Texas Mandaean Community

22 images Created 24 Nov 2019

The Mandaean community in Texas has been quietly growing into one of the largest in the country thanks to the state’s previously generous refugee resettlement policies. With the crackdown on immigration under the Trump administration, however, that stream of resettlement has slowed to a trickle. The community have established themselves in San Antonio, Texas over the years by opening local jewelry businesses and successful restaurants. They provide translation services from Persian and Arabic to the city’s Middle Eastern populations. Some drive the city’s streets at night for Lyft, picking up inebriated bar-hoppers from the city’s downtown club scene, even though drinking alcohol is prohibited in Mandaean. But for weddings, funerals, and the year’s holy days, Mandaeans in San Antonio will take off their western clothing and put on the white robes their ancestors have been wearing for thousands of years. They celebrate their community’s most important holidays as their community always has, until Covid-19. Older populations have shut themselves off from each other in ways that their traditionally close-knit communities have always rejected but now see as necessary.

The narrative around refugees and immigrants continues to foment a negative undercurrent in today’s America. Texas is second only to California in accepting refugees since 2002. Such an atmosphere of inclusion is threatened by ignorance and fear surrounding specific communities. It is a fear stoked by dangerous rhetoric and bolstered by the U.S. government’s current policies toward asylum seekers and immigrants. One of those communities fleeing religious persecution abroad that has decided to settle in Texas, is the Mandaeans. They are a closed, ethno-religious community originating in the Middle East, on the present-day border of Iran and Iraq. They are often identified by their religious practices, which include river baptisms by members in flowing white robes. Their holy books are written in ancient Aramaic. With a population of approximately 3,000 in San Antonio, Texas alone, (the largest of any U.S. city) the community here constitutes a major percentage of the nearly 70,000 that remain worldwide. After the beginning of The Iraq War in 2003 and subsequent instability in the region, larger numbers sought sanctuary elsewhere. For the past several years, the number of Mandaeans settling in San Antonio specifically has steadily increased, with 111 Mandaeans moving to Texas in 2016. Many have said that Texas’s semi-arid landscape and flowing rivers remind them of home. This resettlement effort, however, dropped off suddenly with the implementation of the Trump Administration’s limits on asylum seekers starting in 2017. Only 27 people were admitted that year. And the numbers have all but stopped this past year with only 3 people admitted, according to Catholic Charities in Texas who helps to resettle refugees.
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