A cultural look at the Motor City

As Helen Love's airplane landed in Detroit after her vacation in New Zealand, it suddenly occurred to her that she knew a lot more about where she'd just spent two weeks than where she had lived all her life.

"I had tons of guidebooks and source materials on New Zealand, but I realized there was nothing like that for Detroit," she says.

That has changed. Seven years after her realization, Ms. Love became coauthor of "Global Journeys in Metro Detroit," an ethnic guidebook to the Motor City. She conceived and assembled the paperback book with partners Marcia Danner and Patricia Banker Peart.

It includes contributions from more than 100 people representing different ethnic cultures in the city. "I didn't feel that there was anything on the bookshelves that captured what our city is really about," she says. "Nothing captured its diversity and vitality.

"People don't realize how culturally diverse Detroit really is," adds Love, who is retired after having been community relations director of Ford Motor Co. "You drive downtown and think, So what? But you have to dig a little bit. Detroit is an underground city."

The book takes readers on a tour of metro Detroit's many ethnic neighborhoods and communities, all the while letting readers in on where to find Creole cooking, a place to hike native American trails around the city, the right Arab coffee and tea etiquette ("It is considered impolite for a guest to refuse a cup"). The guide also suggests what to bring to an Armenian picnic (string cheese, basturma – a cured spicy beef – and lavash, a flat Syrian bread would all be acceptable). Also included are a variety of ethnic festivals, including Mexican, Macedonian, Lebanese, Arab, Czech, and Slovak festivals.

"Global Journeys" covers the major ethnic groups around Detroit – such as the African-American community, the large Hispanic community on the Southwest side, and the Polish community in Hamtramck – and also lesser-known pockets like the Chaldean neighborhood around Seven Mile Road and John R Street, and the Asian Indians of Garden City.

In all, the book covers about 30 different cultural communities, includingsections on Creole and Cajun peoples, those of European descent (British, Hungarian, Ukrainian), and Asian cultures – those of China and Korea.

The 504-page book is not only useful for travelers, but ethnic communities are also finding it to be a helpful resource.

"It's a vehicle for going into other communities. It makes it more comfortable," says Ismael Ahmed, executive director of Dearborn's Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, who contributed to the book, as did members of the center's arts and culture department. "I've seen very few books like this. It's like a 'how to' and 'why' to the area. It breaks down some of the segregation that occurs in the city. Folks live in their own place and don't venture into other folks' neighborhoods where they are enjoying life. This way, you get to enjoy other communities."

The authors produced the book in cooperation with New Detroit Inc., an urban coalition that advocates for improved race relations, economic development, youth, and education. Proceeds benefit the group's cultural exchange program.

The book was also designed so that nonprofit groups could use it for their own fundraising, Love adds. None of the authors receives profits from the book's distribution.

"We did it," Love says, "because it was something the community needed."

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