“Little Baghdad” is the nickname for El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego. A large number of the 60,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States live here. The Kurds came in the late 1980s, followed later by Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. They live together peacefully in Little Baghdad, far away from the violence, but life there is far from easy. Often from the higher levels of society, the Iraqis lost their status and their social network when they immigrated. In the US they have no work, and hatred of foreigners is increasing. Recently El Cajon was the scene of a racist murder of a young Iraqi woman.
The main street in El Cajon is close to the coastal city of San Diego, in California, has 100,000 residents, including just under 40,000 Iraqis. Since the American invasion of Iraq their numbers have been rising rapidly. Since the end of 2008 about 300 Iraqi families have been arriving in the vicinity of San Diego each month.The United States admits thousands of Iraqis each year as refugees. That is not many, compared to countries like England or Germany, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis live. The countries around Iraq have absorbed millions of Iraqis.
In recent years ever more signs in Arabic have been appearing in the street scene, for new Iraqi shops and restaurants.
The growing Iraqi presence has led to tensions in El Cajon. According to the authorities, members of Iraqi criminal organizations from Detroit are also active there. In late 2011 the police raided an Iraqi club, searching for drugs and weapons. Hatred of foreigners is also increasing. In late March, 2012, the whole US, and in particular the Iraqi community in El Cajon, was startled by the brutal murder of a 32-year-old Iraqi woman, most likely racially motivated. A letter was left next to her bloody body: “Go back to your own country, terrorist.”
Each year the Iraqi community in El Cajon organizes a large celebration that brings everyone together. Local businessmen are introduced to one another and newly arrived migrants get support from their established countrymen.
This story is part of Via Panam, Kadir van Lohuizen’s project about migration in the Americas.