Posts in Culture
Standing In The Shadows of Love

Zoë Villegas shares reflections on finding a place in the ceremony, economy, and celebration of Valentine’s Day growing up in Detroit. Erik Paul Howard illustrates her musings with photographs from the places and rituals her reflections are rooted in.

Words by Zoë Villegas
Photos by Erik Paul Howard

A Valentine’s Day window display lights up the street at Delia’s Fashion on W Vernor Hwy and Springwells in Southwest Detroit.

Remember how it was... here in the Motor City where backseats were made. With women hauling buckets of plastic wrapped single roses, doing cash exchanges in a series of hand motions in under 15 seconds—across from the Grand Marquis with the blinking light guarding Armando's.

On the intersection at I-75 and Springwells where the smog sunset brought to you by Marathon refinery will offer an air of romance later, two men compete selling pink carnations and red roses on the eastern and western corners. Specials on Hypnotiq, Rosé and small teddy bears that say "I luv you" next to condoms and aphrodisiacs by cash registers at the liquor store, remind us what month it is.


Casino lights flash red and pink. The insurance building with a glowing heart illuminates Fisher Freeway. All month in lobbies of welfare offices we have women selling perfume from brief cases, negotiating prices and discussing plans for reservations, showing manicures and pitching last minute sales on makeup sessions. All red outfits we plan to wear later are fodder for conversation when we get our bureaucratic mess dealt with for the day. One more document to turn in. Denied a bridge card once again. Apply again tomorrow. 

The ho store has been window-dressed with red tinsel and cutouts of bows and arrows displaying a sale on lingerie and all the variations of fabric that mimic lace, sequin, chiffon, satin and silk in the entire spectrum of erotic alternative fibers.

This economy was trained young—we were once freshman girls delivered singing Valentines and boxes of chocolates... for $1 anyone can say all the things they could never say. Radio dedications evoke memories of Ford-Wyoming drive-in make out sessions allowing songs long out of rotation to be made an exception for the sake of a collective memory.

Detroit carves a space for a moment to live—in between the stress and mundane of every day life, while we fantasize about leisure. If even in those two seconds at a light can be used for maximum potential filled in with the sentiment of romance buying a flower that is how it's done.

We take a holiday seriously. The message is about claiming our time, our right to love amidst the harsh reality of endless work to make ends meet.

Detroit says I love you the same way we do everything else, with hustling. Happy Valentine's Day to all the hustlers standing in the shadows of love.

For those about to ho, we salute you.

Neighborhood Is Buzzing As Cinco de Mayo Approaches

Written by Carmen Mendoza-King for Inside Southwest Detroit

Cars line up on West Vernor. Horns beep and bass shakes the neighborhood through the early night. People wave flags out of car windows. These are just a few signs that the Cinco de Mayo parade in Southwest Detroit is on its way. This highly anticipated parade is the largest annual event celebrated in the community of southwest Detroit. Cinco de Mayo festivities have evolved from a one day parade to a series of celebrations stretching throughout the first week of May.

Since its beginning, generations ago, the Southwest Detroit Cinco de Mayo parade has been growing in size and popularity along with the growth of the local Latino population. Compared to only a decade ago, the parade is a huge version of its former self.  Southwest Detroit residents and non-residents alike pack sidewalks along West Vernor to watch the parade during the first weekend in May.  They enjoy watching Mexican bandas playing on parade floats, young break-dancers, lowrider bikes and cars, and school marching bands.  Following the parade Clark Park has traditionally hosted a variety of festivities such as Mexican folkloric dance performances, music, art, and a sampling of local cuisine sold at booths.

This year the parade is incorporating several changes that will primarily affect the parade route and "official" activities after the parade.  This year the parade will not begin at Patton Park as it has in the past... instead the parade will be two miles long, and will proceed down Vernor from Waterman to 24th Street in Southwest Detroit.  Although there will not be activities at the end of the parade route as in the past, there is PLENTY to do before and after the parade throughout the neighborhood.  Stay tuned to Inside Southwest Detroit for up-to-date information on events!

Check out the Inside Southwest Detroit Community Calendar for happenings:

Download the official 2010 Cinco de Mayo Parade Application:

Food, Culture, And Community In Southwest Detroit

Written by Kelli Kavanaugh for Inside Southwest Detroit

If Southwest Detroit were a food, what would it be? Take your pick: pierogi filled with potato and cheese, tamales brimming with shredded pork, cheese-filled papusas or doughy gnocci topped with pesto?  And I'm sure I'm missing some kind of cuisine - for my money, one of the best things about living in the area - and I'm on its bleeding eastern edge, Corktown - is the food.  And its not just the restaurants, it's the mercados with produce and meats sometimes fresher than Eastern Market, it's the parking lot taco stands and the bicycle-propelled ice cream "trucks."  It's bakeries and barbeque and cerveza and ceviche and even falafel.

And if food represents anything, it is culture—and Southwest Detroit is blessed with that in spades. Consistently regarded as Detroit's most diverse area and comprised of several distinct neighborhoods, it is boisterous and prayerful, religious and sporting, a late-night party and an early-morning tree planting all at once. Its Anglo, Latino, African-American and Middle Eastern mix make its high school halls look like none other in the city.  And Southwest Detroit would not have it any other way. All the way to the east, in Corktown, you'll find Irish pubs and old wooden homes proudly preserved and in Hubbard Richard, the city's oldest church and a brand-new State of Michigan welcome center and marketplace.  Hubbard Farms has stately homes and a strong reputation for activism. The Michigan Avenue Corridor presents snippets of its Polish past evolving into a new Latino future and Delray, a snapshot of post-industrial history alongside a remarkable military artifact, Fort Wayne.  Where else can you, in a three-block walk, find halal meat and hear bells calling faithful Muslims to prayer, stroll past a historic cemetery, pop into a brand-new Detroit Public Library and finally, slide into a taqueria? That would be W. Vernor near Patton Park.

It is an urban community with many issues, including homelessness, poor air quality, crime and blight.  But is politically active and growing - it was the only area of Detroit to grow in population between the 1990 and 2000 census. And that growth brings hope and a reason to continue to strive for a new Southwest Detroit that exists in solidarity with the old.