Elena Herada


Elena Herada


In this Interview, Elena Herada discusses growing up in Detroit mixed with immigration and rioting. She discusses her grandparents being forced to move due to eminent domain. She also talks about urban renewal and urban removal.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Elena Herada

Brief Biography

Elena Herada was born in Detroit in 1957 on the East side. Her grandparents came to Detroit from Mexico and lived in Corktown. Her father worked for Chrysler.

Interviewer's Name

Lamees Ibrahim

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan




Lamees: Hi my name is Lamees Ibrahim and I’m with Jessie and today is March 9th of 2019. This interview is for Detroit’s Historical Societies Neighborhoods “Where Detroit Lives” oral history project. I’m in Detroit, Michigan and I am sitting down with-

Elena: Elena Herada.

Lamees: Thank you so much for sitting down with us today

Jessie: Can you spell your name by chance?

Elena: E-L-N-A H-E-R-A-D-A

Lamees: So, when and where were you born?

Elena: I was born in Detroit. In 1957.

Lamees: So what neighborhood did you grow up in Detroit?

Elena: I actually grew up in the East side of Detroit.

Lamees: Okay. So, do you know why your parents chose that neighborhood exactly?

Elena: Yeah. I mean my grandparents had come here from Mexico, they lived here in Corktown. But then when my parents got married my dad worked at Chrysler and it was on the East side. And that’s why we lived near his work.

Jessie: Do you have any siblings?

Elena: Mhm. I had a brother and I have two sisters.

Jessie: Oh. Okay, really cool! What schools did you go to?

Elena: I went to catholic schools mostly. I went to St. Annenberg- I went to St. Hamilton first it’s on the West side, its still there barely serving Detroit’s smashing of our schools but that’s another story and I went to catholic schools. I went to St.*inaudible*. And I kinda dropped out of high school and took a long-rounded way around and then I went to Wayne State.

Jessie: Oh cool!

Lamees: So, what was the East side like growing up in?

Elena: It was really interesting. It was – I was there for the riots, immigrations, you know the type of things that were going on. And my family, especially my mom was very involved in the struggle of immigration, so it was a neighborhood where we all knew each other. We either went to catholic school and saw each other in mass on Sundays. Or people went to public schools and sometimes people went to catechism or sometimes there were other denominations. But it was [pretty mixed and there were a lot of immigrants around the world growing up where I grew up. There was black people and Italians and Lebanese. We were Mexicans- very few Mexicans where I was growing up.

Jessie: So, what stores did you go to growing up?

Elena: Well its interesting because my dad had grown up over here in South West and grown up in Bagley, around there. And when we needed tortillas and tamales and Mexican food that he would make, which was really a treat for us, it wasn’t everyday food to us. Then we would come to Honeybee although it wasn’t called that then. I think it was Morales Market and there was Garcia’s market and I’m trying to think…there weren’t very many stores I can remember but um we went to – there small stores they were big department stores. They weren’t big grocery stores and they were just for special items. Like Tenarios, is now *inedible* over here, I remember going there. Tenarios was next to Mexican Village which was there forever. They used to only be a couple Mexican restaurants now theres a lot but there only used to be a few.

Jessie: Did you go to any of those stores with your friends? Are there any places that you guys visited?

Elena: Not until I got a little bit older and skipped school and came across town. Cus It actually wasn’t my neighborhood growing up. I grew up in the East side and then when I began to skip school and explore more then I would come over.

Jessie: Did you have any stories that kinda stick out to you?

Elena: Yeah, I remember one time I came to my girlfriend on the bus, and growing up on the East side where I grew up, our neighborhood was kinda hit. In a way where you don’t think about it at the time when you’re just growing up but I remember there were some people walking down the street and they yelled at use for dropping trash on the ground which was such a normal thing to do in our neighborhood. I remember thinking wow this is a really different neighborhood, like wow we’re really somewhere else. *laughing*. There was one thing that I remember rerally standing out like wow. They were really young like us. They were just more – I felt like they had a sense of ownership in the community that I don’t think we ever felt growing up.

Jessie: So, you feel like there’s a division between two different neighborhoods?

Elena: Definitely. Definitely really different.

Jessie: So, you didn’t stay in your neighborhood, you ventured out.

Elena: I ventured out all the time. My grandparents they weren’t from over here and they were misplaced by the freeways many times. So we were really aware of how freeways cut through neighborhoods and move people out. My grandfather was completely convinced that they followed where he lived to put in freeways because it happened to him at 75, at happened at the lodge and it happened at 96. He absolutely sat on the porch with a shot gun the last time and they took his house by imminent domain. I used to run home from school to watch him on the news to see his gun – he had his shotgun sitting on the chair and there were cranes in the background, and it was the last house. And everyone was embarrassed by him but I thought-

Jessie: He stood his ground!

Elena: Right *laughing* he did until he didn’t. Until they moved him. You can’t be backing freeways but you can buy a little time. And if you’re rich they’ll buy you out and give you displacement money or sometimes even build around you. I learned about that later. They’ll work around you.

Lamees: The highways?

Elena: The highways will build around. If you’re poor, you’re just in the way. That’s the story of every black and Mexican community in Detroit.

Lamees: Like you said earlier about your neighborhood there were a lot of Lebanese people, fewer Mexicans than anything, right?

Elena: Right, very few Mexicans that I remember knowing growing up.

Lamees: Did you feel comfortable growing up there?

Elena: Yeah! Absolutely. It was our whole existence.

Lamees: did the makeup of the neighborhood as a whole change as you grew up?

Elena: Yeah actually. There was- I talked about immigration, the riots. There were racists that used to – like the racist white supremacists’ group would march on our house and call us names and stuff. White people moved out really fast and black people moved in. And there was a huge division-just a really – it was very very hostile. It was really interesting if you look at Detroit right now as like- they – you’re in a neighborhood where people can’t afford to live, they did the opposite during the sort of white flight where the houses would go way down, and people would be like get me out of here. White people were like trying to get out of here and um now its white people returning, and the prices are going so far up that nobody else can- I’ve watched this whole circle. Of segregation, white flight and white return. You can really see it going on.

Jessie: So would you pin that to a certain moment that this happened? Maybe after the 67?

Elena: The 67 was a big part of the riots- I mean the riots were a turning point that scared white people out of Detroit. My family didn’t move, we stayed for a long time after that. We didn’t go anywhere, we were there forever to see that white people don’t stay. They do not stay. Our schools-Catholic schools were very different than public schools in that regard. A lot of the Catholic schools closed because white people left. So those schools were closing. And black people who were in those neighborhoods and went to those schools then came to the school where we were. So, we integrated pretty quickly from being I’d say being multi-ethnic, really multi ethnic. But especially Italian. They used to call our neighborhood little Italy. Which I always felt was really kind of like– we could understand them, we could understand Sicilians, everything that they said. So, a lot of immigrants came, and they wouldn’t be able to speak English so my dad would be able to communicate with them and teach them English because it was so close to Spanish. So, we didn’t have a big culture division, especially with Sicilians. They were very kindred, culturally. Especially linguistically though in – if you think about if you move to a place where you can only communicate to people who speak your same language, its really different than just moving to a place new and has the same language. It is very very limiting. So, you are stuck with the people who speak the same language. And a lot of people never leave that, never really learned English. There are a lot of people who did that but for our purposes we could pretty much communicate with a lot of different language groups.

Jessie: So how old were you when you actually saw the neighborhood changing and people coming in and everything integrating?

Elena: Ten. *laughs* I can definitely see that moment.

Jessie: So being born in 1957, that was right around the 67 movement.

Elena: We could really see it. You know, I moved over to this side of this town in 75. So I’ve been over here for a long time you know back in forth in different places but for the most part I’ve been here. And I have a house that I live in in Corktown that I lived in for 25 years. So I raised my daughters here so we’re kind of the people who that move around and come back and stay. I lived in the Clement Kern Gardens which is a housing project over in Corktown I lived there before I bought the house that I have years before. So that was a really important development is to have public housing in Corktown where the housing has been removed from urban renewal. They tore down blocks and blocks. And part of the decision and negotiation was to restore the housing there so Clement Kern Gardens which was named after Father Kern was developed. And I was on the planning committee of that. It took years and years to go from making a plan for a field, a vacant field into public housing then to be a tenant in the housing. It was a long long project. So, I was the first tenants in the Clement Kern Gardens and you’re gonna see it get torn down by Dan Gilbert. You are going to see that because that is almost all completely black and Corktown is almost completely white. And it is right across the street where Dan Gilbert has that security surveillance place on Rosa Park. So, it’s on Bagley and Rose parks. And I wanna go on the record saying this, I hope this doesn’t get edited out.

Lamees: It won’t!

Elena: Okay because urban renewal which is also know as urban removal; moved the whole body out of Bagley, moved the whole area down. This freeway that came right here stopped us from giving a voting bloc. It didn’t maybe intend to do that but that was a major byproduct of having a completely solid voting bloc. So, we did not have representation politically for years and years and years after that because when you do that then the people are moving. They don’t all move to the same place, they disperse so you no longer have Mexican concentration like we did here. Bagley, over there in Corktown where they torn down everything and they took down houses in blocks and blocks of Mexican houses. Removed the area and turned it into warehouses for like stores that were downtown. Like, Winklemans and Cunningham and those places. If you talk to older people, people older than me they will talk about it. They will tell you about how they were houses and this was all solidly Mexican. And then the urban renewal took up all of Bagley from Ford street to Michigan, which was house after house after house all the way up to Trumbull. Where you know where Bagley Trumbull market is and – all of that which is now the Clement Kern Gardens that used to be houses and houses and houses which was almost solidly Mexican. As the older people would tell you. When they wiped that out, people dispersed and went to places like Ecorse, Lincoln park or further South West like you know Springwell’s area. But, there was no longer concentration. All of this, St. An’s and the bridge right here, this was very solidly Mexican. And it would have been a very different trajectory if it would’ve maintained the solid core, politically particularly. Economically and politically but of course people want to move out, they don’t want to pay the car insurance and people want better schools. It’s not like it was paradise by any means cus people can be offered- like when the bridge came through and bought peoples homes here; they could offer 60-70,000 dollars for a home which they may not have been able to get 4,000 or 5,000 dollars for. And a lot of people were glad to get it and move somewhere else because that’s the house they couldn’t necessarily leave to everyone because they were you know, they weren’t big brick houses or anything. They were kind of decrepit. There wasn’t anything left over here. They took the fire station, they took the school, they took everything. There’s nothing left so pretty soon you’re just there. And then what are you gonna do? So, there’s a really mixed narrative. I wanna be really clear that some people wanna stay, they wanna be there. And there’s a romantic notion of what a community is. There’s a romantic thing of you know, we got moved out of here and we all wanted to be together and that’s not necessarily true for every case and I know a lot of people would be glad to have a nicer house and live in a community where you don’t have to pay exorbitant car insurance and exorbitant home owner insurance and you know have a school in walking distance. And Detroit didn’t have that anymore, for a whole lot of reasons, Detroit did not have that anymore. Having nothing to do with decisions that people made of our own governance here. So there is a mixed narrative of having a ideal community and livable community.

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Corktown, Chrysler, eminent domain, immigration, urban renewal, urban removal


“Elena Herada,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed November 29, 2023, https://oralhistory.detroithistorical.org/items/show/756.

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