For songstress Jessica Hernandez, the pulse behind her raucous rock-and-roll songs is her days in Southwest Detroit. The heat of her family’s bakery, the spice of their restaurant and energy found in her grandmother’s home define her.
No matter where she has traveled, whether it was Chicago, New York or the West Coast, Hernandez said her thoughts always come back to the neighborhood where she ate Duly’s coneys with her grandfather or prayed at Ste. Anne’s. Much like generations before her, Hernandez defines herself by the people, places and heart of Southwest Detroit.
“It’s important to me as my husband and I look for our first house that I be close to my family and Southwest,” Hernandez said. “Now that I am older and have an opportunity to invest in the city, I want to come back to Southwest, have my family and make them a part of what I experienced as a child.”
Of Detroit’s many personality-rich neighborhoods – the places that define this city steeped in history, tradition and sweat – the one that hooks you completely is Southwest.
Vast in size and massive in character, Southwest Detroit identifies much of what this city is. It is generations of families, living side by side in bungalows and row houses. It is small businesses, the kind where the mechanic fixes your car while running a successful tequila company on the side. It is parks, schools and recreational centers that thrive because residents show up, clean up and run it themselves. It is the churches and religious centers, where the priest is like a family member.
“Southwest is a huge area, but it feels small because everywhere you go you’re probably going to run into someone you know,” said Kit Lindamood, a resident and well-known face behind the bar of Abick’s, best described as a neighborhood institution that has survived a century against a backdrop of Prohibition, returning soldiers and anything else Detroit could throw its way.
Southwest also is a community where history matters. It is place where names such as Delray and Springwells still mean something. People who grew up here take pride in all of Detroit – its rise, fall and rise again. But they’ll tell you straightaway that they’re from Southwest.
“It’s not trendy or glamorous, but it’s got everything you need,” said Jacques Driscoll, owner of Green Dot Stables, Huron Room and Johnny Noodle King, all area staples.
Everyone – immigrants, newcomers, suburbanites, world travelers – are welcome in Southwest. Culture is paramount here, a throwback to the comings and goings of people of every nationality from Hungarians to Hispanics to Yemenis. When one family grew into a larger home, another one was always ready to move in. Kids of all colors play together, united in their love for hockey, soccer, and baseball.
“We definitely honor people and make them feel like family,” said Rico Razo, who represented District 6 within Detroit’s city government, earning him the title of “Mayor of Southwest.” If you need someone to flip hotdogs at St. Hedwig’s or participate in a peace march with the Congress of Communities, Razo’s your man.
If you can find your way into the infamous Carbon Athletic Club or places like pop-up restaurant Flowers of Vietnam, then you’ll have friends for life. The reward for living, working and exploring Southwest Detroit is substantial: It is spontaneous potlucks in Clark Park, dancing until dawn at Club Fantasy and hugs when you walk into Evie’s Tamales for lunch.
It’s hard to talk about this neighborhood without talking about food, after all. Southwest Detroit is, above all else, a sensory experience. It’s warm pupusas, luscious ices and tasty sliders. It’s the Torta dePoll at Armando’s. It’s the chorizo at Guadalajara #2. “I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s good,” said photographer and resident Juan Carlos Perez.
Something else that feeds the neighborhood’s soul is its art and music. Southwest Detroit is the kind of place where art comes in many forms, whether it is gas-station murals, screen-printing classes at Grace in Action or sanctioned graffiti with The Alley Project. It is about dance, like that found at COMPÁS, the beloved Center of Music & Performing Arts Southwest with its youth-focused arts, recreation and educational drive.
Its soul is centered on the neighborhood’s many churches with Ste. Anne de Detroit as its anchor. Ste. Anne’s is where Father Gabriel Richard penned Detroit’s longstanding motto: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, meaning We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.
Ste. Anne’s has been in its current building for nearly 200 years, defining the position within Southwest with its enviable view of the Detroit River. Churches like this are landmarks in the neighborhood, supporting the residents’ body and spirit, said Bailey Sisoy Isgro, proprietress of Detroit History Tours and a regular at Ste. Anne, Abick’s, Taquita del Ray and more.
“Southwest Detroit makes you feel like you’re special,” Sisoy Isgro said. “It’s a respite from the rest of the world.”
You get to know Detroit in inches – its people, its neighborhoods, its rhythms. Places that sink into your soul come to you slowly, exposing themselves fully only when you’ve spent the time there. You don’t only invest in Detroit, it invests in you.
Hernandez never forgets that. Even now, as she’s working on her next album due in spring, she remembers when she and the Deltas were filming the video for “Sorry I Stole Your Man.” They went to Southwest and had a community party. Everyone brought something: Tequila Cabresto from her friend Antonio Lopez, food from Armando’s, low riders on loan.
“That’s the neighborhood. Everyone’s supportive. Everyone cares,” Hernandez said.