This may not be the storied American melting pot, but its a vibrant mosaic shimmering under the summer sun.
In a region where disharmony seems to course like a dark, unsettling undercurrent that occasionally surfaces open and raw, Metro Beach park along Lake St. Clair in Macomb County offers an example of this area at its multi-ethnic best.
There are many amenities here: a sparkling pool with dual waterslides, a white-sand beach, shaded bike paths, a par-three golf course, miniature golf (cooled by the spray of a waterfall), picnic areas, boat docks, a music pavilion, volleyball, a nature center, a serene wooded trail featuring great horned owls and a pond where turtles sun themselves on wooden rafts.
But for all the attractions, none is more inspiring or hope-inducing than the smorgasbord of park-goers on display. If people-watching is your thing, its hard to imagine a more delightfully diverse spot in all of metro Detroit.
In the course of just a few minutes you might see a family of Spanish speakers lugging a cooler and fishing gear to a lakeside spot where they hope to reel in a few perch; teenage girls in hijabs zipping along the bike trail on in-line skates; African-American guys in their 20s playing hoops; Hindu women in colorful saris seated on a bench, dipping into a bag of Tostitos as songs from a Christian rock band blast from the music pavilion.
Over by the squirt zone, a place where kids frolic in water shooting up from jets in the cement, theres a circle of benches. On three adjacent seats theres a couple from Japan, a family from India, and a man who appears to be from the Middle East, gazing into the distance as he fingers a string of prayer beads.
On a Sunday afternoon in early June, Insom Jakjai plays with one of his three sons as the other two splash in the water. A chemical engineer born in Thailand, he came to America eight years ago after stints in Canada and then Europe.
I love it here, he says about the park. Theres lots of stuff for the kids. Its real clean. The fishings good.
And the mix of people?
You see all kinds here, says the Clinton Township resident. Culturally, its very diverse.
Nearby, Rick Merriweather, whos black, and his wife Deborah, whos white, sit in the shade with a few of the eight children theyve raised separately and together. Now living nearby at 16 Mile and Harper, theyve been coming out here off and on for the past 10 years, starting when they still lived in Detroit. (Stand at whats known as the parks point and in the distance to the south you can see the towers of the Renaissance Center through a shroud of haze.)
You have a little of everything out here, says Rick. Its a good mix. Lately, weve been hearing more Slavic-sounding languages.
What they dont hear are the sounds of dispute.
You have sunshine and you take kids and put them near water, says Rick, 43. How could you not have a great day?
Alex Bojaj, a retired autoworker born in Albania, makes a similar observation. Hes out here riding bikes with his cousin and the cousins son. Bojaj says hes been coming here for more than 30 years.
Its been a long time since Ive heard about any trouble happening here, he says, eyes scanning the sun-splashed water and laughing kids. But theres no reason there should be. Everyones just out here to relax and have fun.
Everyone.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]