Friday, August 3, 2007

Dearborn & Beyond

(Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn)

I moved to Dearborn, Michigan from Lebanon when I was two years old.


It's a culture I cannot explain. It is not the authentic Arab culture. It's definitely not 'Little Lebanon' as some people call it. It is simply 'Dearborn'. With the highest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East, it makes for quite a unique site. The awnings are written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Amazing food is served in restaurants that have 'borrowed' the names of their influences from across the Atlantic. Many immigrants found themselves settling in Dearborn during the auto industry's boom. The wave of immigration grew, but as it grew, so did it's racism. Henry Ford and Mayor Hubbard led half-successful campaigns to 'Keep Dearborn Clean', a slogan that has often referred to keeping the Arabs and Blacks out. I still wouldn't recommend Driving While Black in Dearborn, though. Ford and Hubbard have left a legacy. Anyway, a historically racist city is now dominated with Arab residents that contribute to a booming economy. Arabs kept Dearborn on the map when the auto industry begin to fizzle. All these things are true, but there are more truths to Dearborn.

(As reported by the Wall Street Journal, this picture is a glimpse of the 500,000 people that rallied in Dearborn when Israel was viciously bombarding Lebanon with illegal cluster bombs last summer)

I have a hard time deciding whether or not Dearborn is a subculture of American society or a counter-culture. While I am not sure which is true, I know that it is a culture I don't want to be a part of. I know what many of you are thinking: "She thinks she is better than Dearborn." I am not better than Dearborn. It has contributed to my upbringing and has been my home. However, it is a city that frustrates me. I don't feel like the general population in Dearborn aspires for something outside of the very vacuum it operates in. That is not to say that this applies to everyone. Some of the most impressive people I have ever met are from Dearborn. Aspects of Dearborn, however, are disappointing -- partly because I set my standards for Arab-Americans so high, and partly because I feel that a sense of complacency has infected it's residents.

Many of the immigrants that arrived in Dearborn during the 1980's had little English speaking skills and were either uneducated or had degrees that were worthless here in the States without proper language skills. Nonetheless, Arab immigrants hauled ass, opened up shop, and helped create a city with the most gas stations, pizzerias, and sub shops per capita. I mean, that's not a real statistic, but I wouldn't be surprised. Arabs are/were business oriented, and often came here with nothing and became successful. So what is so disappointing about all this? The fact that the children of these immigrants don't aspire to take it to the next level. They have a found a comfort zone, and most aren't willing to pursue education or job opportunity outside of Dearborn. I think the definition of success in Dearborn hasn't changed and that's a problem. When the immigrants came, success meant supporting your family and establishing a home in a foreign country where you knew no one and had nothing. I guess the definition of success has changed in some ways. Now, 'success' for my generation is buying a bigger home (maybe even in Dearborn Heights, oooh), a cooler car, and the newest Nextel. Saying these things is difficult for me because I am very passionate about the Arab-American community. I think cities like Dearborn are harmful for ethnic groups because it doesn't force them to wander outside of their comfort zone and experience new people and things. Undoubtedly, Arabs in Dearborn are doing well for themselves and their entrepreneurship is interesting, but there is so much more that no one is exploring. Many of the people I meet in Dearborn have no interest to visit Royal Oak, let alone Tanzania, Africa ( Point being: Life may be good for people in Dearborn, but there is a whole world out there, and I am not sure most of them care.

1 comment:

Donn said...

Great post, Sirene. I always like hearing these kinds of musings from you, and I admire that you're not afraid to blog them. Makes me feel all nostalgic for post-Rick's U. Towers gatherings.