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Home : Local Reports   : Detroit, Michigan, USA
"..Is that why I'm still living here? To stay attached to the one corner of the earth where I can be in touch with what little history I have?"
- Denise Capra

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USA

Detroit and I are forever, firmly attached
by Denise Capra, 33, Detroit, USA
Sep 27, 1999

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The Finnish (maternal grandmother) originally settled in Michigan's Upper Pennisula, but moved south when the copper mines played out. The Polish (paternal grandmother) came later. Even armed with that bit of knowledge, I still can't be 100% sure exactly where my family came from. I do know that my maternal grandfather came over from Germany in 1911, when he was 15. My birth mother provided that much in the files on me at the adoption service, from where I requested "non-identifying" information in 1995.

Three years later, I still have the paperwork behind my desk at work, waiting for my $15 money order for the processing fee to hire a Confidential Intermediary. He or she will, in turn, be allowed to go through my records and search for my birth parents, reporting to me whether or not they want a reunion (or if they are even still alive) within 6 months. I, in turn, pay "no more than" $250 for their services. I have no explanation for why I haven't done that yet. Too scared to find out the truth, I guess.

Is that why I'm still living here? To stay attached to the one corner of the earth where I can be in touch with what little history I have? If so, this is a stupid place to be. Detroit, I've come to realize, has very little of it's history left either. Entire neighborhoods were wiped out when families left for the greener pastures of the suburbs after World War II. Yes, white flight figured into it, but it's effect was actually more severe in living, breathing cities like Chicago. Detroit has been dying since 1943, when the first (but not the last) 20th century riot rocked the city. Racism was a disease that spread across the city like a plague, weakening it against future growth.The Arsenal of Democracy (so called because our auto factories were quickly converted to war machine factories in the 1940's, and their output was the highest anywhere in America) hasn't been the same since.

Being out of the "loop," travel and trade-wise, hasn't helped Detroit either. Before the advent of the steam train, and long before the automobile changed the face of our world, Detroit was considered "accessible" via the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes that surround us. Explorers travelled by canoe to map our territory. Once travel by land was easier and quicker, Detroit was too far north from the New York-Chicago route of the what became the great 20th Century Limited. The auto industry allowed our fire to flare briefly; however, the decay of the city started with neighborhoods being bought up and razed to make room for the world's first "expressway" (The Davison), travelling (no pun intended) fast on the heels of the first auto club and the first traffic light. But as people faced the Cold War and settled down into the 1950's and 1960's, that fire slowly cooled. People left the campfire altogether after 1967.

"Detroit and I have something in common," I said to a friend after one too many margueritas one evening. "Both of us have had our history erased." I stared soberly at the ice and lime left in my glass.

Maybe that's why we cling so hard to each other.

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