Thursday, July 23, 2009

A View of the Colors

"Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue. I can sing a rainbow...."

So the other day, I was clicking through my daily website reading list and came across an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press.

It was supposed to be a lighter side of the news piece about Detroit's sister city relationships with seven other cities across the globe. The piece, written by Michael Rosenberg, read like a bad Jerry Seinfeld routine:

"What exactly does it mean to be "sister cities"? Do you gossip about male cities? Can you borrow each other's outfits? In the '80s, did the mayor of one sister city send a mix tape to the mayor of the other sister city?"

I'm not sure what the point of the article was supposed to be, but the gist of it seems to be that Mr. Rosenberg doesn't think sister cities serve much purpose. I'm not even sure if he truly means that, or if he was trying to be funny because he also said he didn't think the idea of a brother city would work either.

"Brother cities would never call each other. Occasionally, the mayors would play golf together, but when they were done, they would go back to their cities and everybody would ask what was going on in the brother city, and the mayor would say 'I don't know, I didn't ask, but I putted great.' "

Are you laughing yet?

Me neither.

In case you didn't know it, Detroit's sister cities are Chongqing, China; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kitwe, Zambia; Minsk, Belarus; Nassau, Bahamas; Toyota City, Japan; and Turin, Italy. The oldest and most active sister city relationship is between Detroit and Toyota City, with student and cultural exchanges going back almost 50 years. I'm proud to say that I'm part of that history, having been part of the student group that represented Detroit in Toyota City back in 1984. My group spent just over one month visiting Toyota, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Nagoya, learning about the country and its culture as guests of Toyota City and seven host families. We learned about language, history, food, music, religion, pop culture, family dynamics, geography - it was a total immersion into life outside of the comforts of home for both us in the group and the families who hosted us.

It was an invaluable experience, one I'll never forget.

My guess is that Mr. Rosenberg's indifference to a sister city program may come from the recent reports of the abuse of emergency funds by Detroit officials, with money being used as a personal piggy bank by the Kilpatrick administration. Back in 2006, Kizzi Montgomery, an intergovernmental liaison for Mr. Kilpatrick, used about $5,800 to take the Japanese delegation from the Detroit/Toyota program on a trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario - a blatant misuse of the emergency fund. It's sad that the program has to suffer a blow to its reputation because of the actions of a corrupt administration. Looking on the sister cities page of the City of Detroit website, it appears the exchange program only exists on a technical basis, and that trips between the cities have been suspended.

In light of this, I'd like to make a recommendation to Mr. Rosenberg to check out next year's Concert of Colors. The yearly event is hosted by ACCESS (The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), offering a plethora of music, dance, food, community activism, information exchange, and much more across all cultures. Here's the best part - admission to the event is free.

At this year's Concert of Colors, I saw an East Indian dance troupe from the School of World Music & Dance:



Watched an enthusiastic crowd help an Afro-Cuban singer with the group BombaRica celebrate her birthday by dancing in a conga line:



Caught an excellent show by the band Yo La Tenga. The main stage artists had a ban on any photography and recording, so here's a clip of the band in action that I found on You Tube.



Talked local politics and found some gorgeous jewelry that I could not resist at the Beads, Baubles & Gems of Southfield booth - a custom jewelry merchant created by two sisters. Take a look and give them a call if you'd like a trinket or three at 248-910-2047.



I also caught up with old friends (What's up Beth, Kathy, Chris, B.J., and John!), got a chance to explore the Max M. Fisher Music Center - home of the Concert of Colors, had a great dinner at Union Street (I recommend the Lobster & Cilantro Pizza), and had a wonderful time learning about all the cultures that make Detroit so great. I didn't even scratch the surface of everything there was to do at the two day event.

It was like a mini sister city exchange program in the space of two blocks. Start here, Mr. Rosenberg, and you'll learn that establishing relationships and cultural exchange across the globe is as pretty as all the colors of the rainbow.

More later, but remember all the cool kids shun xenophobia. If you can't travel abroad, check out one of the local ethnic festivals in your area. Enjoy the music, the people, the food and the fun - and if you aren't careful, you might learn something before it's done. (My apologies to Bill.)

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