I’m out of town again, working long hours and away from my familiar kitchen. What little cooking I’m doing is on the perfunctory side, so no recipe this week. But because of where I am—Hamtramck, Michigan, a small, independent, working class municipality inside the city of Detroit—I’m thinking a lot about immigrants.
I seem to be writing a lot about immigrants here these days. I feel like I need to be, because we are at such a pivotal, dangerous place right now. We are largely a nation of immigrants, and we seem to be conveniently forgetting that fact.
Hamtramck exemplifies the immigrant experience in letters five miles high. From German beginnings now hardly remembered, it flourished with waves of Polish immigrants who came to build cars in the city’s Dodge Main Plant. Even now, Polish bakeries, restaurants, sausage shops, bars, veterans halls and Polish Catholic churches line many streets.
But the next wave of immigrants has come to Hamtramck. Muslims from many countries are making it their home. Like the Poles before them, they bring a strong work ethic and the desire to belong. The Home Dollar Mart above is one of many Muslim-owned businesses and facilities in town. There are hardware stores, gas stations, groceries, restaurants, clothing shops, mosques, health clinics and more.
What sounds like a recipe for strife simply isn’t, at least to this outsider’s eyes. Poles and Muslims live on the same streets and shop in each other’s stores. Both groups figure prominently in city government. Maybe it’s because they both understand how hard they worked to get here and how hard they continue to work. How much they love being here. And maybe the rest of us should work a little harder to understand that this is how it should be.