Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers, but Polish immigrants flooded into the area when the Dodge Brothers plant opened in 1914. Poles still make up a large proportion of the population. It is sometimes confused with Poletown, a traditional Polish neighborhood, which lies mostly in the city of Detroit and includes a small part of Hamtramck.
As of the 2000 census, over 22% of Hamtramck's population is of Polish origin; but in 1970, it was 90% Polish.
Over the past thirty years, a large number of immigrants from the Middle East (especially Yemen) and South Asia (especially Bangladesh) have moved to the city. As of the 2000 census, the city's foreign born population stood at 41.1% making it Michigan's most internationally diverse city.
The city has grown increasingly ethnically diverse but still bears many reminders of its Polish ancestry in family names, street names and businesses. A recent survey found 26 native languages spoken by Hamtramck schoolchildren. The city's motto was "A League of Nations".
At the time of the 2000 census, Hamtramck was again experiencing considerable growth, with over 8,000 households and a population of almost 23,000.
In 1997, the Utne Reader named Hamtramck one of "the 15 hippest neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada" in part for its punk and alternative music scene, its Buddhist temple, its cultural diversity, and its laid back blue-collar neighborhoods. And in May of 2003, Maxim Blender selected Hamtramck as the second "Most Rock N' Roll City" in the U.S., behind Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York City. Hamtramck is home of several of Michigan's most distinguished music venues.
In January 2004, members of the Al-Islah Islamic Center requested permission to use loudspeakers for the purpose of broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer. This request set off a contentious debate in the city, ostensibly about the noise that would be caused by the call to prayer, eventually garnering national attention. Ultimately, Hamtramck amended its noise ordinance in July 2004 regulating the volume level of all religious sounds.
Most of this was taken from Hamtramck's website. People go to Hamtramck for several things: first of all they have some darn good Polish food (see illustration of paczkis, a traditional Lenten donut); second, it's the place to find experimental music, art, and theater. It's interesting also for the culture clash underway per the call to prayer argument above. One thing it isn't, is pretty. The housing is bare bones, the streets are poorly paved, there's not a lot of decorative touches. But Hamtramck will always be an interesting, ethnically diverse place. Authentic to its core.
Hamtramck is one of two independent cities within the confines of Detroit. I wonder if other cities have such a thing.
Check out more MY TOWN MONDAY posts at the blog of Travis Erwin, Master of Ceremonies.