Inc.

Byline: Mike Wowk.

STERLING HEIGHTS -- Raad Shango knew exactly where he wanted to go when he left Iraq in 1999.

"My wife's uncle and aunt lived in Sterling Heights," Shango said, through an interpreter. Now a Sterling Heights resident himself, Shango had stopped to buy groceries one day last week at a Chaldean specialty food store at 17 Mile and Ryan.

"We've got 2,500 Chaldean families now in Sterling Heights," said real estate agent Nick Najjar. "I sponsored three families myself."

U.S. Census and immigration statistics show that Sterling Heights, especially the area west of Mound Road, has become home to increasing numbers of immigrants in recent years.

Two ZIP codes in Sterling Heights -- 48310 and 48312 -- each hosted more immigrants during a five-year period in the 1990s than any other ZIP Code in Macomb County, according to the Southeast Michigan Census Council.

Ethnic Chaldeans from Iraq are the largest number of new immigrants, according to the data, followed in decreasing order by immigrants from India, the former Yugoslavia, Poland and the Philippines.

The city has become home to so many new arrivals that the Utica School District last year started a new language learning program for children who spoke no English.

About a third of the 15,000 students in the Warren Consolidated School District, which includes the southern one-third of Sterling Heights, speak a language other than English at home. About 40 languages are represented in the district, school officials said.

City workers such as police officers, firefighters and zoning inspectors now carry cards that list a variety of foreign languages. When a resident points to a specific language, the cards, printed by AT&T and distributed to city workers, tell the worker how to reach an interpreter through AT&T.

Sterling Heights police recently used a Chinese interpreter to translate statements by a woman who allegedly stabbed her husband.

"Language is the biggest problem" city officials have in dealing with such a diverse population, according to city spokeswoman Pat Lehman. "But the cards have helped a lot."

The Census Council statistics, compiled from data collected from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, showed 2,704 immigrants came directly from overseas to Sterling Heights from 1993-98.

Many more immigrants went elsewhere to the U.S., and moved later into Sterling Heights, according to the local Census Council.

For example, Chaldeans, a Christian minority in mostly Muslim Iraq, used to immigrate in large numbers to the Seven Mile-Woodward area of Detroit, according to Najjar.

After living and working in Detroit for a few years, the hard-working Chaldeans -- who had a reputation for working 16 hours a day or more in the grocery stores they owned -- would save enough money to move to the suburbs.

"They used to go to Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield," said Najjar of the wealthier Chaldeans. "Now they're coming to Sterling Heights. Some of them are coming here straight from Iraq."

Chaldeans have been living in Metro Detroit since the 1920s. But immigration increased after the Gulf War ended in 1991.

"Chaldeans are discriminated against in Iraq," said Najjar, who also hosts a regular Chaldean-language radio talk show. "They see us as a part of Western culture."

Sunday Masses at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy are packed, mostly with Sterling Heights residents, Najjar added. Church leaders are now making plans to build a new church on Dequindre in Shelby Township.

Large numbers of Chaldean immigrants also live in Warren and Shelby Township, according to community leaders.

According to the Census Council, 618 Iraqis immigrated to the five ZIP Codes of Sterling Heights from 1993-98. The country with the second largest number of immigrants during that period was India, which produced 326.

Metro Detroit's Indian community numbers roughly 50,000. Most live in a crescent-shaped area that runs from Sterling Heights, through Troy and Farmington Hills and west to Canton Township and Ann Arbor.

Anand Kumar, who operates, a Web site for Indians in Michigan, said many tend to be well-educated, working professionals. Many of the Sterling Heights Indians are engineers who work for the auto companies or their contractors, he addded.

"There's a larger community (of Indians) in Troy, and the Sterling Heights community is a spillover," Kumar said. "All of them work in Oakland County, but they prefer to live in Sterling Heights because the real estate is a little cheaper."

Several Indian specialty food stores are located on Dequindre on the Troy-Sterling Heights border. A movie theater at Universal Mall in Warren often scheduled weekend performances of Indian films, Kumar said.

Uma Hassan, 24, immigrated from India with her software-engineer husband three years ago. They lived first in Arizona, and moved to Sterling Heights six months ago because of a job transfer.

She's already noticed that Sterling Heights to home to many immigrants from various Asian, Middle Eastern and eastern European countries.

"It's a very good atmosphere," Hassan said. "There are so many different kinds of (food) markets, with food from other countries."

Diversity comes home

Countries of origin of Sterling Heights immigrants, 1993-98:




Former Yugoslavia 292




Number of immigrants by ZIP Code in Sterling Heights:

ZIP code Immigrants






Source: Southeast Michigan Census Council

-- Jeff
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