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  • Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez

This Bridge Called Post-Industrial Hope

This essay is being written during the first four months of a fifteen-month fieldwork period of my PhD research. When I returned to Detroit (Michigan, USA) – my childhood home – I had sought to study its proximity to Windsor (Ontario, Canada), and how Latinos in these metropolitan areas build community with each other given their adjacency to an international border. Since my arrival here, the questions driving my research have stayed similar, but the individuals that I am keen to work with have broadened.

Detroit and Windsor are two post-industrial cities nestled at the US–Canadian international border, separated by the Detroit River, and connected by the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The shared history of the cities place Detroit and Windsor as enthusiastic twin settings, where the energy of their residents remains palpable through various community events and celebrations. Simultaneously, Detroit’s level of abandoned property remains alarmingly high and Windsor’s downtown area remains particularly quiet. Residents consistently describe Detroit as “getting better” or as “way better” than it used to be, but acknowledge how the city has a long way to go. Detroiters feel their city is stuck in this post-industrial space of recovery, of potential growth and expansion that has yet to be realised. Windsor, very similarly, is “recovering” and seeks to establish a new identity beyond its proximity to Detroit. 

This discussion of “potential” in the Detroit-Windsor transborder region reflects a lingering “post-industrial hope” pervasive in the area, which impacts how individuals understand the types of citizenship – such as engagement in community or enacting their own political agency – that they can practise. After spending the last four months in southwest Detroit, I am particularly interested in how Detroit and Windsor’s Latino communities understand themselves, their practices of citizenship, and their ideas of “potential” or futures in relation to regional discourses. How does this unique borderland “post-industrial hope” create space, a bridge if you will, for migrant “hope” to exist and be enacted? 

Note: Most of my fieldwork thus far has taken place in southwest Detroit, and thus it is the primary site where most of these photos were taken. At this time, the majority of my work is with a sensitive population where photography of persons is discouraged because it is feared. Most of these photographs are therefore, scenes of public places or events. I extend a special thanks to Sean French and Lisa Hudgins-Lopez for their photo contributions (indicated below) to this essay.

Annual celebration of Mexican Independence Day on 15 September 2023. Image courtesy the author.

This event took place in Mexicantown, a historic neighbourhood in Detroit, known for its abundant Mexican grocery stores and restaurants. Southwest Detroit, a majority Latino neighbourhood, surrounds this area. Pride in their shared Mexican heritage can be seen through the red, white, and green accents defining the event’s decor. Mexican Americans and the local Latino community, in general, come together during events like this to celebrate and commune through music, food, dance, and chanting. The event was set next to the Mexican embassy and less than a mile from the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor.

On the right, you see one of the bands brought on during their celebration programme. On the left, a view from the marketplace set up across the street from the stage with various wares for sale from local vendors.

A celebration of Día de los Muertos on 28 October 2023. Image courtesy the author.

Hosted by the Detroit Riverwalk Conservancy, this celebration included a public ballet folklórico performance by a local group (left), a market for local vendors, an ofrenda (right) display of Latino citizenship in the city. Across from Vallade Park sits downtown Windsor, just beyond the Detroit River. 

As seen on Woodward Avenue in November 2023. Credit to Sean French. Image courtesy the author.

A sign that calls to “post-industrial hope” through invoking the city of Detroit as the “NEW SILCONE VALLEY OF AMERICA”. It is hard to say whether the creator of this sign intended to say “Silicon”, which would acknowledge the potential tech community Detroit has hoped to foster with its efforts to support entrepreneurs and local research universities, while attempting to bring big tech headquarters here. Alternatively, it could reference “silicone”, a polymer adhesive used in manufacturing various items, thereby highlighting Detroit’s industrial past. 

Other surrounding signs highlight Detroit’s past exceptionalism. Two signs reference the service of Detroit Veterans—“Purple Heart City” and the “Detroit Arsenal of Democracy City Vietnam Veterans of America Detroit Chapter 9”. Another sign references our city’s professional sports national championship wins during their successful 1935–1936 seasons; Afterwards, we earned the title, “The City of Champions”.  

All of these signs depict the American flag in their designs and are further surrounded by American flags, while a bald eagle statue sits in the foreground. These motifs assemble disparate past examples of Detroit’s patriotism and exceptionalism as exemplars of American success, as if to say, “We did it before and we will do it again.”

“Pinto Flores Así No Mueren”. Image courtesy the author.

The mural above reads, “I paint flowers so they do not die.” This quote paraphrases celebrated Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, who is quoted by Josep Bartolí as having said, “Pinto flores para que no mueran” (“I paint flowers so they will not die”). Kahlo spent some time in Detroit during her marriage to muralist Diego Rivera. While Rivera became enamoured with industrial Detroit, Kahlo rejected this industrialisation vocally and in her artwork. The pair made a lasting impact on the city’s artist scene and the longstanding Mexican American and immigrant community here.

I passed this mural daily during my drive to and from fieldwork in southwest Detroit, a majority Latino neighbourhood, in November and December 2023. For me, it highlights a resistance to the “urban decay” that Detroit is now famous for by creating beauty through artistic germination of growth and life. This mural stands starkly against the natural overgrowth that remains quite common in the area.

Left (top): An advertisement for an immigration lawyer that reads “Inmigración Abogado”.

Right (top): A local shop advertising palm and tarot readings: “Botánica Renacer, Lectura de mano y tarot”.

Right (bottom): “Tienda Express” and a host of other independent stores next to CVS and the Salvation Army. Images courtesy the author.

More scenes from southwest Detroit during my daily commute down Vernor Highway. Many standard shops, like CVS or the Salvation Army, sit amongst a sea of independent Latino community-serving stores. As can be seen, various shops and signs in the area are in Spanish. Most store employees can speak Spanish and English fluently. These independent shops often result from the work of second or third generation Latino Americans and provide jobs to many Latino Americans and recent immigrants in the area. They represent the possibilities of coming to the US expressed by many of the newcomers whom I have spoken with, including: income to support their families, a livelihood they can be proud of, and a sense of community in a city that remains painfully silent about their existence. In short, these spaces, where the community supports them, is where Detroit begins to feel like home.

Credit to Lisa Hudgins-Lopez. Image courtesy the author.

A man passing out flyers to solicit donations for local veterans charities at Detroit’s Cadillac Square holiday festivities. His jacket reads, “We owe illegals nothing. We owe our veterans everything.”

Not only was it jarring to see this on an ordinary evening out with family, but it was surprising to see a Black veteran wearing this jacket. Prior to this, it would never have occurred to me to juxtapose local support for veterans with support for people who, as I prefer to call them, are without papers (sin papeles). The eagle on the jacket also implies a lack of patriotism when one does support people without papers or, as the jacket implies, does not support veterans. What is owed to whom?

There is something layered about wearing this jacket in a place that is a borderland, where consciousness about the presence of people without papers is far below the surface of everyday life. Moreover, in a country where “illegals” or “people without papers” are colloquially synonymous with Latino, it brings Black and Latino relations in Detroit forward as something to be interrogated. I will reflect more on this, and my positionality as a Black Detroiter working with Latinos, as I continue my fieldwork.

Left: A sign breaks the monotony of the southwest Detroit neighbourhood by providing directions to the international border. It reads, “To Canada”, with the text superimposed on a maple leaf illustration.

Right: Just beyond a cluster of homes and schools, you can make out the top of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects southwest Detroit and Windsor.

Images courtesy the author.

During my fieldwork, Detroiters I have spoken to often have not thought critically about our proximity to Canada. An exception to this approach are the people situated in southwest Detroit, who remain painfully aware of the negative impact of the busiest US–Canada international crossing in the two countries. 

Recently, the City of Detroit has declared they are rounding off their work on another international crossing based between southwest Detroit and Windsor: the Gordie Howe International Bridge. It is reshaping southwest Detroit as I write this essay. In this way, “post-industrial hope” remains a present, visual reality because of the potential for new commerce and trade rooted in both Detroit and Windsor. 

On the other hand, local residents – citizens and immigrants alike – feel this bridge will increase  pollution and the presence of large vehicles in their neighbourhoods, which are problems they presently face with the Ambassador Bridge. I, myself, have witnessed the significant number of large trucks moving down residential streets and slowing the flow of traffic during the everyday morning commute. The Howe Bridge project has invested in southwest Detroit nonprofit initiatives to benefit education and after-school programming, job training, and business development at the behest of feedback from local residents. Yet, the long-term environmental impact of the bridge has yet to be addressed through concrete prevention plans by either government. In fact, in February 2024, Detroit’s mayor and other state and local officials supported a proposal to allow transportation of new hazardous materials between the countries via the Ambassador Bridge and the soon-to-be-completed Howe Bridge. Concerns raised by those in opposition argue that if an accident occurs on these bridges, there will be inadequate ability to respond quickly, and southwest Detroiters will bear the brunt of such impact.

As I continue my fieldwork, I will begin to explore Latino life in metropolitan Windsor, as well as closely follow the development of this new international bridge.

“Detroit Inspires the World” / Detroit inspira al mundo. Image courtesy the author.

Where does Latino diasporic hope and “potential” in Detroit intersect with the region’s greater sense of the city’s “potential”? I am still learning from my informants how to answer this question, as I do not feel that I quite know what this phrase means yet. However, I felt this mural was the perfect visual to conclude this discussion precisely because of its use of the present-continuous word “inspires”. Inspiration is deeply tied to ideas of hope, futures, and potential. I look forward to further exploration of how Latinos inspire and are inspired by Detroit, in the same way that Detroit is inspired by and inspires the world. 

The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the Editorial Board, the Scholars’ Council, the Gates Cambridge Trust or the University of Cambridge.


Adaiah Hudgins-Lopez ['21, '22] is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology. She is a 2021 and 2022 Gates Cambridge Scholar and a member of Trinity College.


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