My Surprising Roots to SW Detroit – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

My Surprising Roots to SW Detroit

This week was hectic and admittedly a little disorganized on my end, so I didn’t get a chance to interview the executive director of my site, but I wanted to take this space to reflect on some family history I did not know about. Okay, I knew bits and pieces, but my family is not the type to sit down and tell me about their childhood and their roots. I know where I come from and my lineage, but I don’t know a whole lot about what it was like for my parents and grandparents to grow up. It’s something I want to know more about, and I think I would deeply regret it if I missed the opportunity.

Anyways, as I have mentioned 1 million times and I will likely mention 1 million more, my site is placed in SW Detroit, right by Corktown and Mexicantown. Its an area where you can tell that the sense of community is really strong, but it sits right on a few large roads and off the exit for the tunnel to Canada. As time is passing, I am becoming more and more familiar with the area, and have really loved it. Last weekend while at a cousin’s (outdoor & vaccinated) grad party, I found out that my grandmother grew up about 4 blocks from where my site is. My parents told me that my other grandmother and one of my grandfathers also grew up there, which is something I had no idea about. The grad party was busy enough that I wasn’t able to really talk to my grandmother about it, but I really want to know what the area was like back in the 50s and 60s. From what I did hear, the area at the time was predominately Polish, but after the White Flight the area has become mostly latinx. I am excited and weary of having this conversation with my grandma because on one hand I want to know about the history, but on the other, I understand that my grandmother is a conservative woman and that the conversation may take a turn into an argument after a few racially charged statements on her end.

This is the part where I ask for advice: as a white person I have had conversations with my conservative family members about race, but how do I navigate a conversation like that when it roots from wanting to know about my family history. This is complicated and I may be oversharing, but I think these are important feelings and problems to process and talk about!

2 thoughts on “My Surprising Roots to SW Detroit”

  1. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to share this with us, and I agree it’s important to talk about! I have also found myself in a similar situation with my grandma, and I am yet to know how to best navigate the conversation. While I want to be respectful of her experience and willingness to have the conversation, I also can’t tolerate racially charged comments. I’ve found that when I try to stop her and tell her why those comments are harmful, she often expresses that she doesn’t care.

  2. Serena,
    It is so cool to find out about family history you didn’t know about before! Actually, I have been trying to make family trees recently. I realized there are so many people in my family that I don’t even know! Overall, I think I know about the people themselves, but not much about their history and where they came from. I would like to sit down with my own grandparents and discuss it with them. I’m sure they have an abundance of information. Luckily, I see my grandparents from my mom’s side very frequently, but my grandparents on my dad’s side are no longer with us. I never really talked to them before they died, but I think part of the reason for that was their conservative views (which differ SO much from mine). Maybe I can try to talk more about it with my dad and aunt.
    Wow! Now you really got me thinking! Thank you for sharing this.

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