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The Enduring—and Enterprising—Heritage of Detroit’s Mexicantown

We are shining a spotlight on Detroit's nearly 100-year-old Mexicantown neighborhood, where residents and entrepreneurs who trace their roots to Mexico and other parts of Latin America have kept culture and small business alive and well through the city's highs and lows.

 

(Top: Mural by Mexican-American artist Victor "Marka27" Quiñones; photo by Erik Howard, courtesy Detroit Metro Times)

Southwest Detroit’s Mexicantown has been percolating ever since the 1920s, when immigrants from the Mexican state of Jalisco first began settling there to take advantage of the city’s abundant industrial jobs. Mexicantown has been a center of culture and entrepreneurship, and home to a robust community, ever since—even when the rest of the city’s population was dwindling. Today, a new Main Street designation, and recent grant support from LISC, are sparking beatification and business development for the neighborhood that, in spite of its vitality, has struggled economically.

Myrna Segura, center, with Guadalupe Saenz (left), former owner of Lupita's Ideal Beauty Lounge, and artist Elton Monroy-Duran, who painted the mural on the business as part of an $8,500 facade improvement. Saenz retired last year, and the new owner, Bertha Jimenez, is maintaining the mural and making further improvements to the salon interior.
Myrna Segura, center, with Guadalupe Saenz (left), former owner of Lupita's Ideal Beauty Lounge, and artist Elton Monroy-Duran, who painted the mural on the business as part of an $8,500 facade improvement. Saenz retired last year, and the new owner, Bertha Jimenez, is maintaining the mural and making further improvements to the salon interior.

Myrna Segura, who immigrated from Reynosa, Mexico, on the Texas border, to Detroit more than 20 years ago, has a hard time naming her number one among the restaurants, food markets, gift shops, salons and other businesses that make up Mexicantown’s diverse commercial corridor. “It’s not a good idea for me to choose favorites,” says the director of business district development at the Southwest Detroit Business Association, laughing. For nearly two decades, she has helped local entrepreneurs improve their facades, write business plans, market themselves and build community.

As part of the district’s reactivation, “we’re helping small businesses and other community people construct a common vision and a strategic plan for using the space we have,” said Segura. She gives the credit for Mexicantown’s progress to the business owners and others who will spearhead mural painting (already an impressive feature of the neighborhood), planting flowers and trees, supporting the construction of a greenway and much more.

A Cinco de Mayo celebration moves up the W. Vernor Street corridor of Mexicantown last year.
A Cinco de Mayo celebration moves up the W. Vernor Street corridor of Mexicantown last year.

She also points to help from partners like the state of Michigan and LISC (which has invested well over $30 million in Southwest Detroit). But her role as a connector, involving hundreds of one-on-one conversations with merchants and others, is invaluable to the success of the enterprises that make Mexicantown the hub that it is.

“The work here really is a grass roots movement,” says Segura, adding that she “fell in love” with community economic development because it involves everything from design and branding to forging relationships with entrepreneurs. “We’re trying to strengthen what we have here, lift up the cultural background of the area and welcome newcomers, too. We also want to educate people about the history of Mexicantown and honor what people have been doing here for a long time.”