Monday, April 6, 2009

Oh Detroit, lift up your weary head! [Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!]

To grow up in Michigan is a curious thing, if only because I have found that things that would repulse normal people make me homesick.
A broken window makes me think of the fading beauty of Michigan Central Station. A blustery day in April makes me fondly remember my freshman year of college, when it snowed on April 27th. My quiet neighborhood is nice, but sometimes I miss the Catholic church bells, Islamic calls to prayer, drone of cars on the freeway, train whistles and factory clangs and bangs that I heard daily during my formative years. I like dirt and grime and a certain ginger pop with fizz that can burn your nostrils and loud, obnoxious rock and roll.
But I also like the dulcet tones of a Motown record and the equally smooth taste of Sanders hot fudge on my ice cream. And I'm not sure if the most beautiful thing I have ever seen is a mural by Diego Riveria of an assembly line or the time I saw the northern lights and a meteor shower over Lake Huron on the same night.
"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself," wrote Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, and I love my home not in spite of its contradictions, but because of them. I have literally danced in the street during the Dally in the Alley, and have seen 8 Mile divide people like no street should have the power to. I have celebrated a Pistons victory with the same man who asked me for change. I have climbed up sand dunes, and fallen down on crumbling city sidewalks. I have worked in the marble halls of an art museum, and have marveled at abandoned houses and discarded shoes, vacuum cleaners and stuffed animals transformed into art. I don't have enough money to own a car, even though the car drives my city. The more Michigan collapses, the more I love it.
The more I want to shout in the face of everyone who laughs at our expense, who dismisses us as dying, irrelevant, and not worth saving. The more I want to shout "Really?! Well what would you do without us?!"
To the kids on American Idol, who spent a week singing Motown songs, do you know the debt you owe? The African-American woman, the Indian guy and the Latina teenager, would you be singing in front of 25 million Americans weekly if Barry Gordy hadn't decided to make not just good "black music" but just good music?
Move to the desert, build air-conditioned condominiums and complain that you have nothing to drink and not enough water to pump full of chlorine for your swimming pools! Leave us with our fresh water - the kind you can drink thirstily from your facet, leap into on an August afternoon and watch the sunset over.
Our factories hummed and buzzed to give you the Model T and everything that came after it and planes to win World War II - and now you're content to let the same plants lay quiet. The assembly lines churned and gave Polacks like my family a decent job when no one else would have them, and now you want to build a wall to keep other immigrants from having a similar chance. Our unions fought battles on freeway overpasses and now no one cares when they march in long tedious circles around silent factories for days and months.
We were the Arsenal of Democracy, and now our democracy wishes we didn't exist.
Detroiters have watched their city burn before their eyes both by accident and in riot, and now they have to witness it slowly dismantled building by abandoned building, windowpane by broken windowpane, house by burnt-out house and brick by crumbling brick.
Detroit began as a frontier outpost, and its that way again - that wild unforgiving place no one in their right mind would go. But in the wise words of Maria Von Trapp, let's start at the very beginning because its a very good place to start. We're back at the beginning Detroit, and we have nothing to do but make ourselves again.
And tomorrow if all that's left of Detroit is a single brick, I will still love it. I will still love it because it can be built again, just like it has been before. My home's biggest contradiction is also its biggest strength: no matter how many times it crumbles, burns, trips, stalls, freezes, self-implodes, riots, declines and disintegrates there is always something left. And damnitt, if this time all that's left is a single brick and me, I would find another brick to put on top of it and start from the beginning.
"Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus" Gabriel Richard said the first time Detroit burned. We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.
So joke if you must, because it doesn't really matter. People from Michigan know we are no joke.
Because jesusfuckingchrist, I can't believe I'm saying this - but to paraphrase Kwame Kilpatrick: You've done set us up for a comeback.

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