Hamtramck: The multicultural jewel inside Detroit
By Barbara Stachowski
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The Detroit metropolitan region is known for its resilience, and nowhere is that resilience more evident than in the enclave city of Hamtramck, the multifaceted, multicultural jewel centrally located within the boundaries of Detroit.
Hamtramck is only 2.2 square miles in size but is home to 22,430 residents in 7,063 households (2010 Census). Hamtramck is the most densely populated, culturally diverse city in Michigan. Referred to as “the world in two square miles,” its density is comparable to that of London, Chicago and New York.
Although Hamtramck was historically known for its predominantly Polish population, recent immigration trends have drastically changed the face of the city. Currently, Hamtramck is comprised of Polish, African American, Bangladeshi, Yemeni and Bosnian residents speaking more than 26 different languages.
The sounds of Christian church bells and the Muslim “call to prayer” announce the fact this is a special city with special people reimagining the way we live in community
Hamtramck residents have found creative ways to bridge cultural and language barriers. Jazz musician Bill Meyer founded OneHamtramck, a multicultural organization whose mission is “bringing the community together” to overcome language, cultural and political barriers that inherently exist between different cultures. In recent years, Meyer received a Kresge Foundation award and composed the Home Suite: a musical score composed to celebrate the many cultures in the city.
Currently, OneHamtramck is sponsoring the Arab Mural Project to create the first outdoor mural in Michigan with an Arab/Muslim theme and first major artwork solely about Yemeni history, culture and presence in Hamtramck. The mural will be painted on the wall of the Yemeni-owned Sheeba Restaurant and will bring national attention to one of the most diverse cities in the country and showcase the Arab contributions to American life.
OneHamtramck recently hosted an event to welcome the artist selected to paint the mural. The enthusiastic crowd included Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Serbian, Latino, African American, European American and Palestinian American supporters. The mural artist chosen is Chilean muralist Dasic Fernandez, a rising artist specializing in Arabic art who has painted murals in Southwest Detroit and other parts of the world.
Mural Committee member Hasan Newash, of Palestinian descent, explained Dasic brought both artistic talent and profound sensitivity to community to the project. Newash said the mural must be created in a way that makes it universally relevant, especially in a city with so many languages. Fernandez brings that sensitivity to the project. Conversations may not always be verbally possible, but can be carried on visually through the universal language of art.
In Hamtramck, the sense of community that immigrants, who are often forced refugees, bring to the city provides a solid foundation of support for their own community as well as those diverse communities around them. Detroiters have been successful in reimagining their communities in the face of economic hardship largely because of the strength of the African American community that migrated to Detroit from the south.
Cities all over the country and the world can learn lessons from Hamtramck’s diverse population and Detroit’s resilient population with strong roots in the south. We all have the opportunity to learn from our differences when we celebrate our commonalities.
We welcome the new artistic perspective Dasic Fernandez brings to Hamtramck and we anticipate the beauty of the mural he creates to celebrate our diversity, our community, our OneHamtramck.