Joseph Zarazua

Title

Joseph Zarazua

Description

In this interview, Zarazua describes the reasons for choosing to move from the suburbs to Detroit. He shares the community life of the Hubbard Farms/ Mexicantown neighborhood, as well as some interesting occurrences that have happened there.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

11/17/2018

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Joseph Zarazua

Brief Biography

Joseph Zarazua originally grew up in Taylor, Michigan. He moved to the West side of Detroit in 1980. After returning back to Taylor for a time, he moved to Mexicantown, and in 1991 moved to the Hubbard Farms neighborhood. He is currently active at Ste. Anne Parish nearby.

Interviewer's Name

Matthias Reed

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

11/17/2018

Transcription

Matthias Reed: So, when did you come to Detroit?
Joseph Zarazua: I came to Detroit in 1980. Right after high school I got a job with the… National Steel. And… made some friends and left home in Taylor. I came and they lived in Detroit. So… I… eighteen years old, doing what I want and wanted to… found nothing… that excited me in Taylor, but Detroit, the city just invited me. And so… it was like, 1980. …And just because I was on my own it was time to be on my own and leave home, you know, leave the nest.
MR: And what had you heard about Detroit before coming?
JZ: …My mom and dad, they’re Latino, and most of the familiarity with Detroit was… in the Mexicantown area. …I don’t think it was called Mexicantown back then… in 1970s… but, they had a lot of friends here, so they would come on the weekends… I would go with my dad on adventures… So, I kind of just knew as a young boy that I like this place. It’s so different from Taylor! …I just liked the experiences I had here, you know, my dad taking us to Hudson’s for Christmas, the parade… the Thanksgiving Day Parade… big time wrestling at COBO Hall, we always did that… So, I was pretty familiar with city and kind of… that it was a place for entertainment. Not so much, didn’t really realize about the life-giving source that it also provided for people that lived here. But definitely my first impression was ‘This is cool.’ I loved tall buildings. …I was so attracted to the creativity… not realizing that this was actually helping to form me as someone that would appreciate architecture and… history… and different cultures.
My first place to live at in the city was… on the West Side at Plymouth and Greenfield. And I didn’t have a car… Well I had a car… and then I got laid-off, and then I wrecked my car in the city. …So, I ended up having to depend on this… public transportation system, and I really learned… the ins and outs… of how to maneuver through the city. You really discover it on that ground level using the transportation system… So, that was my first place on the West Side.
And then I, once I… got laid-off, I decided to go back to school and I really couldn’t afford to live on my own, so, I moved back to Taylor for about two years, maybe a year and a half… and then my said, ‘Well… I’m leaving my husband, so I’m going to move into an apartment or a flat. I’m going to Detroit, my friends have a house, you’re welcome to live with me,’ and I did and… that was over here on… it’s Mexicantown! I lived on Porter Street for about two years. Porter and Morrell. Which is like, that even enticed me even more about the city because it was one of the first times I actually felt like I was living in a foreign country because there was a lot of Spanish-speaking, and the stores and all of the businesses… that’s all you heard. So, it really made me feel like I was in another country, but yet I knew I was in the city…
So, I would commute to Wayne State… on the bus system and learning that much more about the Cass Corridor, and just how connected Southwest Detroit really does give you access through the… freeway system… you can go east, north, south, or west in a matter of minutes…
I currently reside in… Hubbard Farms. I moved there in 1991, but before that… I moved out into another apartment that was on Fort Street and Junction, so, I know I got too see another part of… life. It’s mostly a blue-collar community, and… I just really enjoyed it. …But in 1991, I had the opportunity to… move to Hubbard Farms… into a house… and I still live there now. …It’s very different from the neighborhood I grew up in, in Taylor, even though, that was a good experience in itself. It was more of at the time, Taylor in the 1960s and 70s, …was more rural, but once the Detroit experienced the riots… a lot of displaced people ended up coming Downriver. And… it’s actually one of the first experiences I had, with going to school with black people. …And that was another change for me as well, but it did help me prepare for coming in to the city, …because I met a lot of wonderful, wonderful African American people here in the city.
MR: So, what is your neighborhood like?
JZ: Currently, Hubbard Farms… it’s a designated historic. So, when I first moved there, I met… some key people that were… active in… a lot of the community… organizations… Homeowners that took pride in their neighborhood and… we found that they were very watchful and mindful of all the things that went on… Very open to inviting newcomers into the neighborhood, to be a part of the organization of homeowners.
… The interesting thing about Hubbard Farms is that, a lot of the people were, that were living there, had already been, they’ve established households there, they had been there for years. And… so, as far as like, meeting your neighbors, you really, you met them briefly but then, everybody kept to themselves. …And I’m not that kind of person so, my neighbors know me… in a good way, I hope. I don’t know. But it… was a, as I grew to learn what the neighborhood was like… it seemed like they were very… well educated… had… their value systems in place, and… you didn’t really know their stories until you actually took time to meet them. But as it is, work doesn’t always allow us to do that, so they still kind of seem elusive, or some even reclusive.
MR: And is it an integrated neighborhood?
JZ: …Yeah, it’s becoming more and more integrated. …Particularly, one of the markers of that integration is the Hotel Yorba… because… anybody can live there. And what I’m seeing now is that there’s the organization of Southwest Business Solutions that is responsible for… acquiring properties and renovating them and providing affordable living… for a particular sector. …And… so, I find that a lot of those residents that occupy their buildings… are displaced from areas where gentrification is taking place… such as the Cass Corridor and Midtown… and the Eastern Market area and even Corktown. …They have to go somewhere, and fortunately Southwest Solutions is one of those… organizations that will help them; help place them.
… In all honesty, I think some of the homeowners in Hubbard Farms aren’t too crazy with that kind of integration… but one of the important things for me is my Christianity and, I …believe that you have to live somewhere. If you have the opportunity to be placed somewhere that’s designated for you then, I guess it’s meant to be… Yeah, it’s a very integrated area. On all levels. From prostitutes to preachers… And I like it.
MR: So, are there any stories from your neighborhood that you would like to share?
JZ: …Gosh, just from living there…who I’ve met, who I’ve seen come through the neighborhood, getting to know the neighbors I do know… Like, for example, I lived across the street from a big Latino family, the Solano family, and… I became close with them and next to them there was… on either side, they had peculiar neighbors. There was Mr. Bob, who was kind of like this artistic recluse… who lived on his own and… took his home and reformed it away from its original architectural aesthetic [He bricked in the windows! Ed.] and would create these… really cool gardens, both in the front of his house and in the back. It almost… it was interesting. It definitely was interesting. And… he was an interesting man.
And then on the other side of them, across the street from me was… a couple. I think he was like an alcoholic… and his wife got sick and he took care of her for a little bit. But there was one particular time where apparently, he was stalking the neighbors next to him. [laughs] And it was a continuing story, a saga for that family until they had to move, he bothered them so much. …So, one day, I’m looking out, I hear this… caterwauling noise like, ‘AEHHHHH!’ And I kept hearing, ‘AEHHH! AAEHHHHH!!’ So, I look out the window and I see, his name was John, and I see him, kind of like, whaling his hands and he’s facing my house… and the neighbors, the house he’s at, are standing there with their camera taking his photo, as he’s trying to, it looked like he was trying to get away. Well, he was harassing them, and as he turned to get away, his suspenders got caught on the screen-door knob, and he couldn’t get away, because he couldn’t reach back to unhook himself. So, [Laughing] it was just, such a peculiarly funny, I mean, I feel sorry for the other family, but that was their proof like ‘Hey, he’s harassing us! And this is our proof!’ So, they did unhook him and he got away and he went back into his house, but just seeing stuff like that…
Passing out Halloween candy is always an adventure too. We don’t get a lot of people, but, one year I was… passing out the candy and an older woman came up and… she was petit, and she had a bandanna on her head, and she was smoking a cigarette and… holding out a little pumpkin basket and… she kind of like, struck this pose of just somebody waiting for something. And so, I asked her what her costume was. ‘It ain’t no costume. My baby’s sick, I ain’t bringing him out in the rain.’ So [Laughing] I just handed her the candy and said ‘Oh, okay…’ and she exhaled and said ‘Thank you,’ and walked off the porch.
… I mean there’s a lot of stories, but… it’s just interesting… you can experience almost anything that… The ‘Yorba Knights’ they’re always; I call them the ‘Yorba Knights,’ the people that walk from the Hotel Yorba to Shaun’s Party Store. So… they… come from the party store and they head east to the Yorba. It’s like a ritual… so I dubbed them the ‘Yorba Knights.’ They go east and they go west and that’s the only direction I ever see them go. West to the party store and east to their dwelling.
MR: …So, what makes your neighborhood unique?
JZ: …I think, I love the fact that on my block… if something happens, say inclement weather… we’re a tree lined street… and I have one of the oldest maples in my yard and across the street there’s also an ageing elm, and the two kind of create an archway up, over the street. …And with inclement weather the older the trees, the more susceptible they are to limbs breaking and falling off. …And when that happens, people in the community tend to come together and say, “Hey, let’s, we need access, we need to get our street cleared… They’re good at forthcoming to help when help is needed. …If somebody’s lawn needs cutting, they’ll either appeal to them to get it done or just, “Hey you don’t have a lawnmower, okay, we’ll take care of it for you.” …There’s a lot of pride with the homeowners there. …One of the things I don’t like is the fact it is historic and… they make us mindful of that more than we wanna be… It’s like living in an association, and I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do to my own house. But, because there’s this, the whole play of the aesthetic of maintaining a historic dwelling, it’s important, I do believe. …But it’s that thing that some things you want to conform to, and other things we just… conformity, I can go without it. It’s my home.
MR: So, do you feel comfortable in the city?
JZ: VERY, …very. …I rarely find myself being intimidated in my surroundings. …I think that that’s really based on my, I know that God has my back, and if it’s my time, then it’s my time. And for the most part… The thing about living in the city is that… craziness is so accepted… everybody is just… you have this unconditional appreciation for whoever you encounter, and you just know that, “Okay, that’s their story, and that’s who they are, and I’m not here to change anybody, but I’m not here to push anybody away either.”
…I’ve had my car stolen once… [inaudible] But, it was my fault, I left the keys inside. But the fact that they came up the driveway, and they only got as far as; of all the times to steal a vehicle on inclement weather day, when you’re not going to go anywhere in the ice and snow- they didn’t. They got as far as the stop sign up the block and slid into a pole. So, the bad thing was, I had to pay for the storage while they found my car. …I disagreed with that.
MR: So, has your neighborhood changed over the years or has it remained the same?
JZ: No, yeah, it is changing. One of the things about Hubbard Farms is that, again, it was such a close-knit family kind of community, that you almost knew that the real estate was lucrative, because you almost never knew when… someone was selling their home, because you never saw the “For Sale” sign go up. But the next thing you know, you have new neighbors. And they’re somehow connected to whoever was in the house before.
But now, we are seeing, with all of the …rebuilding of Detroit, the Downtown area, and… the rediscovery of places like the train station and Michigan Avenue. ...It’s, the new little pop-up restaurants that come in and that borderline gentrification that’s taking place on Vernor Highway. …The bad thing about that, that I don’t like… is that… a lot of us that live here still … are working paycheck to paycheck, and… to bring high-priced restaurants in this area where the residents can’t enjoy them, that turns me off. …And that’s the change that I see.
MR: So, have you ever thought of moving away?
JZ: No. Mm, nn. I think I’m grounded here, this community makes me grounded… this is home for me, it always will be. …I remember when I first moved to this area… I was probably like twenty-five. …Metro Times started doing their “Best of Detroit,” or their “Best reasons to live in Detroit” thing, and I think somebody asked me some questions, and one of the things that I said was that, they asked “Why do you live in Detroit,” I said, “To get away from my family.”
“And what’s the best thing about living in Detroit?”
“They won’t come.”
But now they do, they’re here all the time, so they’ve experienced what I’ve experienced and now I love it when they visit.
MR: So, when someone says “the neighborhoods,” what does that mean to you?
JZ: [Thinking] …It depends, …if you can visibly see that how sustainable life has been for that community and that… anywhere you drive, like take for example the East Side. There’s so much blight there… but yet, you see the pockets in these neighborhoods where [hits hand on table] they’re there [again hits hand on table] they’re taking care of their properties, they’re looking out for their other neighbors. That defines… that they have a stake in their livelihood and they’re not going to let anybody or any decay or anything… be a part that they’re governed by. They’re gonna survive.
MR: So how do you feel about the state of your neighborhood today?
JZ: Right now, I think its… in a state of rediscovery… I have new neighbors coming in, it seems like every week. Or somebody is discovering something about the neighborhood, where they want to come and stay. …The sad thing about it is that a lot of them are people that can’t afford to stay because the real estate is increasing. And when you’re young and money is a factor, that’s just, it isn’t, I wouldn’t say fair, but unfortunate that they want to be somewhere but they can’t because it costs too much.
MR: What would you like to see happen with your neighborhood?
JZ: [Thinking] …I would love to see… more… I have to go, when I shop for groceries, the unfortunate thing is I don’t have anywhere to go except the supermercado and I find that the prices are a little more higher than I would, if I were to Kroger or Meijer. And I would like to see more, something along the lines of fair pricing for the community. I think it’s sad that because, it’s still considered a poorer community, but the fact that… some people don’t have transportation and they have to rely on the businesses that provide goods and services, I think those businesses tend to take advantage of that and they will infuse their own pricing system, which take gasoline for example. …I think, just because we’re at the border of the Canadian… exit to the US… I think gas stations take advantage of that. …For some reason they think that the Canadians have a higher standard of living and they can afford the gasoline. They raise the prices up at least twenty cents higher than what you could find outside of the Detroit community. …And I think that’s so unfair. But no one does anything about it.
MR: So, if you could get a project done in your neighborhood, what would it be/
JZ: …It’d have to be a price gouging project, and… eradicating that behavior and that attitude of business owners.
MR: So, how do you feel about the state of the city today?
JZ: …I think it’s… it’s doing well, it’s doing better than when I first discovered, my own self-discovery of it. …In 1980 there was the exodus, where everybody was going to Houston because of the job explosion there… Or wherever they went, I don’t know where everybody went… But… downtown was just a place for me to discover, all of these empty businesses, “where did it go?” “Why aren’t they here?” …Now, it’s taken thirty years, but here they are, slowly. …Reconnecting, making… their own self-discovery of the relevance of the City of Detroit.
I think we’re headed in a good direction. …It’s not gonna happen overnight. 1805, the city burned, Father Gabriel Richard stayed to help rebuild it, and look what he accomplished. …We have to be grateful for that. The city, it’s laid out into a wagon-wheel, and all the spokes lead out somewhere, but yet… doesn’t necessarily mean they lead out; they also lead in.
So, it’ll be great to see, we have the Q-Line now, which only goes from Midtown to Downtown, but there’s no reason why that can’t be explored, why we can’t have more rail service out of the city or coming into the city. There are a lot of people that live outside of the city that have to come in to the city to work, but the transportation is lacking; the public transportation is lacking and I for one, who used it, I so appreciated it. I would love to see that brought back… that would really give; put the city in a better state, the people could have an easier access… Just because we’re the car capital of the world, that doesn’t… mean we can’t ride on buses.

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Mexicantown, Hubbard Farms, Mexican-American,

Citation

“Joseph Zarazua,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed June 23, 2021, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/772.

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