Part of the Neighbors: One Year in the Life series which is taking a glimpse into the lives of the residents of the Dexter/Davison District, Northwest Detroit, and Southwest Detroit neighborhoods.
The city’s southwest side has earned a reputation for being a showcase for Latino culture, especially as a home to thousands of people of Mexican descent.
But the area bounded by Jefferson Avenue, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Wyoming and Michigan Avenue is made up of a tapestry of ethnicities from Irish, to African American and from Russian to Polish.
Growing up in southwest Detroit was a treat and I greatly benefitted from the exposure to so many people I likely would not have met otherwise.
As we look at this neighborhood — which is home to about 44,000 people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census — over the coming year, we hope to share the things that make this bustling area so dear to those who live here and those being attracted here, along with the challenges faced by this community.
Sure, there are numerous Latino eateries, taco trucks and even vendors selling delicacies such as elote (corn on the cob) drenched in butter, mayonnaise, chile powder and Parmesan cheese; paleta, Mexican ice cream or various fruits placed in a cup and doused with chile powder and lime.
But there also are pierogi (think of them as big Polish ravioli) fundraisers at churches, classes on how to breakdance and DJ at area centers catering to youths and three library branches offering various activities.
This neighborhood is the size of a small city but there is a connection among residents in these neighborhoods that makes it feel much smaller. Part of it is because it is one of the most densely populated areas in the city.
There also is a long tradition of neighbors helping neighbors in southwest Detroit, even if you do not know each other. Landscapers will mow the lawns of elderly neighbors for free. They will shovel walks in the winter time and plow streets and even driveways so neighbors can easily get about.
There is always room for a few more people at dinner and birthdays turn into makeshift block parties with everyone invited.
When it warms up, churches are busy on the weekends with weddings, baptisms and quinceaneras (coming of age ritual for girls turning 15 years old). Music can be heard pumping from cars and even motorcycles.
The neighborhood is not immune to crime or quality of life issues like graffiti. But community groups like Detroit Southwest Pride and businesses like Danto’s Furniture have stepped up to board up vacant structures and host community events for youths.
There still is much work to be done. Infrastructure upgrades are sorely needed. Immigration is a huge concern and improving schools is paramount. But there is a can-do spirit to the area and we will share it with you in the coming months.
Santiago Esparza is a southwest Detroit freelance writer.