Why didn’t I come here sooner? As I enter my fifth year living in Michigan, I berate myself for just now making it to Detroit.
I was unaware of Michigan’s quirks and nuances when I moved to Grand Rapids in 2012. The tightly-knit locals call their half of the state “West Michigan.” No, not western Michigan, as you may typically refer to a region. The designation of “West Michigan” is a severing from the east side of the state in an attempt to form a distinct identity.
The east side of the state, with its statistics and stereotypes. Poverty, crime, blight, bankruptcy, pollution, lead poisoning, decay. I wrote Detroit off. I let the headlines and apocalyptic language shape my understanding of places I had never been, where people live who I had never met. When a co-worker suggested I visit Detroit sometime, I scoffed.
As Courtney Martin writes in The New Better Off, “…curiosity is not a matter of geography, but generosity.” Writing places off denies their beauty and worth; it denies that there is life and vitality and something to learn from each nook and cranny of this marvelous world.