Hamtramck is a microcosm of the fears gripping parts of the country since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris: The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.That poses challenges to current mayor and shopkeeper Karen Majewski that would have been familiar to urban mayors of over a century ago, as I shall demonstrate.
Let's start with local reaction to the new version of the Angelus, and with the business climate mattering more to voters than any religious test.
And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echos through the city’s streets five times each day.I suspect there were traditional Protestants, years ago, who did not take too kindly to the Catholic custom of ringing the Angelus at six am, noon, and six pm. That custom is much diminished in recent years. Assimilation. I suspect that the rhythms of American commercial life will have their effect on the call to prayer. And the commercial climate of Hamtramck is still parlous, as it has been since the days of the first Chrysler bailout and the closing of Dodge Main, calls to prayer before sunrise or not.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”
Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear.
Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.
“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes.
Furthermore, Mr Almasmari is going to learn a quick lesson in coalition building, working with coreligionists out of Bangladesh, Bosnia, and Yemen, as well as bargain-hunting hipsters, and Americans of African, and yes, Polish extraction.
Polish American culture still permeates the town.Put another way, regional modifications of supposedly national holidays are as American as bratwurst. Or William Tell days in New Glarus. Then comes a familiar gripe about ethnic politics, from sources that might surprise some readers.
Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski.
The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent.That t-shirt slogan is likely to shake up more than a few identity-politics essentialists. And immigrant bakers on Joseph Campau are unlikely to pass on a business opportunity that is a major commercial ritual in Detroit (and anywhere else where Poles or Rhinelanders have migrated.)
The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions, like the Polish festival and Fat Tuesday’s paczki day, soon will be wiped away.
He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”
Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests.That's a common insider observation about the new outsiders, whether we are speaking of Bosnians in Michigan or Chinese graduate students. In Hamtramck, however, there's real diversity.
“They are clannish and stick together. . . . The jury is out on them.” Little said.
Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith — the city is about 23 percent Arabic, 19 percent Bangladeshi and 7 percent Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center.Now for the history lesson. There's another Midwestern city with a substantial Polish presence, sufficient for John Gurda to write about Milwaukee Polonia, best understood as that part of Milwaukee east of 27th Street, north of Oklahoma Avenue, and bounded by the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers. Start with the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.
Most were impoverished peasants facing diminished prospects at home and looking across the ocean for greater opportunities, particularly in the rapidly industrializing cities of the northern United States. There was a political dimension to their movement as well. Once a major power in central Europe, the Polish state had ceased to exist in 1795, when Russia, Prussia, and Austria carved it into three dependent territories. Conditions in western, or German, Poland—the ancestral home of more than 80 percent of Milwaukee’s Poles—were especially harsh. Military conscription and cultural repression made emigration an obvious choice.That's my story, too. And the introduction of a Polish population into the "German Athens in America" brought challenges familiar to Mayor Majewski and Selectman Almasmari.
Polish Milwaukeeans set any number of precedents, but their status as pioneers did not mask the poverty that most families endured. Although they arrived early, the immigrants came to a city whose pecking order was firmly established. Yankees—transplants from New York and New England—exercised an influence entirely out of proportion to their numbers, even though they were vastly outnumbered by German-speaking residents. Milwaukee, in fact, was already the most German city in America, and Teutonic newcomers were shaping its cultural and economic life decisively. The Irish, despite their poverty, were a potent force in local politics. Polish immigrants, after depleting their reserves in crossing to America, had little choice but to start at the bottom.And in establishing themselves, Milwaukee's Poles provided an installed base of affordable housing that is now providing Latin American and Caribbean Islands migrants with the beginning of a stake in the country. Similar housing patterns provided the houses Hamtramck's newest residents are buying.
Polish immigrants did something that took their neighbors by surprise: they built homes of their own. Throughout American urban history, the newest groups have generally occupied the oldest houses, settling in hand-me-down neighborhoods on the fringes of the nation’s downtowns. The Poles broke that unwritten law. “Usually the first money they can call their own is put into the purchase of a lot,” reported the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1874, “on which they mean to erect a house as soon as possible. They have a strong prejudice against paying rent.” Reflecting the Old World belief that land, not money, is the key to security, the immigrants bought lots that were painfully small by modern standards—only twenty-five or thirty feet wide—and covered them with simple frame cottages resting on cedar posts.And as the family expanded or as aspiring Donald Trumps saw the potential in residential real estate, they built additional small houses behind, or jacked up the original house and installed additional space underneath. Then came the churches, far fancier than the makeshift mosques now serving believers in Hamtramck.
Despite their poverty, Polish immigrants showed a penchant for grand ecclesiastical architecture, and no church was more imposing than the Basilica of St. Josaphat. Built with materials salvaged from the Chicago Post Office, this Romanesque marvel was completed in 1901. The parish had nearly twelve thousand members at the time—probably the most of any congregation in the state, regardless of faith—and the church they built is still the city’s largest. But St. Josaphat was a parish of the poor. It took until 1925—nearly a quarter century—for the congregation to pay off its debt, and only then was work on the interior pushed to completion. In 1929 Pope Pius XI declared the church a basilica, the ecclesiastical equivalent of all-star status. St. Josaphat was only the third basilica in the country.And the Poles in the United States turned out to be on the winning side in a conflict in the Old World.
Completing such a glorious church in 1901, even without a finished interior, was a mark of institutional maturity, a clear signal that Milwaukee’s Polonia was here to stay. As immigrants kept crossing the ocean, the ranks of the community continued to swell. By 1906 there were nearly seventy thousand Polish Milwaukeeans—a number exceeded only by the Germans—and the Polish vote had become a decisive factor in local politics. The community’s fortunes were further bolstered by World War I. The conflict was disastrous for local German culture (sauerkraut was rechristened “liberty cabbage”), but the Allied victory was an unmixed blessing for expatriate Poles. In 1918 Poland became a free nation for the first time since 1795. Basking in the reflected light of a free homeland and growing slowly more prosperous in the freedom of America, Polish Milwaukeeans had much to celebrate.When the last deconstructionist is strangled with the entrails of the last jihadi, the newest refugees from conflicts in the old world might also have much to celebrate.
Continuing the history lesson, NBC News visits an earlier generation of immigrants, in Dearborn, Michigan, where comes a call for a time-out in further immigration that will probably also surprise the diversity lobby.
"We don't need no more troubles, you know?" said Hicham Dawil, who immigrated to the U.S. three decades ago. "I feel bad for the people. On the other hand, look what's happening in France. This is crazy, you know. It's just evil."It's likely more than a few of those Milwaukee Germans of a hundred years ago would understand. Yes, during the 1930s, the German-American Bund was active in Milwaukee, and yet, the descendants of the Acht-und-vierzigers who fled the counter-revolution were also present in Milwaukee, and in their reservations about the Kaiser and the Nazis we anticipate current first-generation Americans' reservations about the Islamofascists.
Dawil, a father of five college-aged kids all born here who runs his own heating and cooling business, said the ISIS attacks turned his stomach and the fallout affects him as an Arab immigrant.
"We just cannot afford being looked at like, 'Oh, well, you are one of them,'" he said. "Let's say I walk into a lounge ... I can see people look at me."
"I understand it, I'm a citizen of the United States," said Reem Akkad, a Michigan-born son of Syrian immigrants. "I would not want anyone to endanger any of my fellow citizens, anyone that I know. But I think that the link that was established is the wrong link."Das stimmt. The Bundists were also backing a much stronger horse than the few devotees of Daesh, or Douche, or whatever, are.
Still, Akkad said, as Arabs in America they too are paying the price for ISIS' brutality.
"For us here as Syrians, as members of the Muslim community, it is literally our worst nightmare," he said. "ISIS is not only killing our people, but it's already hijacking our image."
We finish with an observation from new arrivals that ought to give pause to both the close-the-borders crowd and to the self-despising multiculturalists.
Ahmed and Fatima Alkadri, newly arrived Syrian refugees, said they wanted to come to the United States because anybody can become an American.Would that it were that simple, and yet that is an aspiration worthy of affirmation.
"We asked around and we'd been told that American people are very friendly," Fatima said through an interpreter. "And everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. There was no rich, no poor, and its an equal life; everyone has an opportunity, everyone is safe there."
Thus migration into the United States, which remains a land of opportunity despite the efforts of the political class to turn it into another Greece and the efforts of the academy's deconstructionists to pronounce anathema on the phrase.Let it always be.