Carmen Abrego, July 23rd, 2016
GS: Hello, today is July 23, 2016. We are in Detroit, Michigan. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with Carmen Abrego. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
CA: Thank you.
GS: First can you tell me where and when you were born?
CA: I was actually born in North Carolina in 1953 on a Navy base but I was with my parents in Detroit by the time I was one or two years old. I grew up in Detroit because my grandfather came from the Philippines and he married a Puerto Rican woman, my grandmother, and came to Detroit to work in the car factory. They had three children and my mother was one of them. She married a Mexican. We lived in Detroit. I attended Detroit schools until I was nine years old and in my early teen years, my mother had divorced so she married a doctor who was a pediatrician. We moved and I lived with my mother and my two sisters and my stepfather in Lincoln Park. I attended Catholic schools and the school that I attended was in Southgate, Michigan and it was called St. Thomas Aquinas. And during the riots we lived on the main street which was Champaign that was the center of Lincoln Park that was close to the junior high school and the high school. Nearby was Fort Street, which is a main street that goes all the way to Detroit and Downriver. It wasn’t far from my house. So, Detroit bordered Lincoln Park. It was not far from Lincoln Park. And in my early teens when I was attending St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Southgate, many Downriver teens attended the same school and we were bussed to Southgate. I don’t really recall the tension of the – as we have tension today I don’t remember any sort of racial tension but when I was home one day and it was when I was in my younger teens during the riots, I looked out my bedroom window, and my bedroom window was from the second floor of our house, and from my window, I could see smoke in the sky and there were army tanks that were coming down our main street through Lincoln Park as if there was a war going on and we were told on the news not to leave our home because of snipers that were shooting at people, at bystanders. The news showed the rioting on the main streets like Fort Street close to downtown and the stores that were all smashed up and the homes that were on fire. There was pure chaos and there was so much chaos everywhere and there was a nightly curfew and we weren’t allowed to be out maybe after six o’clock but I can’t remember how long that went on, with the curfew. I grew up Downriver and I don’t know where the curfew bordered but it was definitely in Lincoln Park and when I was younger I was aware of the word prejudice. There wasn’t really a term racism in that day but the word prejudice was a commonly used term. And I had faced prejudice by children, by other kids, because of my skin color. It was the Catholic upbringing that taught me to love all people no matter who they are and at my Catholic high school in 1967 we had really wonderful educators. They were excellent and there were nuns, priests, and lay teachers that taught us to love one another and to honor the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember sitting in class. I don’t know exactly what date it was when Martin Luther King, Jr. said his speech but the teacher brought in a TV into class and we watched Martin Luther King, Jr. make his speech I Have a Dream. The following year, in 1968, my mother died of breast cancer. There was a song that was on the radio that referenced Abraham, Martin, and John. The lyrics were very, very strong and it was an emotional song. The Tigers won the World Series and all different events were going on in politics. The riots, the assassination, and my mother’s death, and other events had a profound impact on my life. To this day, I’ll never forget what I saw out my bedroom window and seeing Army tanks and soldiers and these Army tanks just going down the main street in Lincoln Park, Michigan. From my perspective it was probably the worst event I’ve ever observed in my teenage years and I hope never to see anything like that again.
GS: Wow. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
CA: Thank you very much.