The water gently laps against the texture of the hard brick wall. I raise my eyes and squint. The sun warms my skin causing goose bumps to rise on my skin. I breathe in the salty tanginess of the river breeze. The horn of a nearby boat blares. I arise from my makeshift bed of a torn blanket stuffed with newspapers. I have oxygen in my lungs and my heart is beating. Another day. How is it that I am aware of everyday? “Daddy!” I turn around and take in the beautiful vibrant little girl. She is playing in the playground a couple of feet away from me. She spots a seagull land by her and begins to chase after it. A women who I presume is her mother, dashes after her. I walk toward to the nearest trash can and begin the search for my meal of the day. High squealing and giggling grasps my attention again. The little girl is trying to touch the seagull but every time she gets too close it flies away. Every step she takes gets her closer to the seagull but not close enough. The seagull pecks at a stale piece of bread on the ground. It crumbles so the bird gives up and flies away. It doesn’t go far though. It’s there waiting at the edge. The seagull lands by the water cawing. What is it saying? Is it crying out for God because of its hunger? Is it calling others for help? Just as the seagull is about to fly off, the river shifts the tide in bringing to the shore one whole fish.
From everything ever described in Detroit, its jazz festivals to its motor industry, there has been speculation on how it affects the city of Detroit. The jazz festivals bring many spectators and the motor industry was the top set up and revenue for our city. But let’s take a moment and think of where it all began. When people think of the Detroit River they think of it as more of a backdrop than anything else. The Detroit River is not a backdrop of Detroit it is more like a backbone. Yeah, that sounds way better.
The Detroit River is a basis of life. For not only all the animals it shelters but for us people. We use the Detroit River to remind us we are alive. When you see the smiles and the content in people’s faces that visit it reminds you are alive. “Since you are alive, enjoy it” whispers the river.
Where it all began, not how. That is what should be emphasized the most. According to ancient history most of the world’s greatest civilizations developed near water. That said, we can focus on how the Detroit River is the most representative of the great city because it connects its past, present and future through social, commercial and, natural change.
In the beginning, as early as 1748, houses and farms were all located near the Detroit River. The closeness of the river gave the people of the settlements a sense of safety and they were able to easily bring water for their crops. (Nolan) The Detroit River was the site where people gathered, presented their culture and where they conducted trade. Not only did the Detroit River bring in new settlements, it was a key factor in the protection and survival of these new settlements. The Detroit River allowed the English to bring in troops and supplies during the French-Indian collation. (Roberts)
Diversity and rich culture is one of Detroit’s many elements. It’s estimated that at least 70% of Detroit’s population is African American. The Detroit River was the first route on the way to helping runaway slaves escape. The river’s location brought us into contact with Canada and many other neighboring places. So, from that we were able to form relationships with and create allies. For all the history the Detroit River stands for is what made us who we are today. The Detroit River gave us a basis, stability, and a chance at freedom.
After all this great and elaborate history about the Detroit River you may ask “But Ashwak that’s all in the past how does it affect and represent Detroit now?” Well, I would tell you the truth. None of us know where we’re going or what we’re trying to get and for that the past is essential. What we see in the Detroit River is what helps us set our paths for now and later on. In my group we had debated whether the Detroit River was a viable site or not. What really set us straight was that the river was a constant through all the times in Detroit. What we meant by in constant was that through all the hard times and times of prosperity we could look to the river and feel humbled and hope at the same time. Our way of seeing came from the experiences we have had and still have in the Detroit River today.
As of today, the Detroit River hosts some of the greatest events in the city. From recreational events to events that help raise awareness and prevent future catastrophes. The Detroit River in being used for major events not only represents us as a city but the state of Michigan. Michigan is known for its fresh water, so already the Detroit River is part of our identity. One of the most important factors to point out is that we see ourselves in the Detroit River. When we question our identity, we look in the water as if we are looking in a mirror. There has been spills and pollution in the river and those hardships are what make it real. Real life is not happy and content all the time. Real life is not carved out of stone or a building that sits still. Real life is moving, interacting and most importantly real life has faults. The people who visit the Detroit River come back with a different views on what it means to them. To some it means stability and to some it means hope. But for all of us this view helps us find who we are.
Nolan, Jenny. “How the Detroit River Shaped Lives and History.” The Detroit News. N.p., 10 Feb. 1997. Web.
Roberts, Robert Ellis. Sketches of the City of Detroit State of Michigan, past and Present, 1855. Detroit: R.F. Johnstone, 1855. Print.
Jacobson, Judy. Detroit River Connections: Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Eastern Great Lakes Border Region. [Baltimore, Md.?]: Clearfield, 1994. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Narrative Journal of Travels through the Northwestern Regions of the United States: Extending from Detroit through the Great Chain of American Lakes to the Sources of the Mississippi River, Performed as a Member of the Expedition under Governor Cass in the Year 1820. Albany: E. & E. Hosford, 1821. Print.