With all the news about the bankruptcy, I’ve been thinking about Detroit lately. Actually, more accurately, I’m trying not to think about Detroit.
I’m not from Detroit, but since living overseas I find myself identifying with the city and claiming it as my own; to me, it has come to represent Michigan as a whole, and my home. I used to be excited to read about Detroit on the rare occasion it popped up in the news, but these days I cringe when I see a headline and immediately turn elsewhere. What Detroit is going through pains me.
The news is reporting what I’ve been aware of anecdotally — Michigan is dying, almost dead in fact, and on life-support. I’m often nostalgic for my home, but what I miss doesn’t exist anymore. I used to go home to visit a multitude of friends and family, but if I were to go back now I would have only one friend to visit, only one friend who hasn’t yet emigrated elsewhere to a better place. On Facebook I saw pictures of my old group of friends “up north” for the fourth of July weekend. But the group has changed a lot so that I only recognize a smattering of faces, and they’re of people I’m not in contact with anymore. It makes me wonder if I did go back to this place I miss, Michigan, would I be accepted?
There’s a deep part of me that wants to return home, but alongside that desire is a fear that that home doesn’t exist anymore. Michigan is dying, friends have moved, and I abandoned the state and those that remained. I wonder if they could forgive me for that. I wonder if I could fit in again, and find a home again.
I expressed these thoughts to my boyfriend of almost four years when in a flash I finally understood an infinitesimal part of what his life is like. Anis is Palestinian, and for the first time I was able to feel genuine empathy for his situation. I asked him how it felt to not have a recognized country, to have a land that is not technically his, to be homeless. I finally began to understand.
Geography is important. I have great respect for my father and his opinions, but one I don’t share is his thought that geography is irrelevant. He travels a lot and he says that all places are the same and if you’re there long enough, you’ll like it just as well as anywhere else.
I disagree because in geography you have cultures, societies, languages, landmarks, people, and atmosphere. Every city feels different. When I visit a place I am able to learn about the people and culture based on how the city feels. Switzerland is xenophobic and dull, Lithuania is depressing and defensive, China is ignorant, Paris is haughty, Marrakesh is traditional, Istanbul is modern and diverse, Jerusalem is mentally ill, and Detroit is struggling against itself.
I realize that I’m rambling; I apologize. To sum up what I’m saying, geography matters to a person, and I think it matters a great deal more than we credit it.
Detroit’s problems are obviously affecting the people currently residing there, especially the senior citizens, but they also affect all of Michigan, and anybody who has a connection there. I don’t think all of my friends wanted to move away, but they were literally out of options. Ideally I would love to move to Dearborn, near Detroit, because there Anis and I could live in both Michigan and Palestine at the same time. But that will never happen, because there’s nothing there for us. There is no industry, no jobs, no life. I wish I could say, “I’m going to move back to Michigan one day!” But I won’t. Because that would be going backward. I want to go home, but my home is dying. And even though I’m far away, and possibly not even accepted by my home anymore, it still pains me to see it like this.