In a diplomatic snub, reflections of a distant relationship

Tack Yong Kim had just finished an interview at a Detroit television station in fall 2011 when he received a call from an unexpected source – the South Korean consul general in Chicago.

Kim, the editor and owner of the Michigan Korean weekly newspaper, was surprised to hear the consul’s request: Did he have an in with the Detroit mayor’s office? Because the consul wasn’t getting anywhere on her own.

The consulate was trying to arrange a visit to Detroit, and a meeting with then-Mayor Dave Bing, for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who wanted to visit a General Motors plant. The consulate was being discreet in revealing who, exactly, would be coming, Kim said, but told the mayor’s office “someone very important” would be visiting Detroit, and Myung-bak was in Washington D.C. at the time.

“They were told the mayor didn’t have time,” Kim recalled. “They gave her to the deputy mayor.”

As diplomatic missteps go, it fell short of causing an international incident. Myung-bak ended up meeting with Bing, in the company of his host in the nation’s capital – Barack Obama. But it took the White House to make it happen.

To Kim, the story underlines the lack of affection between Asians and Detroit.

While Kim said the Korean-American community has not had bad relations with the city, he is not surprised that most Asian immigrants choose to settle in the city’s suburbs rather than on the other side of Eight Mile Road.

“(Asian) people coming here are well-to-do. They’re not coming to Detroit to live, that’s for sure,” Kim said.

Michigan’s single largest foreign-born population group is Asians, according to U.S. Census data, and it includes everyone from Chinese students enrolled at the state’s colleges and universities to Indian-born auto engineers living in suburban four-bedroom houses in Troy. It’s the reason Michigan’s immigrant populations are better-educated and better-off than its natives. And like most well-educated, middle-class southeast Michigan residents, they choose the safety and security and good public schools of suburban Detroit.

The western suburbs and exurbs form a sort of Asian crescent that runs through Oakland, Livingston and Washtenaw counties. Indians abound in Troy, Farmington Hills, Rochester Hills and West Bloomfield; Chinese in Canton, Troy and Ann Arbor. Large numbers of Japanese support sushi and specialty markets in Novi, and Koreans thrive in Farmington Hills, Novi, Troy and elsewhere.

Kim doesn’t consider Asians hostile to Detroit, but believes some specific initiatives would have to take place to lure them there.

“My suggestion is, we need to put aside some land for an industrial park, so we can bring Asian companies to build their factories and hire the local people,” he said. “Maybe build a new Chinatown.”

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Tue, 06/17/2014 - 8:28am
The Asians are not uninformed, Detroit has a reputation for being a poverty stricken crime ridden hell hole, why would they want to live there?
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 3:10pm
Just another opportunity to kick Detroit. No one will deny the city is currently working through a plethora of issue with the bankruptcy being the largest. However, there is a ton of innovation taking place within the city limits and GM is leading the country is patents granted for Clean Tech. Detroit remains the automotive capital of the world. The automobile is the most complex, high tech product on the market today. The auto is conceptualized, designed, proto-typed, built (22% production Michigan) here. USA Today recently named the city one of 10 up an coming neighborhoods around the country. Young professionals are moving into the city at an alarming rate, occupancy rates in the midtown and downtown area are at 98%, because their is opportunity here and their voice can be heard and they can make an impact. Since 2006, Downtown Detroit has seen more than $12 billion in development and more than 13,000 new jobs have been created. It's not all bad news Detroit. Mayor Duggan's Every Neighborhood has a Future plan is addressing blight and 1,000s of properties have moved to the land bank and are being auctioned for rehab which must be within 6 to 9 months or they revert back to the land bank. Crime is in every city, at least Detroit is willing to report their statistics to the FBI unlike Chicago and Miami. Maybe one should keep an open mind and not take every opportunity put in front of them to spew garbage.
Mike R
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 11:02am
I'm an advocate of attracting immigrants to SE Michigan, particularly educated, ambitious, entreprenuerial ones. But "build a new Chinatown"? Really?? So, in other words, in order to draw "Asians" (itself an ambiguous term that attempts to lump an enormous range of ethnicities into one all-purpose moniker) to our area, we should build an enclave so they can live apart from everyone else? If someone were to suggest building a separate area for African immigrants we would all recognize it for the ludicrously racist, xenophobic garbage it is. But Mr. Kim's suggestion for a "Chinatown" built at public expense gets quoted in the press as a potential solution. And what about South Asians, i.e. people from India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, etc.? Do we build them an "India Town"?? I appreciate Mr. Kim's motives in attempting to address the concerns of many immigrants, but his "thinking out loud" does nothing to dispel the negative stereotypes on both sides that hamper legitimate attempts to draw others to this area.
Mike R
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 11:04am
My apologies for misspelling "entrepreneurial".
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 8:31pm
It is surprising how little people look at history, the patterns of how immgrants form commuties are the same as they were a century ago. People gravitate to where they are most comforatble, where they have more understanding of those in the community, where they can recieve the services/foods they are comfortable with. Whether it is here or anywhere else in America, look where there our other Asian communities, the Vietnamese live, the Laostians live, where the Norwegians established themselves, then ask why. It isn't the geographic location, it is the people and how they support each other. As for the political snub, Bing's may have been due ignorance, but Blanchard's with the encouragement of the UAW purposely snub the Asian car makes discouraging their moving to Michigan and the development of the Asian communities they would have created. Politician have a history of being preoccupied with the votes in front of them and not seeing the whole of the communities and the future.