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California, USA – “Chaldeans fortunate enough to make it to the land of milk and honey are getting a genuine swig of sour milk and crusty honey,” says Joseph Badoun. California, El Cajon officials have been in debate on how to deal with Chaldean senior citizens gathering to play cards. “This whole ordeal is a joke. These are men in their final years, many of who are church elders, and community fathers playing cards in a community center.”
Badoun may laugh-off the ordeal, but to Chaldean seniors the issue has been unsettling and stressful. El Cajon officials have launched aggressive crackdowns targeting Chaldeans and there gathering places. Calls to the Mayor’s office initially went unanswered as to the reason or motive behind the crackdowns.
As pressure mounted over the ethnically targeted raids, city officials felt it prudent to deliberate the matter in greater detail. Noori Barka, a vice president of the Chaldean American Association says the card playing has nothing to do with gambling.
Barka reached out to the city officials hoping to share how cards play a role in the ancient culture. “For you, a card is for gambling. For us, a card is for fun,” said Barka, adding that Chaldeans who wish to gamble wouldn’t waste their time in a senior citizen community center.
Badoun says if Chaldeans wanted to gamble there is no shortage of casino’s in the area. “This is harassment. These are elderly men who drink tea, discuss community events, and business.”
At first, the city council voted unanimously to ban card rooms in the heart of town. Under the new rules, only members of fraternal groups and other nonprofits can engage in card-playing, if they get a license and are located outside downtown.
The rules took effect in December 2011, but officials decided to hold off on enforcement in the face of concerns raised by Barka and several other Chaldeans active in community service. Badoun adds that many in the community are very upset. “Chaldeans are just as outraged as many of our neighbors who feel El Cajon is going much too far in meddling in the lives of its citizens. Government wants to control ever act of your life. Government that tell you what to eat, read, play, say, and study is a sign of tyranny. We know, we faced it for decades in Iraq.”
In the past few weeks city officials agreed to ease up on their new rules governing card rooms, but were divided over how best to regulate the establishments in the long run.
Council members Bob McClellan and Bill Wells, argued that the city is going overboard and that card-playing should still be allowed at restaurants and other for-profit operations. City officials say there are 10 known establishments in town that provide room for table games. Most have a large Chaldean clientele.
El Cajon councilman Gary Kendrick and the two other council colleagues worried that opening to door to for-profit card rooms would hurts the city's public image in the long run. "I'm concerned that 10, 20 years in the future, we end up with card rooms all up and down Main Street and Magnolia Avenue," he said.
Many at the council meeting took offense at the mayor's sweeping remarks that businesses that allow card-playing also allow gambling coupled with previous sentiments that Chaldean women were home alone.
The vote of 3-2 vote by the city council backed off a decision late last year to outlaw card-playing activities among nonprofit groups in the central business district. The city still plans, however, to enforce a ban on card tables at for-profit operations citywide.
Tuesday's vote came as good news to the Chaldean American Association, operators of the Crystal Ballroom, a private, nonprofit social club. The club is within the central area that was targeted in the initial ban.