Joseph Borrajo, October 28th, 2016


Joseph Borrajo, October 28th, 2016


In this interview, Borrajo discusses racial tensions, life in Detroit in the sixties, the Arab-Israeli War, and how Arabs are portrayed in the media. He also describes the unrest of 1967 and what it was like to drive down Woodward, Grand River, and other commercial districts.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Michigan






Oral History


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Joseph Borrajo

Brief Biography

Joseph Borrajo was born in Detroit in 1941. His parents were immigrants to the country from Yemen and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He grew up in Dearborn, where his dad also worked for Ford Motor Company. Borrajo was living in Dearborn during 1967.

Interviewer's Name

Amina Ammar

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Amina Ammar

Transcription Date



AA: Today is October 28, 2016. My name is Amina Ammar. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 oral history project. I am currently in Dearborn sitting with—

JB: Joseph Borrajo.

AA: Mr. Borrajo, could you begin by telling me where and when you were born?

JB: I was born June 3, 1941, in a house in Detroit. I still remember the address, 6002 Plainview. It’s on the corner of Paul and it is right across from the field—when at the time was a wheat field. But it is now across the field from many Churches, large Mosque, Eastern Orthodox Church and other Churches. I was born in a good environment.

AA: How did your family get to Detroit?

JB: My parents— my father came to the Detroit Area from Yemen as a teenager. He actually falsified his age to be able to get employment. But he came as a result of the disruptions in Yemen and he came for the jobs that Ford Motor Company was providing. My mother’s family, she came as a baby to America from Bosnia-Herzegovina before it was Yugoslavia. And again, they came because of the disruptions created by the wars in Europe. They said she settled with her parents in the Dearborn Area and her father was a barber. When he took seriously ill, my mother was the oldest of five children: three sisters and a brother. She had to quit in the seventh grade at Salina school and take a job to bring money in for the family. My father had nothing more than, I would say, a sixth-grade formal education. And they both met when my mom worked to prepare sandwiches at Miller Road and Dix. It would be trained in by small train and pulled by a car to the main Ford complex for the workers. They, just like so many others, notably the immigrant community I grew up in— 45 nationalities and spoke 52 languages, were really centered in South Dearborn and East Dearborn. East Dearborn had a unique makeup too. It was predominately Catholic, large Polish, Italian and Irish communities. Then of course there was the West end which was basically White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And in the commercial area of, you would say jobs and things of that sort, there were the white-collar workers basically. So, Dearborn was subsequently a unique setting. The experiences I had growing up in this immigrant community, and I think I mentioned to you before we started taping this, has been more valuable to me than my formal education. And growing up in such a mixed community, the guys I hung out with and we close friends were Mexican, Romanian, Italian, Lebanese, Southern boys. They all came to this area for the good jobs at Ford Motor Company. We all had that common linkage. As for religion, you had every kind of church you could think of in the south-end including the mosque. And I’m told through my own history research that there was even a Synagogue in the south end of Dearborn in the late nineteen-teens, nineteen-twenties. Quite a wonderful background to come from, one that I’m near and dear in terms of making me who I am as a person and what I do in society and what I do in life.

AA: What do you remember about Detroit in the mid-sixties?

JB: In the mid-sixties, Detroit first of all, was a vibrant city. One of the things I really relished as a kid taking Baker streetcar Downtown were all the businesses- very vibrant Woodward Ave. But as a young man, fascinating me was stopping at the magazine and newspaper stands and standing there and looking in front of all these publications that came in from all of over the world. All over the world. Detroit was a very vibrant city at one time. It was a hub of commercial activities. The lumber industry—I forget the man’s name. The Whitney. The Whitney family. They have the big building on Woodward Ave. By the way, it was made from rose stone that came from Minnesota. He was big in lumber. But you had other prominent names. I always try to share with people that [phone rings in background] one of the things that is unique to me is that Detroit has the finest pre-depression architecture in the country. Buildings that are absolutely beautiful. Thank God today they are going through a renovation process.

But getting back to the 1960s—vibrant city, lots of activities, a lot of wealth, a lot of recognition even on the national scene. Even at that time there was a degradation of the social structure in the City of Detroit that started. Everyone thinks Detroit fell apart instantaneously but no, it took decades and started, I would say, in the late 1950s. And one of the distinguishing things for me was the isolation of the African American community. It was along the Hastings-John R. Corridor. They were sort of a segregated community, separate from the rest of the community. I understood the dynamic because as a teenager we were always investigating things and driving to different areas. So, I recognized that issue and understood the dynamic that there was a disparity there˗˗a situation of unequal status. I remember in early sixties one night, not knowing what to do with myself. So, I said I’m going downtown and take the Boblo Cruise. I bought my ticket and got aboard. It was an interesting perspective with regard to understanding the dynamic of the black community in a white dominated race. The boat was chartered by a black organization. I got aboard and I melded pretty good. I blend pretty well. My complexion is taken for a lot of different things. I had a wonderful time and this was weeks that preceded the ’67 riots. I befriended a number of people that wanted me to come along for a soiree or party afterwards. I never took them up on the offer. But this was weeks before the ‘67 riots.

One of the things—I’m a reader. I love reading. I love history. The consequential matter of the ‘67 riots, one of the principal consequential matters was that the law enforcement knew of a blind pig. The early days they called them, speakeasies—illegal after hours drinking setup. They knew of this setup in January of that same year in 1967 but did nothing and to my consternation—did nothing until a hot July summer night to raid the operation You know, July. Hot. People are on the streets. It’s not contrary to what you would find in January. They took an opportunity. There were a lot of instigating factors. I was really upset at the time. I remember dealing with the Detroit Police Department force. It was specialized called S.T.R.E.S.S. These were plain clothes man that operated. They would profile people in the black community. I remember this one serious incident that happened. A police officer undercover, plain clothes, that killed an African American. And then planted his own knife in that person’s pocket. Forensics found out from the lint on that knife that it came from the police officer and not the person he shot. That was one of the compounded incidents of many incidents: the Algiers Motel issue, where the police went in it was a motel on Woodward Avenue in the northern area. And it was an operation of prostitution with black and white mix. The officers killed a few people in that set up. That was another trigger. There were a lot of incidents that happened like this—separate from each other but when you looked at them on the bigger picture, they were compounded in terms of bringing high intensity feeling in the African American community. In 1967 when the riots first broke out, I remember there was an insinuation that it was called a race riot. I didn’t go along with that.

The second day of the operation of the police intervening with regard to the outbreak of violence throughout the city, I actually took a tour. I drove into Detroit myself, along Woodward Ave and commercial areas. I remember distinctly the J. L. Hudson building. The National Guard had it ringed with rifles and bayonets fixed. They really guarded that particular piece of commercial property. I drove that corridor.  I never once felt threatened and intimidated in any capacity. Then I drove down to Grand River and drove the commercial area in that area too. And I saw, which discredited the whole idea of initially saying it was a race riot, black people, brown people, and white people, shoulder to shoulder, going into stores and pilfering things. They finally dropped this whole issue that it was a race riot and qualified it as a riot essentially. So, those were my first experiences—my personal experience. You know the whole idea- I’m from Missouri, you got to show me and I want to see firsthand.

Adjunct to that was that I lived in south Dearborn next to General S. Patton Park. That became one of the staging areas for the National Guard and Detroit Police. I would go over and watch the activities. And particularly toward the evening at dusk, things would really get out of hand and be magnified. There were a number of snipers in Detroit: 44 people were killed and that was like a battle zone. I watched the National Guard assemble in convoy vehicles and they would be led into the city by Detroit Police who knew the geography- where they needed to go. And this happened every night for a number of nights—the staging grounds at general George S. Patton Park. It was very moving for me, it was certainly moving for the loss of lives along with the property- very, very damaging. It was certainly damaging to the image of the city of Detroit which I never really ever felt totally recovered. It’s been on a downhill slide since then. It wasn’t precipitated by that. There were dynamics that played with regard to social and economic issues.

I sat for a number of years on the Urban and Governmental Affairs Committee in New Detroit Incorporated. New Detroit Incorporated was founded in the aftermath of the Detroit riots of 1967. And I sat under the leadership of two very dynamic men: Attorney George Bushnell who was a very popular, had a strong notoriety as far as his legal skills were in the Detroit metropolitan area- he was one of the chairman. And then David Adamany, he was then president of Wayne State University. I could remember the various issues that would pop up. This was in the 1980s dealing with Detroit and the aftermath of that 1967 riot. Crime was an issue, education was an issue, jobs, all these things and transportation. The strange thing for me dear, was that the things that we talked about in in the late 1980s dealing with the aftermath of the ‘67 riot are the same things that we are talking about today. The same problems that still exist today. And I shake my head in wonderment saying, “How is this?” Why haven’t we made progress in these areas that were precipitating factors in creating the conditions and circumstances that sparked the ‘67 riots.

One of the things I was really, really concerned about was the breakdown of the family structure in the city of Detroit. To me it’s a very important component for children in terms of their quality of life and more notably, their education and being a support system for their education. Horace Mann, he was a great educator. He had a quote to the effect that education is the great equalizer in society it levels the ground. And I’ve always believe that whole heartedly. I was very upset that the family unit in the city of Detroit broke down to the point where you had grandparents providing the basis of a stable social structure for children. And now these people are gone. You have children that are not getting what they need in terms of an education. This is coupled with the fact that the economic opportunities of the family structure are not there—which is a fundamental factor in the destabilization of the family unit which impacts the child. And you have this ugly sequence of events that are perpetuated in a continual basis with regard to children without education and bringing children into the world—some at a very young age, teenage age. I know teen pregnancy was a big issue. It has fallen back somewhat but seems to be a resurgence in it. This vicious cycle, social cycle is tied to economics that are responsible for creating the kind of conditions that sparked the ‘67 riot and still haven’t been dealt with constructively.

So, these are things I was very much tuned in to. My experiences on the days of the ‘67 riot, going into the city by myself and looking at the conditions and then watching the mounting of the convoys that went in at night deal with the disruptions. I hope that’s helpful for you.

AA: It definitely was. So, I know some people describe the event as a riot and others refer to it as a rebellion or an uprising. How would you describe it?

JB: Good. Good. You know, that’s a fine distinction. It really is. Like I said, early on it was even qualified as a race riot—which I didn’t buy. It was nothing to compare with the 1943 riot, which was a race riot in Detroit. It was very deadly too. It pitted black against white and white against black. A lot of people were seriously injured and killed. I eliminated immediately that no, this was not a race riot. I eliminated the word race. But you bring up a good point, rebellion. Given the circumstances facing the black community in terms of isolation, the second level citizen status of the black community almost reminded me of the Dred Scott case in which blacks were considered, I think, 3/4th’s of a citizen basically. The same kind of mentality that still is pervasive.

Personally, my own personal experiences in regards to race and I have to bring up my own in this too. This brings me close to the issue of the black community and identifying with it. When I was fifteen years old, a friend of mine from a Southern family from western Kentucky invited me to go with him to a family reunion with him to Kentucky. That was my first time as a fifteen-year-old out of the state. My mom used to always chastise me when I was a kid saying, “Stay out of the sun, you’re getting too dark!” How can you keep a kid out of the sun, you know? So, I went down with him and spent a week. Here’s the enlightenment that really made me sensitive to black issues—a number of experiences but the first of which was visiting with some nieces of his. They wanted him to come visit them at their house. There’s a family gathering at a central location. He said he would like to do that if he could bring me, his friend, with him. They stood there and looked at me. Scrutinized me up and down and said, “It’s okay as long as he behaves himself.” This was nuanced, the progression really gets deep here. It was a day after that, we went to a drive-in movie concession. We always liked drive-in movies. Intermission, I’m walking back to the concession stand. At the door was probably an eight-year-old girl holding back her four-year-old sister and said, “Wait.” She used the word wait with reference to me, “let the nigger by.” I was rattled, I was rattled. I get my concessions and go back to the car and tell my buddy from the South what had just happened. I tell him, “my gosh” you know if it’s like this in Kentucky, I don’t want to go any farther south. And two days after that, we went to a bowling alley. We got kicked out because I was too dark complected. That rattled me too. My buddy was shaking his head and said, “Oh my god I can’t believe this is going on.” And then we were the focus of that drive-in. You know how young teens always gathered for burgers and pop we were hassled at one of these stands. So, I came back from Kentucky and that family gathering, with really a different outlook on life. It was a transformational outlook because of my personal experiences. And I closely identified with black issues after that and understanding it.

Going back to the word rebellion, I understand that as being a probably a valid use of the term. There was a rebellion in terms of the place the black community was placed in with regard to isolation, with regard to the lack of job opportunities that only allowed them in certain areas- women. Women go through this kind of craziness. You know, a generation just before you and you still have the disparity with regard to wages. Women were always lower expectations. Women could be secretaries, women could be nurses, isolating women with these different things in terms of what their potential provides. I could see this with the black community too—only service oriented jobs, and a lot of those would be considered by the white community as being inferior and demeaning. So, rebellion. Rebellion is a word I think has a practical application here. There’s a lot of discontent created by the social economic conditions that were forced on the black community. And I could relate to that.

And dear I can tell you, I’ve experienced what it means to be called the N—word but I’ve also experienced what it means to be called an H—word, Honky. I’ve been called that by some black guys. I made this point one time, you know, if ever there’s a big rebellion in this country; white against black and black against white, I’m heading for the mountains because I’m not sure I’ll be claimed by either side [laughter]. So, I have a firm belief. It’s a consequential thing, and transformational in a way growing up in a diverse immigrant community. All sorts of people from different walks of life, and different religious backgrounds. That was the gem that was embedded in me and imbued in me, with regard to a cohesive and all-inclusive world. And what I saw happened, I still see happening to the black community doesn’t fit into that all-inclusive world. It’s not only that group. I look at the kind of diatribe coming out of Donald Trump: anti-immigrant, anti-minority. And I’m saying, “oh my gosh”, anti-women. All these groups. This is not an inclusive America. And people need to stand up and speak out against these types of injustices.

I watched last night on TV, Jane Fonda, she was giving the Upfront story to The China Syndrome. A movie that dealt with the nuclear reactor in America going down to meltdown. She became an activist in the Vietnam War. But she also came to Detroit and worked with the activists in Detroit. Ken Cockrel, who is a prominent name in Detroit, a man I have a lot of respect for and a lot of respect for his son, Ken Cockrel Jr. He told her when she wanted to drop out of being an actress and become an activist, he says, no, no. We have enough activists. You need to stay as a Hollywood actress where you could use your voice in that forum to promote the kind of things we can’t do acting as activists on the streets. That was last night listening to her talk. Very valid point. She took a lot of flak for her anti-Vietnam war stance.

But in retrospect when you think about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Wayne Morris was the only U.S senator who voted against it. In hindsight, we learn that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was based on a lie, based on a lie American warships were attacked in non-territorial waters by the Vietnamese government. Which wasn’t true. Those American warships were in their territorial water. We see the same kind of thing going on recently: the lies that were fabricated that took us to war in Iraq. The consequences, the deaths, the dislocation, the human suffering, the civilian suffering, the refugees. I remember reading a piece just recently—General Wesley Clark. Top ranking American general who, by the way, was really fascinated to know is the father of Steven Clark, who was a local channel 7 news anchor. He made the point that Washington in 1987 constructed a strategy- crafted a strategy to make war in southern Middle Eastern countries to destabilize the Middle East. I see this play out and I’m very disturbed by that. I’m a veteran, served three years in the United States Army. And I’ve attached myself to Veterans Against War and the kinds of things we see going on to the Middle East that’s caused so much disruption. It’s the same kind of mindset dealing with the people of the Middle East, it’s the same kind of mindset that deals with the black community in America, the minority community in America and as far as I’m concerned, with the women’s issue in America. They’re all related. You have a situation in which a program is promoted at the expense of many, many people. I think I’ve finished there.

AA: We know ‘67 was also a big year for Arabs because of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

JB: Yes.

AA: So, I do have some questions about that. How did you first hear about the events that led up to the war and the war itself?

JB: I followed Middle East issues for many, many years. And naturally because of my Arab- American background. I have to tell you a little story about this. People ask me, “When did you start with your activism?” I said well that’s a good point. My dad loved to go see movies that dealt with the Middle East. And he and I would walk together to the movies and walk home. One day, I was probably eight old, eight-nine. We left the movie. We’re walking home and I asked my dad, “Dad, why are the Arabs always the bad guys in these movies?” He looked at me and chuckled and said, “You know, when you get a little older, I want to tell you more about this.” I tell people that my raising that question was the moment of my beginning activism. Raising that question.

So, I followed events very closely in the Middle East. Nineteenth sixty seven war was a war that was precipitated by the Israelis and it was for land expansion. One of the notable things about it was the USS Liberty, it was an American intelligence gathering ship. It was operating in the eastern Mediterranean and monitoring the events. And the Israelis actually did this—it’s in a book written about the USS Liberty.  Painted their warplanes to make them look anything but Israeli markings, attacked for hours that USS Liberty ship, American sailors killing and wounding scores scores. They were getting ready to board the ship. The USS Liberty sent out a mayday call. The mayday call was taken by a U.S. Sixth Fleet taken by the Western Mediterranean. They launched warplanes to go to the aid of the USS Liberty. Before they reached their destination, they were called back to the aircraft carrier. They did not assist. Their whole goal to assist, they knew where these warplanes came from- they knew they were Israelis. The objective was initially to bomb every runway that those planes had taken off from and then to go after the Israeli warplanes. That had strafed and shot up the U.S. Liberty. They were called back to U.S. Sixth Fleet aircraft carrier and nothing was done. There was a Russian ship in the area that offered assistance, the U.S. intelligence people denied it—this was a very sensitive ship with intelligence gathering. The reason the Israelis did this was because they did not want the US government to have any knowledge that they actually precipitated the war or were responsible for creating the war. And it was all for this idea of what they call Greater Israel and taking lands from Lebanon, from Iraq—the border places, Syria. All the border Arab countries that bordered the state of Israel as we call it today. I have the book by Ennis, Captain Ennis who was aboard that USS Liberty, read it and I’ve recommended others to read it. There was an organization that was formed for the survivors of that ship that really promoted a better awareness to the general population of what just happened there.

One of the ironies of it was that when the Israelis finally got caught up with this, they payed reparations to the families of those sailors that were wounded or killed on that ship. The irony of it is, is the U.S. tax payers through Washington’s money given to Israel— Israel gave that money back to these people. These are the things that kind of drive me up the wall basically.

Other issues like the Johnathon Pollard’s theft of very sensitive U.S. military secrecy. He was a U.S navy intelligence guy in the 1980’s. He stole volumes of U.S. very sensitive secrets and some of those secrets that were sent to Israel were actually sent by Israel to Moscow. One of the sensitive pieces was the identification of 200 U.S secret operatives in the Soviet Union. You know what happened to those guys. They were summarily with great measure executed. Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense at the time, said that what Johnathon Pollard did with Israel was compromise U.S security in a way that was never compromised before. Last year, Johnathon Pollard was given a pardon from his prison sentence here in the United States, with a requirement that he would not leave America and go to Israel. Another thing that should be noted about that is that all these documents that were stolen, U.S government made a number of request to return those documents and those documents never returned.  These are the dynamics that play with regard to our relationship with Israel the kind of relationship that precipitated the ’67 War. Here’s an interesting piece for you too; the Mossad, the secret service agency in Israel, wasn’t always called the Mossad. It was initially called the Modiin. M-o-d-i-i-n. Modiin was caught red-handed in 1952 firebombing American military instillations in Egypt, to blame it on the Egyptians and drive a wedge between the U.S government and Cairo. They were caught red-handed. The had to fess up to it. They changed the name from Modiin to Mossad but still continue their way of dealing their relationship with the United States. So, yes. ’67 was a big war that allowed the Israelis to expand their land base to fulfill what they call Greater Israel.

AA: How did you and your family react to this event?

JB: Well ‘67 War was soon to be followed by the Arab oil embargo. My dad kept close. We did everything we could. We listened to the newscast. We read publications that were outside of mainstream publications in America- which is a valuable lesson even for students in today’s society. Alternative areas to gather your information is very, very important. Especially today because the media in American society today has become a wing of the governing rulers. So I spend a lot of time listening to Al Jazeera, BBC, PBS, NPR, CBC- other news agencies. We didn’t have that kind of valuable alternatives back in ‘67 and the seventies. But the news media then was much more independent than it is today which makes this alternative news agencies much more valuable much more needed today let’s put it that way. We kept abreast of what was going on.


I went to the second year of the reunification of Yemen, my father’s country. That was in 1992. I went with a tour group of 22 people that met with government leaders: presidential, parliamentary, vice president, news media. Today, Yemen is in such disarray that famine is widespread. The bombing from Saudi Arabians with the armaments provided by Washington has been nothing but criminal. And I ask my extended family there how they are doing. They live in the rural areas, which is distant from the big cities which takes a lot of the brunt of what is going on by the Saudi bombardment using white phosphorous cluster bombs, things deemed illegal by international law. I am very distraught about what is going on in Yemen. The children are dying from famine, lack of food, lack of medicine and lack of water.

I am very distraught about the refugee problem in Syria that seems to be an issue with regard to the Trump followers. Waterford [Township] just recently voted not to allow Syrian refugees in their city. I am very active on Facebook and Dearborn Patch. I do write a lot of letters to the editor. Many of them get printed. Just recently on Facebook I made the point that if these communities do not want refugees to come to their communities, then they should be calling their representatives in congress and Washington and tell them to stop the military adventurism in the Middle East that is causing this refugee problem. Go to the source of why these refugees are running from this chaotic craziness that is going on. Going back, how did we respond? My dad was very in tuned and very frustrated by the events. And likewise, I was as well. My mom not really. She was working hard to make ends meet for the family. She was a hard-working woman. Both my dad and her were very hardworking people. My mom worked as a waitress for most of her life, bringing money home for her family. She was not as interested as my father and myself were in what was happening in ’67. And from that point on even.

AA: Do you remember how the larger Arab community responded to this event?

JB: Yes. There was always this understanding because of close contact. You know, the family is not that far away even though they are on the other side of the world. And that’s one of the lovely, wonderful things about the Arab American and Muslim community, close knit. I remember my dad sending over a large sum of money back home to his village and they sent him back a little note of what they did with the money in terms of buying livestock and increasing the water infrastructure in the village. So, you’ve always had this strong connection, it still is today. And it’s become even more profound today because when I was an activist in the 1980’s, our community was little merchants and store owners.

One of the things we really promoted back then is our role was to groom a new leadership, young leadership. You’re one of them. To take the place. I am so proud that this is what I see today. We’ve got young people in all of the professions: pharmacology, medicine, engineering, journalism. This is the thing that we looked at and worked for. And because we had this real professional group in place, it has created a larger input in terms of events going on in the Middle East. There are a lot of organizations that take on the craziness that we see going on in the Middle East. We didn’t have that kind of thing. It was pretty individualized within the family structure- to make comments, to have opinions about the events in the ‘67 during the aftermath about during the Arab oil embargo. So, much more involvement today in our community and in very constructive ways. I have to tell you really, the backlash of 9/11 would have been much more profound against the Arab American and Muslim community had it not been for Arab American organizations, for Imams of the Mosques, that created a networking arrangement, building bridges that brought greater understanding. That really dampened down a potential for backlash against our community. Particularly this area because—we still have very bad things that still happen to small communities in the east coast and west coast where women would be spat on and physically abused after 9/11. That type of thing. Which is repulsive. But had it not been for all the work of Arab American organizations and leaders in religious area, during the time period after, I would say notably the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1980s, we would have suffered a much severe backlash against our community. Much severe. So, young people like you, you get the baton now. You are our leaders for tomorrow. You’re going to help clean up some of the mess my generation helped create.

AA: I just want to touch up on that coverage back in ‘67. Do you remember any particular moments or memories of how Arabs were displayed in the media during that time?

JB: Jack Shaheen. He’s a professor out of University of Southern Illinois, wrote a book, the TV Arab. I met him. I love the man. He’s a good person. The portrayal of Arabs in mass media, the Hollywood entertainment industry has been very negative for a long time. And not without purpose and by design. What I always draw comparison to is that some of the same portrayals of the typical Arab face—the long hook nose, the bulging eyes. These were a lot of the same kind of portrayals of Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The sad thing about it, these are the same things perpetuated by Zionist Jews in this country who have forgotten, basically forgotten where the hell they came from with regard to the same kinds of persecution and projected stigmas. Like the point I made earlier from the movie with my dad asking, “Dad, why are the Arabs always the bad guys in these movies?” That was the kind of thing we were exposed to. Blazing Saddles. It was a parody of the Hollywood industry. And if you remember in that sequence, all the bad guys that were lined up: Arabs in Arab dress, Native Americans, they had Nazis in uniforms. They had all these typical bad guys that Hollywood portrays. All the bad guys are going to attack this town and straighten it out. It was a parody. It was criticism of Hollywood and what Hollywood has done to mold the perception and perspective of the general American population with regard to the Arabs in general in the Middle East and by extension, the Arab Americans here on the home ground.

This is something that should be mentioned too; the point that Arab Americans made contributions to various candidates during the election time. Hart was one of the prominent candidates and there were other candidates like him too- the Kennedys were too. Prominent Arab Americans would send contributions and they would have those contributions sent back to them saying, “We don’t want to get involved in the Middle East situation.” I made this point on this interview with the Dearborn Heights TV. The Arab American community is not a single-issue oriented community. We were not only concerned with what was going on in the Middle East related to our family by extensions, we were concerned as a community about education in this country, about medical issues in this country, about transportation issues, about job opportunities. We are not single-issue oriented; we never have been. And one of the big things the Jewish community has been criticized for within their own community, is that they have been too single-issue minded with regard to the interest of Israel. But you could see the dynamic playing.

There was this whole picture and it was a conservative one and by design, within print media and within the Hollywood industry, to degrade Arabs in general and Arab Americans by proxy and for the purpose that the Zionists felt threatened by us gaining a voice to make level ground, political ground in this country. And that’s what they were worried about and that’s why they projected this image of disparagement towards Arabs in general and Arab Americans entirely. So, uphill fight. Uphill fight.

AA: Is there anything you feel we haven’t discussed or should be added to the interview?

JB: Let’s see. I just touched on it. And one of the joys for me—it was always talked about. We always got voter registration and we always did voter information. We always promoted knowledge for people that ran for our community who ran for political office. But we always talked and it was never ending, about the need to groom new leadership within our community. And it makes me very, very proud that people like you—and that is the asset in the Arab American community—education. Our families, my family—I was the first to graduate from a college or university. They provided, my mom and dad, seventh and sixth grade education, they provided all the resources I needed to get where I did in graduating—like your parents have done for you and your family. So, it makes me proud. I was at a function the other night, AAPAC, dinner, rewards, I am a member of the League of Women Voters and they recognize the work they do in the community. You know, we go into the high schools every spring in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, all the high school, and register seniors before they graduate in June. I had a few students I remember as young people on the street. One lady came up, she’s a teacher at Lawrence Tech University, she’s a consultant, she has her own business, with the old background. I told her, I said, “You make me proud and the very things we look for to accomplish in our society and our community and our group”, and it’s come to fruition. And its people like you, I love it. That’s the big joy for me in this life. The new passing the baton in terms of leadership. And that’s a qualified leadership. Like I said, when we first got started, most of our community was small merchants. Now it’s a whole different perspective.

AA: Well thank you Mr. Borrajo for sitting with me today and having this interview.

JB: Thank you for having me and I hope it has been helpful.

Original Format



46min 8sec




“Joseph Borrajo, October 28th, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed January 25, 2022,

Output Formats