Thursday, October 6, 2011

[Metromode] Little Baghdad in Sterling Heights

"For over a century, metro Detroit has been a hub for immigrants to settle (largely because of the work opportunities available to them through the auto industry). But despite the shifts in the economy over the last two decades, southeast Michigan has continued to be a metropolis for ex-pats looking to build families and careers in the States.

'Immigrant families from the same countries tend to cluster, forming pockets of cultural heritage, whole neighborhoods that might have been plucked straight from their native countries and dropped into unassuming corners of metro Detroit. To identify these pockets of ethnic diversity, one must simply look for the signs ... the storefront signs, that is. Little Vietnam in Madison Heights is easily identified by the disproportionately large number of Vietnamese restaurants, markets, video stores and salons with signboards written in both English and Vietnamese (if English is used at all).

'According to the Arab American Institute, as of 2008 Michigan was second only to California in its population of Middle Eastern Americans. With nearly 300,000 estimated to be living in the state today, Metro Detroit accounts for nearly 80 percent of that demographic (many of whom are Lebanese, but also Palestinian, Yemeni, Egyptian, and Iranian). Dearborn boasts the highest percentage, with nearly a third of its 93,000 residents being Arab American.

'Driving down Warren Ave. through East Dearborn, there are countless Arab-owned restaurants, bakeries, pizzerias, clothing stores, doctors' offices, law firms and general services. The signs are almost entirely in Arabic; restaurants and markets announce in bold neon that they are 'halal,' which means 'lawful' in accordance with Islamic law (similar to Jewish 'kosher' in that it refers to specific methods of animal slaughtering and the forbidden consumption of certain products). In addition to these businesses, there are also several mosques for community worship as well as cultural institutions upholding Arab and Muslim heritage like the Arab American National Museum.

'But Dearborn's Little Beirut isn't the only corner of metro Detroit that has a large Arab American population, even though it certainly gets the most attention. Over in Macomb County, Sterling Heights in particular, a Little Baghdad is forming in sleepy strip malls, and a strong show of Chaldean culture is making itself known. In fact, of cities with populations of 100,000 or more, Sterling Heights tops the list, with nearly 4 percent of its population being of Middle Eastern descent. (Warren follows close behind with nearly 3 percent)..."

Read the rest of the article here.