A couple weeks ago, Detroiters united in the Cass Corridor to banish an impish fiend known as the Nain Rouge. Dogs donned sweaters, elaborate costumes and masks disguised identities, men dressed in flashy women’s attire, and the Detroit Party Marching band provided rallying tunes to the assembly of people garbed in red. To any stranger unfamiliar with this eclectic Detroit event who stumbled across the scene, I could only imagine what would have been running through his mind: “Halloween meets Mardi Gras?” “Why do all these people look like little red devils?” “Who are these odd people?” “What kind of strange parade is this?” Almost – not quite a parade, but rather, a march – a march to rid the city of the red dwarf (Nain Rouge) that has plagued the streets since Cadillac’s days in the 1700’s. It is rumored that before doom or a tragic event, the Nain makes an appearance, and doom arrives. Detroiters congregate to drive the dwarf out of the city… until next year.
The Nain’s oration was brief, but powerful. He boasted that he had won… and was going on vacation. That as Detroiters, we had let our city fall, with our mayor in jail and an Emergency Financial Manager right around the corner. We had allowed our city to crumble. And every time we, Detroiters, didn’t pay our taxes, didn’t call the police to report a crime, watched our neighbors plunge into an abysmal socioeconomic state, and stood idly as our parks gathered litter, drugs, and crime, we allowed the Nain to win. And as Detroiters, we failed to step up to our civic responsibilities to our city and our neighbors.
Am I a Detroiter?
So where does being a Detroiter end, and where does it begin? This question had been brewing in my brain for weeks now, and here it was, again, staring at me through the crowd of red-attired people as the Nain’s conclusion reverberated off the Masonic Temple and the crowd applauded, ready to descend to the building’s basement to drink, be merry, and establish camaraderie as fellow city-supporters.
I never considered myself a “Detroiter” until I packed up my mom’s truck in 2007 to move to the city for my higher education. For years I lived/rented in midtown, explored my surroundings, spent my money at local businesses, attended Detroit events, volunteered time and money here and there and strived to be a positive ambassador to the city to all I met. I considered myself a Detroiter.
But when Kwame was recently sentenced, social media erupted with impassioned judgments about the outcome. Many were satisfied, but a few reactions struck a chord that made me pause and think. I saw posts reading that non-Detroiters were not allowed to have an opinion about the situation, and to be a Detroiter, you had to have gone through the school system, have a Detroit address on your state ID, and have city property taxes. To be a Detroiter, working in the city and going to university in the city didn’t count. You couldn’t have an opinion. I couldn’t have an opinion? And I felt the identity I had built as a “Detroiter” shrink away.
Fast forward to the first Sunday after the Vernal Equinox. I’m standing in a crowd of costumes after the Nain completed his speech. I’m not sure how many of these people grew up in the city. There’s no telling who has a Detroit address on their state ID. I have no way of identifying who these people are or what their “Detroit status” is, but I do know that they are all there rallying together as champions of Detroit. But I do it’s a group hoping for better things to come. A group of people who would march in the cold in a city known for ‘blight’ and ‘ruin-porn.’ These are people who call themselves Detroiters, like me. I think it’s a matter of perspective. Because as we marched through the streets, yes, I saw the abandoned structures but I also saw the newly occupied and renovated buildings. The new businesses. The recently-established lofts with its residents waving from their windows, throwing beads down to the marchers. I really don’t think there is a true definition of Detroiter. I am cognizant of Detroit’s problems but from my window I see opportunity and growth. I support the city and will continue to do so despite my residence.
It’s a bizarre event, but Marche du Nain Rouge is a Detroit quirk that makes me want to embrace the city and share it with the world. Does that make me a Detroiter?
P.S. Here’s a great view of the awesome cross-dressers. Love it.