YAN – Hamtramck
Yemeni American leaders have urged community members to give Hamtramck a chance and remain in the city even after they increase their income and graduate from college.
Activists say the city, which is one of the most diverse towns in America, is experiencing a brain drain, where people with skills and higher education tend to move out once they can afford to live in more affluent suburbs.
Indeed, US Census Bureau estimates show that the population in the city has decreased from 22,348 people in 2010 to 21,752 in 2017, despite an influx of immigrants after the war in Yemen began in 2015.
Community leaders say Hamtramck has economic promise for those who opt to stay.
No wonder that one of the slogans of Hamtramck Public Schools is “Start here. Stay here. Succeed here.”
Councilman Fadel Al-Marsoumi said he values the diverse places of worship, restaurants and quality of life in the city.
“I love everything that makes us a community, and I do all I can to improve the city,” Al-Marsoumi said.
He said it is a misconception that the quality of education in the Hamtramck’s public schools is not great, adding that the city’s educators work hard to accommodate the students.
Tawfik Aljahim, a Hamtramck Schools graduate who now owns a business in the city, said the Yemeni American community and the city as a whole need educated people to stay.
He said the brain drain lowers down the average income in the city, which in turn discourages investments.
According to the Census, the median household income in Hamtramck is $24,369, less than half of the median income statewide.
“We need people to remain in Hamtramck and spend their money here to develop the city’s economy,” Aljahim said.
He added that numbers matter, and without holding onto educated residents, even chain coffee shops like Tim Hortons would not open up shop in the city.
For his part Hisham Dhaifullah, who owns a restaurant in Hamtramck, said the departure of high earners deprives the city of much-needed tax revenues.
“I am convinced that the schools here are not bad,” he said. “We have a great society with people of different religions and backgrounds. Here, as a Yemeni American, you can feel like you are in a neighborhood in Ibb. It’s our second home. Those who leave the city are free to do so, but we should not forget where we come from and abandon the community that has offered us so much.”
‘No place better’
Abdulmalik Alwajeeh, the head of the Yemeni American Leadership Association (YALA), said he moved from Yemen to New York in 1990, but after getting married seven years later, he found Hamtramck to be an ideal place to start a family.
He added that he wanted his children to conserve their ties to the Muslim religion and Arabic language, which was a major factor in his decision to remain in the city throughout the years.
Alwajeeh said he has worked with others to raise the sense of civic responsibility in the community and cooperate with other segments of the society in Hamtramck for the greater good.
“The schools may not be has great as we would like them to be, but we are in constant communication with the administration and the school board to improve the academic environment and make sure that our children get the chance to go to good colleges and earn scholarships,” he added
Hilal Aljahim, who earned a degree in engineering from Wayne State University, said the lack of job security has led him to leave Hamtramck after he was laid off from several positions.
He now lives in Washington where he said he knows more than 15 people who were born and raised in Hamtramck. He still maintains his ties to the community, however.
“I will always try to be of service to Hamtramck, even if I don’t live there,” he said.
Like Aljahim, Adam Alharbi left Hamtramck in search of better opportunities. But he has returned to open a business in the city.
“I’m happy to be here,” Alharbi said. “I’ve traveled to many countries around the world and found no place better than this city.”