Hamtramck, a home away from home for some

(Editor-at-Large Walter Wasacz writes a weekly column on life in Hamtramck.)

By Walter Wasacz

It’s always nice to open up a computer — or, now, a phone — and stumble across a story about the real Hamtramck.

When I say “real” what I really mean is authentic “experience” — not a news story or an opinion about politics, finance or the intervention of law. That’s out there, too, of course, the latest round of reporting centered around (in no particular order) budgets, city managers, unions, General Motors, Detroit, the State of Michigan, bankruptcy.

That’s some hard stuff, and it’s getting play across the country and around the web — the latest piece (largely sympathetic to Hamtramck’s position in this dispute) published this week in the online zine, the Huffington Post.

But to see Hamtramck differently, for assets that transcend the news of the day, to see it for values that go beyond the headlines, is where I come in. As you all do, Street Life readers, if you invest your heart and soul in a place. And if that place takes a hold of you and just won’t let go.

Where I stumbled was into a blog called Visualingual, which originates from a design studio in a Cincinnati neighborhood with the charming name Over-the-Rhine.

The writer talks about how each time she is in Detroit, she makes “a customary stop in Hamtramck,” where she always does the same things: make pilgrimages to Srodek’s, Polish Art Center and Under the Eagle.
But she also puts into perspective that Hamtramck is a fluid, changing community, not the same as when she attended Cranbrook (exactly when, she doesn’t say), and now increasingly, she writes, “a mixture of Yemeni, Albanian, Bangladeshi and Polish.”

She puts a fine point on the distinct nature of this place by saying it’s “more Polish and still less hipster than Greenpoint (my note: Greenpoint is the nexus center of Polish-Americana in Brooklyn, one neighborhood above hipster magnet Williamsburg) and (Hamtramck) isn’t at all like Detroit — it’s dense and walkable, with independently owned stores…”

Her words muse on the fleeting nature of “home,” but the permanence of “place.” She wonders how different her life might have been had she grown up in Hamtramck. She comes back to her theme throughout her short piece, which can be found in its entirety here: http://visualingual.wordpress.com/
And she concludes it this way, with a mix and match of another Brooklyn neighborhood: “Actually Coney Island is a kind of home to me, even though I’ve never lived there. Hamtramck, too, has a strange hold on my heart, as the home that might have been.”

It’s a nice read, strewn with photos of landmark local businesses. It tells us a lot about what we have here, too often taken for granted or hidden by the fog of conflict over money or power.

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