Diversity and Activism in Mexicantown, Detroit

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"I love that Detroit is one of the few cities in America that is thinking critically and rethinking what a city is and can be. You'll find some of the most amazing thinkers and people in the world right here in Detroit redefining what the word 'city' means."
 - Brian, Takeaway listener in Detroit, Mich.

We’ve gotten scores of responses to our question: What makes Detroit a great city? Listeners cite a strong work ethic, great arts institutions and yummy restaurants. And so we’re taking a closer look at one neighborhood that embodies the complexity of a city that struggles with poverty and unemployment, yet is alive with a cultural heritage that its citizens embrace and celebrate: Southwest Detroit's Mexicantown.

To outsiders, the area is best known for its Mexican restaurants, but locals say there’s a lot more going on than just tasty tacos. Mexicantown is a predominantly Hispanic section of Detroit with a strong history of community activism. According to Angela Reyes, founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, the community has more community-based NGO's than any other section of Detroit.

The neighborhood is historically diverse. Following WWII, a steel boom attracted immigrant communities to the city, filling the factories with a diverse population of workers. “People who spent 20-30 years working in those steel factories, they would call it the United Nations,"says Rashida Tlaib, a state representative from Southwest Detroit. "My father is one of them, he is proud to say that he knows how to say 'cheers' and 'salut' in seven languages."

And Mexicantown continues to welcome new arrivals. With an eye toward this diversity, reporters, Krissy Clark and Justin Arenstein went into the neighborhood to talk to residents, business owners and community activists.

Here are some of their voices: