Carmen Solis-Crowley and Rita Solis


Carmen Solis-Crowley and Rita Solis


In this interview, Carmen Solis-Crowley and her mother Rita Solis are interviewed about life in Southwest, Detroit. Carmen Solis-Crowley translates for her mother, Rita for part of the interview.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Carmen Solis-Crowley and Rita Solis

Brief Biography

Rita Solis was born in Mexico in 1925, her daughter, Carmen, was born in Detroit in 1955. Rita and her husband moved to Detroit for better job opportunity in 1952.

Interviewer's Name

Erin McSkimming

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan




EM: Hello, my name is Erin McSkimming and today is March 16, 2019. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s “Neighborhoods: Where Detroit Lives” Oral History project. I am in Detroit Michigan. I am sitting down with

CSC: Carmen Solis-Crowley.

EM: And--

CSC: And my mother, Rita Solis.

EM: Okay. Thank you guys so much for sitting down with me today. Can you guys spell your names?

CSC: The whole thing? Carmen, C-a-r-m-e-n. Solis, S-o-l-i-s. Hyphen, Crowley, C-r-o-w-l-e-y. Should I spell [chair scraping] _____(?)(?)? And Rita, R-i-t-a. Solis, S-o-l-i-s.

EM: Thank you very much. So, where and when were you both born?

CSC: Ma? [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: Mexico. [Speaking in Spanish]

EM: Okay.

CSC: You want when?

EM: Yes.

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: May 4, 1925.

EM: Nice.

CSC: And I was born in Detroit, Michigan, May 24, 1955.

EM: Okay. What neighborhood did you grow up in?

CSC: In Southwest Detroit.

EM: Okay. What attracted you or your family to Detroit?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: Ah! [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Uh-huh.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Do you want me to translate?

EM: Yes, please.

CSC: She’s from Mexico, my dad’s from very southern Texas. They got married in 1952 and came here on the train because there were jobs her at that time.

EM: Alright. What neighborhood did your family settle in? Is it the same one that you were born in?

CSC: Yes.

EM: Okay.

CSC: Southwest Detroit.

EM: Alright. Why did you choose that neighborhood?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Because my dad’s sister lived here with her husband already.

EM: Okay.

CSC: And, so, they basically got married, and she said they’re still on their honeymoon because they never went back.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

EM: [Laughter] That’s cute.

RS: And I come with ten dollars.

CSC: On the train.

RS: On the train. And much love [Laughter].

CSC: They only had ten dollars and a lot of love [Laughter].

EM: What did your parents do for a living?

RS: What?

EM: What did your parents do for a living?

CSC: That was back in Mexico, do you want that?

EM: Sure.

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: I never knew.

CSC: She didn’t know her dad, and her mom was a--[Speaking in Spanish] was a domestic.

EM: Well, then what did your parents do for a living?

CSC: [Laughter] My dad worked at Great Lakes Steel.

EM: Okay.

CSC: And she worked at little factories around Detroit.

RS: _____(?)(?) after one year--come here.

CSC: Yeah, but that’s where you worked. Small factories, yeah.

EM: Okay. Do either of you have any siblings?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Two brothers and two sisters. And I had two sisters and one brother.

EM: Okay. What schools did you go to?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish] She’s not going to remember the school in
Mexico. [Speaking in Spanish]
RS: [Speaking Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking Spanish]

RS: [Speaking Spanish]

CSC: She went to school in Mexico up to the fifth grade. I went to Detroit public schools for kindergarten and then Holy Redeemer for grade school and high school.

EM: Okay. What was your neighborhood like growing up? What was your neighborhood like when you settled there?

CSC: [Speaking Spanish]

RS: [Speaking Spanish]

CSC: Very peaceful.

RS: Yeah. When I settle here I don’t have any car (?)(?). I go to [Spanish], walking [Spanish].

CSC: Do you understand?

RS: Low income (?)(?) when my husband, because everyone knows [Speaking Spanish] for the street, walking and never come back. So the ___(?)(?) where I live.

CSC: So they didn’t have a car, so they used to walk everywhere, downtown, and it was very peaceful and nobody ever bothered anybody. They rode the buses, too, with no problems.

EM: Okay. What was it like when you were growing up?

CSC: I don’t know. It was great. We had a lot of kids in the neighborhood and we played outside. We would go over to Holy Redeemer’s playground, Clark Park. So, there were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, so we had a lot of friends. It was peaceful. It was a great place to grow up.

EM: Did it change at all through the decades?

CSC: It’s changed like any other part of the city. I think this part of Detroit has maybe been a little more stable because there’s still a lot of families here. I mean, it’s seen changes but it’s not as abandoned as other places in the city.

EM: Okay. Are there any stories that you’d like to share from when you first settled in the neighborhood and from you were growing up?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish] West Grand Boulevard? Belle Isle?

RS: Uh-huh. Belle Isle.

CSC: Belle Isle was a place that they used to go to a lot.

RS: [Speaking Spanish]

CSC: When they first got a car, on Sundays they would drive, like, the
horseshoe of West Grand Boulevard because that’s where all the big houses were, so that would kind of be their Sunday drive.
And then, I remember going to Belle Isle a lot, because my mom’s job. They would have a picnic every summer, and they still had canoeing then. It was, you know, it was a lot of fun. It was very family oriented and now it seems like Belle Isle’s becoming a really nice place again to go. It’s always been a nice place and it’s always been a family place--

RS: [Speaking Spanish]

CSC: Yeah. And then, they used to have a Mexican babalu (?)(?) in July, so that was always a big event in the summer. So we’d all go--do you remember the babalu(?)(?) boat? Probably never heard of it? [Laughter] Ask your parents.

RS: [Speaking at the same time] No, you weren’t around when--

EM: [Laughter] No, I haven’t, I’m 18.

CSC: Okay. So, babalu (?)(?) was a boat that went to an amusement park on the Canadian side. And, there was an amusement park, but you’d take a boat on the Detroit River to the island. So, in July, all the time we were growing up, it was a day that was specified Mexican babalu (?)(?), and it was a fundraiser for Holy Trinity Church in Detroit. And, so, there was Mexican food and entertainment.

RS: Señora Cortina (?)(?) [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Mrs. Cortina was a big--she ran one of the Mexican dance groups, and my sisters and I were in the dance group, so it was a big event. They would bring musicians from Mexico, like mariachi. Los Niños de Monterey (?)(?) was one of the groups that would come. It was a mariachi group. It was all younger kids.
So there was entertainment on the boat, Mexican music for dancing on the island, and then we got tickets to go on all the rides.

EM: That’s super cool.

CSC: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

EM: When did they stop doing that?

CSC: I can’t remember when the last Mexican babalu (?)(?) was. Probably, I don’t know, probably in the late sixties, early seventies? Yeah.

EM: [Laughter] I missed it by a lot, then.

CSC: [Laughter] Yeah.

EM: What did you and your friends do for fun?

CSC: For fun? Like I said, we had so many kids. We played at Holy Redeemers at the playground, we played baseball in the alley--very narrow but the telephone poles were our bases, sewer tops were like home base. We would, I grew up learning how to ice skate at Clark Parks, so that was a big thing we used to do. We would walk from the neighborhood that we lived, and it was a few blocks over, I don’t know, five or six blocks. We’d grab our skates after school, and go over to Clark Park, and ice skate.

EM: Nice.

CSC: And then, in the summer time, we could still play outside. We had to be in front of the house, when it, you know, got dark, but we could still play outside, and we played badminton in the street! [Laughter]

EM: Batman, or badminton?

CSC: Badminton.

EM: [Laughter] Okay. That makes a lot more sense

CSC: Yeah, no. Badminton in the street. Of course we had to stop when--but there wasn’t as much traffic on the streets either. And all the games that we used to play, you know, Mother May I, Red Rover, Tag, I don’t know, a lot of those games that I don’t see that many kids playing anymore.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Yeah, so, you know, my sisters and I were in that dance group, so we grew up having practice every Tuesday at Holy Trinity School.

EM: Okay. Did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood, or did you venture around the city? Either of you who wants to answer.

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: I used to go to a lot of dances. They used to have a lot of dances with Mexican music. And some of them were in Luna Pier, no?

RS: Luna Pier.

CSC: They would go to Luna Pier for dances.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: So there was a lot of stuff that happened in the neighborhood for them.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: In downtown. And did I adventure out? You mean when I was younger, or?

EM: Anytime.

CSC: I mean, we had friends, we could go as far as into, like, the Springwells area St. Gabriel’s(?)(?). As we got older we had more friends. But I did go away to school. I went to Ann Arbor to UofM, so I did venture out [Laughter]. It was scary.

RS: And you work in Dairy Queen.

CSC: So, yeah. We worked in the neighborhood. There was a Dairy Queen at Vernier, so that was a place that we worked at.

EM: Alright. I think you might have already answered this one, why did you pick this neighborhood to move to and raise your family?

CSC: Well, she came because of her husband’s, my dad’s, sister and her husband already lived here. I came back after venturing out for a while. When we got married we just settled here and raised our girls in Detroit.

EM: Alright. What was the makeup economically, ethnically, racially, of your neighborhood growing up?

CSC: So that would be for me probably?

EM: So, like, when she first settled and when you were growing up.

CSC: I think there was a [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish] Yeah, there was a pretty good mix. I know growing up we had a lot of, there was Mexicans, there was Irish, there was Maltese, and various others.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Maltese.

RS: Maltese.

CSC: So there was a, and I don’t know, everybody seemed to do okay, economic wise. They either worked for one of the big three or Great Lakes Steel, so I think everybody was pretty much almost an even keel, economic wise.

EM: Okay.

CSC: And when they came there was a lot of job opportunities in the fifties, when they came in 1952. There was, you know, a lot of work at that time that’s why they ended up here.

RS: I go to work and I don’t know nothing. And the man say, the owner say, “ I don’t want you for talk, I want you for work.” [Laughter]

CSC: So, she didn’t understand much English, so, when she went for the interview, the man said he didn’t want her to talk, he just needed someone to work. [Laughter] So she got the job.

EM: Alright.

RS: And he was a chemical doctor [Speaking in Spanish]. And he started the plant, they don’t have nothing, only the machines. And they ask and ask the people they had they ask [Unintelligible] and every time because this a new--

CSC: A new factory.

RS: A new factory.

CSC: That was Duralastic Plastics.

RS: Duralastic Plastic.

CSC: That was the name of the company.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish] The first days, I come with my hands like this, sore. And I don’t know where I put them because my husband don’t want me to work. And I go with a friend. She was going to see the work and the guy hired me with her. [Laughter] And I come, and I have my work, and “you don’t know nothing!”

CSC: My dad didn’t want her to work.

RS: Yeah, and he told me, “you don’t know nothing, where you gonna work?” I don’t know. The man say he don’t want me talking, he want me working.

CSC: So she actually just went with her friend for the interview and they both got hired.

EM: Awesome.

RS: [Speaking in Spanish] and I itching all over, because the plastics.

CSC: They were working with these fine plastics, and there was no masks or gloves then, so she was very itchy? Yeah. She was trying to hide her hands from my dad.

RS: But I still going.

CSC: But she kept working.

RS: Yeah. And he want to go, go back to Texas. And he started about six months [Speaking in Spanish] he say, “Let’s go to Texas.” No, I don’t want to go back, I want to go here, and I want to work and you gonna work and I stay here.

CSC: So they stayed. So you know who wore the pants in the house.

RS: [Laughter]

EM: Right on. Alright.

RS: And I go on vacation every year to Texas, and then I come back. And then I have a rent one house when she was born, and then my mother come live with me, and then I’m gonna buy a house on Fifteen--

CSC: On Fifteenth Street. Fifteen Twenty.

RS: Fifteen Twenty?

CSC: No. Thirteen Twenty.

RS: Thirteen Twenty on--

CSC: No, 1320 Fifteenth Street. That was the address. [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Yeah.

RS: And that was close.

CSC: Yup. So they initially stayed at a--they rented from [Speaking in Spanish].

RS: Yeah.

CSC: It was a lady who had been here for a while, and would rent to people coming. Kind of like a starter. A little room and a bathroom.

RS: [Speaking at the same time] It’s only one, little room, a bedroom and a kitchen.

CSC: But a lot of people stayed there until they got settled in and got jobs, and then they were able to both start working and buy their house.

EM: Nice. Alright. Did you feel comfortable in your neighborhood?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: Yeah.

CSC: Yeah. It was a great neighborhood.

RS: I liked the work and I want a house.

CSC: And she wanted a house. [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: Uh-huh.

CSC: Yeah. There were a lot of friends there, and I have always felt
comfortable here. So, I’ve never felt uncomfortable.

EM: Alright. As the decades progressed, did the makeup of your neighborhood change? If yes, how so?

RS: Ah, yeah, it changed a lot. It changed a lot.

CSC: Yeah?

RS: [Speaking in Spanish] It’s not the same unless, when I come in it’s better, and now--you can go walking in every store and nobody bother you, now you’re--

CSC: Now you’re a little more leery.

RS: Yeah.

CSC: Of going out.

RS: And I still here.

EM: Do you remember a moment when you recognized that change?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS:[Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: The riots.

CSC: The riots. People started moving out. Things changed.

EM: Alright. As the decades progressed has your opinion of the neighborhood changed?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: No, no. Where I live, I know all the [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: She knew her street, so she still felt comfortable even though it has changed, she still felt--

RS: I go to the stores and then [Unintelligible] , I go to the stores and [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Yeah, she did get mugged. Once. After church. [Laughter] And so that made her a little more--a little more leery for a while.

RS: More wary (?)(?)

CSC: But it wasn’t anyone they recognized from the neighborhood, it was outsiders coming in.

RS: Twice, I can remember.

CSC: Actually, twice, yeah. Twice she was.

RS: On Vernier.

CSC: On Vernier, and--

RS: The last time was on Vernier they take ___(?)(?).

CSC: Your chain, yeah.

RS: My chain.

CSC: Her gold--her metal, the [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: Yes.

CSC: So she stopped going out on her own for a while, but then she said she wasn’t going to be a prisoner in her own home, so she just ventured out again. We just told her, “Don’t carry a purse.” You know.

RS: Yeah, you have to be more careful.

CSC: Like everywhere.

EM: What about you?

CSC: So, we moved over a little bit more, so we’re in Corktown. I don’t know if I’ve always felt comfortable, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable coming to visit her over here on Campbell. So, for us living in Corktown, things have really changed. Everybody’s kind of, you know, wants to move into the neighborhood now, so we’ve seen changes. A lot, you know, most for the better, some a little bit--it gets a little crazy, you know, everybody trying, you know, to come in and buy up things, but--We’re still here. I’ve been here my entire life, just about.

RS: And, then, I started to go to my mother’s(?)(?)

CSC: Yeah, she goes to a Senior Center, which is very good for the seniors in Southwest Detroit.

RS: It’s where my mother go.

CSC: My grandmother used to go.

RS: And work. And now I go.

CSC: And now she goes. So there’s a van that picks her up, and she goes to the Senior Center.

RS: And pretty soon, you gonna go too. [Laughter]

CSC: [Laughter] She goes to the Senior Center everyday. The van picks her up and they do exercise, and they play Bingo, they have lunch together. I think it keeps them alert, you know, talking. While we’re still at work it gets her out of the house, amd keeps her moving.

EM: Alright. Have either of you ever thought about leaving the neighborhood?

CSC: No. [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: No. [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: I mean, she moved from Southwest Detroit to Corktown because she lives with us, but she’s still basically in the same area. [Laughter] And she’s like, no where’s she gonna go?

RS: [Laughter] I pass everyday my old house. They pick me up to go to the center(?)(?), and they all the time that they get me from the street I live before--

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: No.

CSC: No. Neither of us have ever really, we’ve never thought about leaving.

EM: Alright. If not, why not?

CSC: Like she said, where would we go? [Laughter]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: I mean, where do you go when you’re 94 and you’re used to this neighborhood?

RS: I like to go to Mexico. You know--

CSC: Just to visit.

RS: To visit. But not stay.

CSC: And we did take her. Two years ago, we took her to go see her family--our family. We were gone for--we took her for like ten days. That was nice for her, but, we’re back. And as far as, I don’t know. Mark and I have lived here since we got married, in Corktown, so I don’t see us going anywhere.Maybe when we retire we’d go somewhere warm for a few weeks, but. Well--

EM: You’d come back.

CSC: We’d come back, yeah.

EM: Alright. What makes your neighborhood unique?

CSC: I think knowing everyone in the neighborhood, you know, we know our neighbors on both sides, we know the people across the street, I can walk around the block--I remember my niece visiting me one time and we went for a walk and I was saying, you know, “hi,” to this person, and that person, and she looked at me and said, “Tia Carmen, you know a lot of people.” I said, “Yeah.” You know? It’s just a neighborly place. [Speaking in Spanish]. And, then, growing up on Campbell, we knew everyone, and even as the neighborhood changed my mom always knew her neighbors. [Speaking in Spanish] And they always helped her out. She had, you know, younger neighbors and they would help her until the house got too big for her and we moved over with us. But it’s always been a friendly neighborhood, [Speaking in Spanish].

RS: Yeah, yeah.

EM:Okay. What does the term neighborhood mean to you?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: It’s nice to know everybody.

CSC: It means knowing people by [Speaking in Spanish]. Being able to, you know, to call on your neighbor if you need something, especially, I think, when you’re older, and just being able to work together to get things--either to get things done to better the neighborhood or, sometimes, getting together to maybe prevent something from happening in the neighborhood that, you know, is maybe moving too fast. So, I think knowing people, just talking to people, and I think that used to happen growing up on Campbell, over by Holy Redeemer, and it happens now, you know, in our neighborhood.

RS: Yeah, [Speaking in Spanish].

CSC: Yeah.

RS: I go and I have a church over there and a church over here. I still go to church at Holy Redeemer.

CSC: Yeah she still comes to church at--

RS: And, sometimes, I go to this side at Holy Trinity.

EM: Okay. If you could do one thing in your neighborhood what would it be, and why?

RS: [Unintelligible]

CSC: Huh? No, no [Speaking in Spanish].

RS: [Speaking in Spanish] [Laughter]

CSC: [Laughter] She said what can she do at her age? I think I would just try to get more people to know their neighbors. Especially younger people walking down the street with their phones. And I have a phone too, and I do texting, but, so many times you’re walking down the street, and people don’t say hello anymore because they’re so busy on their phones, you know?

RS: Yeah, yeah. You think they’re talking with you and they’re talking with--

CSC: They’re talking on the phone. I think we need to maybe, you know, put our electronics down a little bit and say hi to your neighbor because that’s the way you get to know people. So, I don’t know, I think, just making people more aware and trying to communicate more. Again. Verbally.

EM: Alright. Well, I’m out of questions, is there anything either of you can think to add? Any more stories you want to share?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: No, [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

EM: [Laughter] I’ll take both types of things.

CSC: Her two biggest things were the two times she was mugged, but
otherwise [Speaking Spanish]. I mean, it was a peaceful place to grow up.
EM: Okay

RS: No, there’s nothing.

CSC: Just a lot of good memories of us. Like I said, on Campbell we had so many kids that we could, you know, I guess we didn’t really have to have playdates because we had so many kids in the neighborhood. You just walked out your door and the kids were there. I can’t think of anything else.

EM: Alright. Let’s see if I remember how to turn this off.



EM: Alright. This is Rita Solis-Crowley and--

CSC: No.

EM: Right, Rita Solis and Carmen Solis-Crowley, Part two. Alright.

CSC: We just wanted to mention that, me growing up and my mom when she just came here, we could take the Baker bus downtown and go shopping. Go down one side of Woodward and up the other. And there was, of course, Hudson’s, the big store. There was Federals and Winkleman’s.

RS: Sam’s.

CSC: Sam’s, my mom remembers Sam’s, I don’t remember Sam’s. There was People’s(?)(?), Baker’s Shoes, there was a big Kresge, Sanders where we would go. So there was a--it was just great to be--you know, even growing up and I was in high school--go when you needed a prom dress or a homecoming dress, you’d get together with your friends, hop on the Baker bus, and you’d go downtown, and you did your shopping there. So, that’s something that brings back--

RS: [Speaking in Spanish]

CSC: Brings back good memories of what shopping used to be like in downtown Detroit.

EM: Okay. Alright. Anything else?

CSC: [Speaking in Spanish]

RS: No.

CSC: No.

EM: Okay.


Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Southwest, Mexico, Immigration,


“Carmen Solis-Crowley and Rita Solis,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed November 29, 2023,

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