Cuyamaca College celebrates Chaldean culture and traditions

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person BJ Coleman
Photo by B. J. Coleman (Left to right) Aklas Sheai, a counselor and instructor at Cuyamaca College, with her daughter, Asma Yassi, another college faculty member, in front of the Middle Eastern Student Club table during the college’s special event Celebration of Chaldean Culture and Traditions.

Students and faculty members of Cuyamaca College came together with Chaldean community leaders for a pleasant respite from the day’s afternoon heat on Aug. 28. The hour-long event, a special “Celebration of Chaldean Culture and Traditions,” was one in a rotating series to honor and explore the multiple cultures of East County residents. Roughly a hundred attendees wandered into the college’s Grand Lawn area, where tables under canopies shielded event-goers from the sweltering temperatures.

Ali Baba Family Restaurant served up ample helpings of Chaldean food for attendees. Kebabs, rice, potatoes and deliciously seasoned flatbread filled diners’ plates. Traditional music and dance set the background atmosphere. Sponsors of the gathering were the Cuyamaca College Student Affairs Office and the Associated Students of Cuyamaca College.

Aklas Sheai assisted as an event organizer. She is an instructor in the college’s World Languages Department, as an Arabic Language teacher. She further works in the Counseling Department, as a Peer Advisor providing student services. Sheai started in the bilingual program, and she also translates Aramaic-Chaldean language for students.

Standing beside the Middle Eastern Student Club information table, Sheai said, “I am pleased with this, this has turned out so well.” She commented on the good turnout from the college, both Chaldean and not, and from members of the Chaldean community outside, including leaders of the local Chaldean Catholic Church.

And Sheai wanted people not yet aware that the college is indeed a very welcoming place for Chaldean students. Sheai said that when she was transferred to larger office space, her major concern was that students seeking her campus services might have difficulty finding where she had relocated.

Around 50,000 Iraqi Chaldeans are estimated to live in El Cajon and nearby communities. Cuyamaca College has about 9,000 students enrolled each semester, and according to Sheai the number of Chaldean students at the college, although substantial, is unknown.

Sheai’s daughter, Asma Yassi, attended Cuyamaca College as a student. Yassi has been living n East County since 2005. She chose to follow in her mother’s career path. She continued her studies at San Diego State University, and then went onto Point Loma Nazarene University to earn a master’s degree in counseling. Yassi provides counseling and teaches counseling at the college. She and her family live close by the school in Rancho San Diego.

Other community awareness events sponsored at the college include an annual powwow promoting Native American heritage, a gathering during Latino Heritage Month, a workshop on Filipino culture and traditions, and a Veterans Week Barbecue to honor and inform about those who have served in the armed forces. More information on these events is available by phoning the college’s communications and public information office at (619) 644-7842 or (619) 252-2295