I met Bob Basse and his family through my sister; they are neighbors in Denver. Bob’s a geologist and marathon runner, and for the past few years he’s stayed with me in Cambridge when he runs the Boston Marathon. I didn’t know he was born and raised in Dearborn, MI until he heard of my cycling trip and interest in visiting Dearborn. “I’ve been going back a few times a year since my mother died, trying to organize the family house. I’ll plan to visit when you’re there.” Bob’s family home, in Northeast Dearborn, is in the heart of the Muslim community. It is also less than two blocks from the city line with Detroit; a demarcation that is visually and sociologically stark. Bob was instrumental in getting me access to the Muslim community and the City of Dearborn. At dinner at Al Ameer Restaurant, he shared perspectives on his hometown and how it factors into tomorrow.
“My dad bought this house in 1951. It was a two-family. Bill was born here in 1953; I came two years later. When my younger sister Barbara was born, the family took over the entire house. My dad did very well at Ford but he never wanted to move to West Dearborn, where the executives live.
“There were always Lebanese. When I graduated high school in the mid-1970’s they were, maybe, 10% of the students. They came into the Southside, near the Rouge plant. That’s where all the immigrants enter Dearborn. Now, the high school is 90% Arab American and Hispanics are moving into the Southside.
“Dearborn is vibrant and stable. You can see national trends of expansion and contraction, but we have a population that does not want to subsist. We are two blocks from Detroit, and when you cross that line you feel it, you see it. Dearborn is run very tight. You don’t park your car on the lawn, you don’t let your paint peel. If you do, you’ll be cited. That level of attention doesn’t exist in Detroit. But if you call the police on this side of the line they are here in minutes. On that side of the line, good luck.
“Dearborn is a choice. You come to Dearborn to work hard and have the opportunity to move out. The interesting thing about Dearborn is that everybody is stepping up. Nobody is stepping down, like in Detroit. People come here and work hard and they move up and out. The waves of migration last a long time, a generation maybe two, but they are not permanent.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“We would do well to live like we do in Dearborn. This was a great place to grow up, a great place for my parents to live most of their lives. My mom loved the neighbors, whatever their nationality, and everybody loved her. My dad was instrumental in getting the park near that bears his name. I’ve lived other places and enjoyed them, but there’s no place like Dearborn.”