Photograph taken by Heather Dougherty

Recent Immigrants

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Brief 20th Century History of Detroit


SW Detroit in 2006

Embracing One Community

Community Developments

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            Felix Vanegas is a 32-year-old man from Detroit who works in a cement company.  He is an example of a Mexican immigrant who gained success in Detroit even though he has only obtained an eight-grade education.  Southwest Detroit was able to provide him with a job that he was capable to doing and he is able to live a healthy life from his earned income.  He is among the 40,000 Latino immigrants that moved to Michigan (mostly to Southwest Detroit) in 2000.  In southwest Detroit, Latinos can be regarded as working-class heroes, a community which carved out what is arguably the first stable, vibrant blue-collar inner-city neighborhood Detroit has had in decades. 6 Southwest Detroit is the state’s largest barrio and statistically, the barrio has one of the lowest crime rates of any Detroit neighborhood. It is also the most densely populated and the one with the most densely developed commercial districts in the city, according to a 1998 study by the University of Michigan School of Public Policy. 7 Therefore, Southwest Detroit’s businesses and housing has provided the immigrants with viable living conditions and an income and in return, the Latino community is providing the neighborhood with a healthy progression.
            Another immigrant Ana Camerena moved to Chicago from Mexico and now lives in Southwest Detroit.  Here her husband was able to find a stable job in construction and they were quickly able to purchase a house. 8  Young immigrant families populate the street they live on now with many young children running about and Mexican music coming from neighboring houses.  Ana, like Felix, is grateful for Detroit because it provided her and her husband with a new successful beginning in a comforting environment.
            Southwest Detroit has been the starting place for many immigrants from Europeans to Mexicans, beginning in the 1920s.  Even though Europeans have slowly stopped migrating here, Mexicans and some Puerto Ricans are still finding their way to this promising community.  The auto industry has played a major role in revitalizing the economy to allow for immigrants the chance for success in Southwest Detroit.  The largest project is the Clark Street Technology Park, where four Detroit businesses – General Motors Corp., Farbman Group, Walbridge-Aldinger and SHG Inc. – are redeveloping the former headquarters of Cadillac Motor Car Company into an 88-acre research and manufacturing center at the corner of Clark and Michigan. 9   This development will most obviously provide an incentive for people to migrate to Detroit for job opportunities and most likely increase the economy of Detroit.  Mexicantown Community Development Corporation is busy as well. It plans to build an $8 million Mexicantown International Welcome Center and Mercado, pinned around the Michigan Department of Transportation’s construction of a pedestrian bridge that will rejoin Bagley Avenue where it was severed by I-75 near the Ambassador Bridge. 10   This project will allow visitors from Canada to see the importance of the Latino community to Southwest Detroit because the commuters will be able to identify the presence of the Latino culture in the construction of the marketplace and the retail store area.