by Bill Meyer, Chair, OneHamtramck LLC
Hamtramck is in the world news once again! A century of Polish mayors has come to an end. A new era has arrived with voters electing an ALL-Muslim council and mayor, the first in this country – and probably, the entire Western hemisphere! This might scare some non-Muslims, especially those who don’t have the advantage of living in a diverse city with many great Muslim neighbors.
There are several factors that should be known to get the full picture of this new phenomenon:
- First, this is not unusual in a city that is mostly Muslim – much like when Poles ran the city when it was mostly Polish. Muslims have long made up more than half the city’s population, which is now easily approaching up to 80%. Although the US Census confuses matters by designating Arabs as ‘white,’ this can be confirmed by taking a glance at the student registrar to see that more than 80% of the names are Yemeni or Bangladeshi. Same goes for voter registration names. Yemeni Americans are the largest ethnic group in the city, close to half the population. Muslims are the largest growing religious group in the country with over 3.5 million US Muslims, plus Hamtramck also includes many Bosnian Muslims.
- Second, this doesn’t mean Muslims are part of the power structure that has ruled the city since its inception 100 years ago. Federal, State and city laws are mostly written by whites, and the City Charter Commission had no Muslims writing the city laws. The police, courts and judges who enforce the laws are mostly white. The city manager who has the most administrative power, along with many of the higher paying department heads are also white. Muslims will not ‘run’ the city.
- and thirdly, hailed as a city of diversity, Hamtramck has actually been divided for a long time along lines of culture, race, religion, ethnicity – partly because of such diversity. There haven’t been enough conscious efforts made by local officials to bring various cultures together to learn about each other and find common ground on difficult issues.
However we have reasons to look for a brighter future for Hamtramck:
- the newly elected mayor Amer Ghalib, who won in a landslide, has stated his main priority is “to get people together – to unite the city – to end the divisions – to get the trust of the people so we can work together to accomplish our goals and solve our problems.” Despite the many challenges and long history of dysfunction, this gritty inner city has a tenacity and survival mentality having housed so many immigrants who have experienced hardships in their home countries, in addition to the African Americans who have endured centuries of racism.
- our newly elected officials have already shown their ability to relate to each other in a friendly and respectful manner. Most reasonable people understand people will never agree on everything, and the ‘my way or the highway’ approach that has been the dominant style among some leaders, rarely works. Finding ways of working with people of different cultural and political values is a challenge, but it’s the only way we can go forward together.
Someone once said, “you can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. There is NO in-between.” OneHamtramck congratulates and supports our newly elected officials who know the value of working together.