Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Old Neighborhood
A Polish-American friend of mine hosted some friends and me on a weekend excursion into the old Polish enclave of Hamtramck, which is surrounded by Detroit proper (Detroit is a very Polish city, probably second only to Chicago). The first stop was Mass at St. Florian's Church (photo above). I am not an art historian, but the altar was truly magnificent. Next, we went to the very comfortably cool, immaculate Polish Cultural Center which is basically a well-tended shop full of souvenirs from the old country. We also made a stop at the modern Polish market which specializes, you guessed it, in stocking a cornucopia of food products from Poland. The area is still full of recent arrivals from Poland.
But the culmination was dinner in the unpretentious Under the Eagle Polish restaurant adorned with photos of celebrities including the two George Bushes and photos of the 1987 visit by John Paul the Great to Hamtramck. The fellowship was great and memorable--true koinonia as celebrated in the New Testament.
What gives such character to places that are, in effect, old ethnic enclaves? (Note: this enclave now has a diverse population that goes well beyond the different regions of Poland.) For me, personally speaking, such places bespeak a simplicity and unpretentiousness that are lacking in what I call the affluent "show-off" suburbs which I find to be very off-putting and very cold. Pretentiousness rooted in insecurity tends to be that way. In contrast, the old neighborhood (and there are still many with many different ethnic roots throughout this land) has the simplicity of people who arrived only recently and who are simply happy to have made it to the land of freedom. Yes, Mary was right when she prophesied in the Magnificat that the Lord fills up the poor but leaves the rich empty-handed. We don't need the show-off suburbs to be content. In fact, we may need to avoid them in order to be content.