85 percent of the grocery stores in this sprawling industrial city have Arabic-speaking owners.
Two of the largest United Auto Workers Union locals in the country, both in this area, have significant Arabic-speaking memberships.
The neigboring suburb of Dearborn, long regarded as an anti-minority conclave, has so many low-income Arabic speaking residents that it is petitioning the federal government to reclassify them from Caucasian to a "special designation." This would help them receive more federal aid.
When fighting erupts in places like Lebanon, the Arabic-speaking community here can be counted on to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims of the violence.
In short, without anyone planning it, the Detroit area has become the new Lebanon, the new Iraq, the new Mecca - the Middle East of the Middle West.
Of the nearly 2 million Arabic-speaking people in the United States, an estimated 125,000 - the largest single group of Arab descendants and new immigrants in the country - live in metropolitan Detroit.
They can be found in the upper-income neighborhoods of Detroit's east side, or in some of the poor neighborhoods on the west side of the city.
Some, like John (Johnny) Abdoo, a Lebanese Christian, work in the executive suites of the big automobile companies. Others, like the predominantly Moslem Yemeni workers in Dearborn's South End, labor on assembly lines at the Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge Plant, in what they call bilad al-aalah as-sareah, "the land of the fast-moving machine."
Most came seeking some kind of financial success. Many found it. Other became a part of the Detroit area's 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
Many of the Arabic speaking immigrants long to go home again. They spend hours talking about it, dreaming about it. But they don't go.
Instead, they settle in - usually grouping themselves along the same national, religious, regional and kinship lines that marked their lives in the Middle East.
They are a proud people, keenly aware of their differences, reluctantly aware of their similarities. They emboy most of the tensions and emotions that ever contributed to trouble in the Middle East. Many have brought their anger, prejudices and fears with them.
They have also brought their particular beauty, their food, their music, their dance. In Dearborn's South End, for example, Arab immigrants have turned grimy American city streets into a Middle East phantasmagoria.
Arab men trek to the Dearborn mosque for noontime prayers. In the shops, the men talk, argue, bargain in their rapid, staccato language.
Coffeehouses flourish in the poor and working class Arabic speaking neighborhoods, especially in Dearborn. They are places to wait for word of a job. if you work, they are places to stop before going home to one of the crowded tenements near the automobile plants.
The coffeehouse is the man's domain. He will sit there for long hours sipping a thick, black, pungent Turkish brew from demitasse cups. Women appear infrequently - in the coffeehouses, the shops, anywhere in public.
Arabic speaking people began coming to the Detroit area in 1890, lured by the promise of social and financial stability. Most of the early settlers were Lebanese Maronites, a Catholic Eastern rite group. Their initial success in setting up small businesses, combined with the availability of work in the rapidly growing automobile industry helped attract larger and more varied groups of Arab immigrants to Detroit.
Another major force behind the migration has been war. In recent times particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, the revolutions in North and South Yemen and the current fighting in Lebanon have swelled the immigrant flow.
Many of them fight a different battle here.
Traditional native minorities and working class whites frequently grumble that the "rich Arabs" are taking their jobs. Many blacks in Detroit's inner city can be heard complaining about the "Arab stores" in much the same way they complained about the "Jew-boy stores" that preceded them. In the 1967 Detroit riots, many stores belonging to Arabic speaking owners were burned.
Some unkind epithets are applied to the Arabic speaking immigrants by blacks and whites. "Desert niggers," "porch monkeys" and "camel jockeys" are the most common.
Some of the immigrants return the taunts. Listen carefully in one of the coffeehouses and you might hear the term abid, "slave," applied to a black. "Zionist" seems to cover any white who is in disfavor.
Detriot officials say it is difficult to determine exactly what portion of the city's 1.3 million population is made up of Arabic speaking people, because of the constant stream of new Arab immigrants into and out of the city.
"Some of them, though we think its a very small number, may be coming in illegally," said one aide to Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. "Others come on work and student visas. Others stay in Detroit for a little while before moving in with friends and relatives in one of the suburbs, or before going somewhere else in the country," the aide said.
Dearborn officials, however, seem to keep better tabs on their Arabic speaking population, which they say accounts for nearly 13 per cent of
"We're getting an influx of Arabic speaking immigrants and we're really beginning to feel it in areas like employment and housing," said Nick Thomas, Dearborn's development director.
"A lot of them come seeking their brethren, and looking for jobs in the automobile factories. many find their brethren, but not all of them find jobs," he said.
About 25 percent of Dearborn's Arabic speaking population is unemployed. Thomas said they have "a lot of problems and needs that are difficult to handle because, by Census Bureau standards, they are classified as Caucasian."
"To be quite frank with you" he continued, "a lot of them like to be classified that way. But the way things work with federal funding, we would have a much better chance of helping them if we could change their classification."
Thomas said he and local Arabic speaking leaders want the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to "at least give a special designation to first generation Arab immigrants" who have language, employment, housing and other "adjustment" problems.
"That's what they did for the Vietnamese. We think they should do the same thing for our Arabic speaking friends," he said.
But many of the Arabic speaking immigrants are too proud to take any help.
"They would much prefer to depend on one another," said Nabeel Abraham, a Palestinian and Arabic studies specialist at Wayne County Community College.
"If one is working, he is expected to help his friends or relatives until they can find work . . . A lot of them, like the Yemenis, would go without a lot of things you and I wouldn't go without just so they can save money and sent it back home. For many of them, that is their main purpose for being here," he said.
That same interdependence paid off handsomely for Detroit's Chaldean immigrants, Roman catholics from Iraq. When the big chain stores began moving out of the inner city in pursuit of the suburban dollar, Chaldean family groups moved in to fill the void. They now control about 85 percent of Detroit's grocery stores.
The Chaldeans' grip on the city's stores has been a sore spot for many Detroit blacks, who complained that they were prevented from taking over the stores, while the new immigrants were given a chance.
However, a 1976 study by the Detroit Urban League showed that the intense family cooperation among the Chaldeans contributed to their success more than anything else.
"We found that the Chaldeans didn't have the same problems that hurt blacks who tried to take over the stores," said Winston Lang, deputy director of the Detroit league.
"The Chaldeans hired their sisters and brothers and other relatives who were willing to work long hours for little or no pay. They didn't have salary or labor problems, and they used the money they saved to invest in other stores," Lang said.
He said blacks generally "couldn't" find family members who were willing to put in that much time for that little money."
On another front, the large number of Arabic speaking people in this area has prompted speculation that, one day, they may be able to wield significant local political power. But Abraham and many others believe that day is a long way off.
"At this stage, Arab influence and social prestige in the Detroit area is at an individual level," he said. "There are some organized attempts to try to bring things together, but, at the moment, there are still too many divisions. Besides that, most of the [Arabic speaking] people here are too busy trying to build an economic foothold to be involved in local politics," Abraham said.
Many here will also tell you that fear of losing jobs is one of the main reasons Arab immigrants constitute a substantial "silent minority" in UAW Local No. 600, where they account for nearly 3,000 of the local's 31,000 active members, and in UAW Local No. 3, which has an estimated 4,000 Arabic speaking people among its 12,000 members.
"A lot of them won't push for their rights because they come from countries where you just didn't do that kind of thing," said Helen Atwell, a second generation Lebanese Moslem and community activist in Dearborn's South End. "They don't understand how things are supposed to work in America," she said.
many, however, do understand. Generally they are Christians of various sects, many of whom, like the Lebanese Maronites, got an earlier start here than did their fellow Arabic speaking immigrants. The Christians tend to be more "westernized" than their Moslem contemports. They can be found in significant numbers in nearly every profession and business in metropolitan Detroit.
The area also has about 500 Egyptians, most of whom started coming after 1967 war. They are the "brain drain" group - doctors, lawyers and engineers who say they could no longer develop their talents in the political instability of the Middle East.
It is safe to say that the successful group is where nearly all of the Arabic speaking immigrants here want to be. Even the Yemenis, long regarded as the "bottom" of the Arabic speaking population are beginning to show signs of upward mobility.
Many Yemeni men, who were accustomed to living in crowded, all-male quarters to save money to help their families back home, are beginning to bring their wives and children here. Many who never bothered to learn English because they had no intention of remaining in the United States are now taking English and other courses at Wayne County Community College. They are putting down new roots.
"It was bound to happen, said Dr. Abdulmunim Shakir, a first generation immigrant from Egypt who is setting up a Moslem world studies program at the community college.
"These people are like any other," he said of the Yemenis. "Once they get a hold on the ladder, they start to climb."
Staff researcher Valarie Thomas contributed to this article.