Unexpected Ways to Connect with Michigan’s BIPOC Roots

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Photo provided by Pure Michigan

Photo provided by Pure Michigan

Pure Michigan

If you’re looking for ways to connect with BIPOC culture, don’t overlook Michigan. The state is home to a number of standout Latine and African American cultural centers and events and has a rich history deeply rooted in Black and Brown culture. 

Following the Industrial Revolution, Detroit held the promise of an overabundance of new jobs in the automotive industry, which led many people to move there from Mexico. Today, celebrations like Festival Mexicana and the Hispanic Festival highlight the art, food, and traditions of Mexican Latin American culture in the state.

African American culture has also greatly influenced the Mitten State’s history. Detroit was not only part of the Underground Railroad, it is also the birthplace and home of Motown music. Along the northwestern shore, you’ll find Idlewild, a resort once called “Black Eden,” where many notable Black Americans resided until the 1960’s. Plus, Black Detroiters created Detroit techno music in the 1980s, a genre inspired by Afrofuturism. There are museums across the city dedicated to some of these legacies! 

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Photo provided by Pure Michigan

Whether you like museums, festivals, or strolling around a new neighborhood, Michigan has plenty of ways to connect with, learn from, and celebrate BIPOC history and culture. If you’re heading to the Great Lakes State, here are a few must-see cultural arts attractions in the storied cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids, and the capital of Lansing.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Named for the late Dr. Charles Wright, an African American OB/GYN who founded the museum in the 1960s, The Wright (as it’s called) celebrates Black history and culture. 

Located in the Midtown Cultural Center of Detroit, the sprawling museum houses an impressive collection of more than 30,000 artifacts tied to black History, including 

immersive exhibits that depict African American history, from its roots in Africa, the journey of the Middle Passage to the fight for emancipation and beyond. There are also rotating art exhibits featuring the work of contemporary African American artists like Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Currently on exhibit is bi-coastal artist Adreinne Waheed’s “The Audacity to Thrive,” a photography collection that celebrates African Americans’ ability to thrive in the face of adversity. 

Budget at least a few hours at The Wright because there’s plenty to see here!

Address: 315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 | Phone: (313) 494-5800 | Website: www.thewright.org

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Detroit’s Mexicantown

A quick ten-minute drive from The Wright Museum, you’ll find Detroit’s Mexicantown. This immigrant community became a safe haven in the 1920s, 70s, and 80s for Mexican migrants who traveled north from Jalisco searching for industrial jobs. Today, the area’s cultural ties to Mexico and Latin America remain strong as the neighborhood is home to many art installations, churches, and restaurants, including Mexican Village—Detroit’s oldest Mexican restaurant. You’ll also find delicious Salvadorian and Venezuelan cuisine in this part of the city. 

Address: 2600 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48216 | Phone: (313) 237-0333 | Website: https://www.mexicanvillagefood.com/

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Credit: Alamy

Detroit Institute of Arts

For art lovers, The Detroit Institute of Arts is a must-see. With more than 65,000 works on display, it’s one of the largest collections in the United States. 

One of the museum’s main attractions—the “Detroit Industry Murals”—was created by a Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, whose work is displayed throughout the museum. The 27-piece installation explores the duality of humanity, technology, and nature by depicting opposing elements like air and water or death and life. 

On exhibit now are exciting collections on Japanese Friendship Dolls and the history of Black Cinema, but regardless of when you visit, you’ll always have access to a wealth of diverse, multicultural works through the museum’s impressive permanent collection, which prominently features the work of BIPOC artists.  

Address: 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202 | Phone: (313) 833-7900 | Website: dia.org

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Motown Museum

It should go without saying that when in Michigan, visiting the Motown Museum is a must! 

Founded by Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister of music mastermind and Motown Records founder, Berry Gordy, the Motown Museum is located at the site of the original Motown Records’ recording studio — “Hittsville USA,” where songs like The Temptations “My Girl” and Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” were recorded. During the early days of Motown Records, the top floor was Berry Gordy’s apartment and is now on display as part of the museum tour for visitors. In addition to showcasing this historical space, the museum features artifacts, photos, costumes, and more. 

What’s more, they’re currently working on an expansion that will grow the museum to a 50,000-square foot campus with interactive exhibits, a recording studio, a performance theater, and a café.

Address: 2648 Berry Gordy Jr. Boulevard, 2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208 | Phone: (313) 875-2264 | Website: www.motownmuseum.org

Grand Rapids’ Festival Hispano

On the other side of Michigan, you’ll find the city of Grand Rapids, which hosts an annual Festival Hispano. This three-day summertime event is hosted by the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. It’s the ultimate celebration of Hispanic culture, complete with food, dancing, music, and vendors. You’ll also find soccer, salsa dancing, mariachi bands, and more!

Address: Calder Plaza, 300 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 | Phone: (313) 494-5800 | Website: www.hispanic-center.org

Michigan State University’s Latinx Film Festival

Between Detroit and Grand Rapids is East Lansing, Michigan. This city is home to an amazing Latinx Film Festival hosted by Michigan State University. The four-day event showcases independent films from Latin America, Spain, and the United States that aren’t readily available elsewhere. Attending this event is sure to inspire reflection and thought-provoking discussion on Latine society, politics, community, and culture. Bonus: You’ll likely make some new friends too! 

Address: 619 Red Cedar Rd, East Lansing, MI 48824 | Phone: (517) 355-1855 | Website: msulatinxfilmfestival.com

This is just a glimpse of all the fun and unexpected ways to connect with Michigan’s BIPOC roots. Whether you’re into festivals or a lover of the arts, a cultural trip to Michigan makes for a memorable experience that’s sure to be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Check out the Pure Michigan website for fresh ideas to make the most of your time in the Mitten state. 

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