Pilgrimage to Dearborn

A man’s voice blares from the mosque on Dix, only yards from the southwest border of Detroit. The Arabic chant — readings from the Quran — transports one to a place far, far away.

Hundreds of women in headscarves join groups of men who crowd the streets around the mosque, queuing for daily prayer. Though roads crisscross in front, people have made it a sort of pedestrian mall. Adjacent to the mosque, a strip of stores with Arabic script above and English translation below sell meats, live chickens, groceries, Muslim books, headscarves, pastries and tobacco hookahs. Fruits are piled in baskets in front of the stores.

The giant, puffing smokestacks of Ford’s Rouge Plant provide a backdrop to all activity in the neighborhood off Dix, otherwise known as the south end of Dearborn, where the newest Arab-American immigrants come to get a start. The area’s Arab-American population is estimated at more than 300,000.

“It’s like a starter town,” says Abed Ayoub, membership and development coordinator for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Everybody has roots in the south end.”

The neighborhood used to be a thriving Lebanese community, but now its inhabitants are mainly from Yemen.

Up and down the quiet streets, yards in front of the small one- and two-story brick and wooden bungalows are well-tended. Men sit on porches drinking tea and eating from bowls of bananas, apples and dates. Moms pile kids in minivans to go to the store. An older man stands at the back of his van, listening to an Arabic news broadcast on the radio. Grass is green and birds chirp. It’s like a slightly rundown version of 1950s suburban America.

“Everybody knows each other here,” says Saleh Homayed, owner of the Arabian Village Bakery. “Over here, it’s safe more than anywhere in the U.S.”

Houses used to sell for $10,000. Now some in the neighborhood are selling for as much as $100,000, he says. Large new homes are being built among the smaller bungalows lining the streets.

Homayed is a godfather of sorts in the neighborhood, a resident for some 35 years before moving recently to Dearborn Heights. When he sold his house, “I didn’t have a key to give the guy,” says Homayed. “I never, never use a key.”

Though Homayed moved away from Dearborn, he comes to Dix every day to tend his shop.

The neighborhood runs approximately from the border of Detroit at Riverside to the Rouge Plant, out to Amazon and Wyoming, Homayed says.

At prayer time or when the elementary school across the street from the mosque lets out, the area looks like a little Arabia. But “we’re not Arab anymore,” says Homayed, who’s wearing a white T-shirt with a big American flag on it. “We’re American. We come to be American. The Arabs, we will fight for the U.S. We work. We appreciate what we have.”

People around Dix say it’s just like home. That’s unlikely, considering Detroit’s marathon winters and that much of Yemen doesn’t have running water or formal schooling. But everything that people need is here: factory work; the mosque, where thousands pray five times daily; shops with Arabic goods and medical centers along Dix run by ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) that cater to the community.

“You can walk everywhere here,” says Ayoub, as he gives a tour in his sandals.

In a nearby doctor’s office, mothers and fathers with kids sit in the waiting room.

Abdulla Hussein, 52, sits with his sons and baby daughter. The father of 11 says he loves his neighborhood.

“Here, everybody lives near each other. We feel like we are at home,” says Hussein, who moved to California before bringing his family here seven years ago. “I think Michigan is better than the other states. It’s safer for the families. That’s why we moved here.”

The seventh annual East Dearborn Arab International Festival happens June 14-16 on Warren Avenue between Wyoming and Schaefer. Admission is free.

Return to the introduction of this special Metro Times Summerguide 2002 neighborhood profile. Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]