I'm the product of the Detroit suburbs. For most of my life I had heard horror stories about Detroit; how my father had been robbed and his car stolen several times. But those things seemed distant to me. Hell, what did I have to worry about on the mean streets of 23 Mile?! But to understand my snarky humor about the city-suburb dichotomy, you have to know a little about where and who I come from.
My parents came to Detroit in the 70s as refugees seeking political asylum. With the "American Dream" finally within reach, my parents were able to find work on the assembly lines at General Motors, even with their limited English skills. Since then, they have switched careers and moved a number of times: from Detroit, to Pontiac, to Waterford and finally to Rochester Hills where they currently reside.
With just a quick glimpse of these city names, it is immediately clear just how enmeshed my parents' immigrant story is with the history of race and housing in Metro Detroit. The immigrant story is rarely, if ever told in this context. My parents left the city in search of safer neighborhoods, better education, and ultimately a better life for their children. Arguably there were some systemic factors that pushed them out, but they also left to find a community where they could be close to people who spoke their language and stores that carried familiar foods. Furthermore, the growing anti-Asian sentiment that did nothing to convince them to stay, especially after what happened to Vincent Chin. My dad recalled feeling unwanted and afraid of what could possibly happen if they remained in Detroit. Tragically, because of their lived experiences, I had learned to internalize a fear of Detroit and for many years never stepped foot in the city.
But my parents are wrong (can we talk about the Asian kid complex I'm having right now even typing that?!). For reasons that are too many to hash out here, I eventually landed a job in Detroit at the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion. I get to work with some of the most amazing youth in our region and in the past year, they've taught me a thing or two about Detroit, real talk. Instead of finding the despair that was synonymous with Detroit in my childhood, I found hope, innovation, and a sense of community that I have yet to see anywhere else. My fear is gone.
This is just a glimpse into my truth, a truth that needs to be told and heard. With the establishment of the Metro Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission, I'm excited about the hidden truths yet to be discovered. With these truths we can start the healing process so that people like my parents and people who grew up like me can live the possibilities if we start within ourselves and work together in our region.
For more information about this important project visit www.miroundtable.org/race2equityconference.