Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland visited once in 1969 before becoming pope. A statue of Wojtyla with outstretched arms still shadows what is called Pope Park, where a huge mural of Polish folk dancers spans almost an entire island.
Mayor-elect Ghalib was born in Yemen and came to the U.S. alone as a teenager, with little broken English and little else. He is now 42 years old, working in the medical field and studying to become a doctor.
Apparently, Hamtramck’s heyday had passed. The city was in decline. Many factories were closed. Second- and third-generation Polish Americans had moved to the suburbs of Detroit and beyond during the past two decades. Immigrants, mostly from Yemen and Bangladesh, replaced him, and locals say Hamtramck is now mostly Muslim.
Hamtramck is a top one, where new immigrants have placed layers of culture and society on top of what was already there. You can enjoy sparkling Yemeni. missing – a spicy bean stew – and bread for breakfast, and you still get one. How basic O one Pierogi for lunch. Census data shows Hamtramck has re-emerged as one of Michigan’s fastest-growing cities. New immigrants are fixing up dilapidated houses, opening shops and restaurants, putting down roots. And what could be more American than diving into local politics?
“Tonight is a true example that the American dream is alive and well in the land of opportunity,” Ghalib told the excited crowd, which had gathered to celebrate his landslide victory in the early November election. He defeated incumbent Karen Majewski, who held the position for 16 years.
The new board has only one American-born member: Amanda Jezkowski, a lifelong resident of Michigan. His Polish-American family has worshiped at the same nearby Catholic church for five generations. He accepted Islam in 2012.
“One of the big things that bothers people is getting rid of bars. We can’t get rid of bars,” Jaczkowski told us. She and her fellow councilors don’t want to get rid of bars, she says, as Islam bans alcohol for followers of the faith, but no one else.
“It’s not necessarily bad places that we ban because of them. [non-Muslims] He’s not expected to live by the same rules we’re expected to live by,” he said of the bars and their customers.
The idea was echoed by the mayor-elect.
“We are Muslims,” Ghalib said, sitting in the council chamber where he would soon preside. “We are proud of our beliefs and values. But we will not try to impose them on others.
Jaczkowski added: “We will take an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States. And the Constitution of the United States includes separation of church and state.”
The elected mayor and his council promise to separate mosque and state. This is the law, they say, and this is their intention.
“I think it’ll be fine!” Mara Popowska told us when she was washing a large client’s hair…