[Marxism] Built in Detroit: The Cadillac Brougham and Poetry

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Apr 13 11:08:00 MDT 2005

Built in Detroit: The Cadillac Brougham and Poetry

Lolita Hernandez	
Book Review by Elisa Gurulé
Special to The Michigan Citizen

"Autopsy of an Engine and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant"
By Lolita Hernandez 
Coffeehouse Press, 2004

Detroit has long been known — by those in the know — for being home to a
sophisticated and vibrant culture of writers, artists and musicians. There
are a million reasons for this, and many of them have to do with the auto
industry. Partly because the auto industry allowed a standard of living that
was just a little bit higher than everyone else’s and also because the
industry itself was a muse for so many. The phenomenon brought people from
all points to Detroit providing its workers with a rich stew from which to
dip for inspiration and material. 

Diego Rivera, the most famous of all the Mexican muralists, came to do a
fresco at the Institute of Arts in the 1930s, a beautiful and terrible
testament to life inside the Ford plant. Black people came from the South to
work. Mexican people came to work along with Maltese people, Hungarians,
Armenians and Poles. They all came to Detroit, the Promised Land, to work in
the auto industry. Hardly a Detroiter, with roots in the city does not have
some connection to one or all of the Big Three. Everybody had a grandfather,
uncle, cousin, auntie, mother, sister or brother that worked on the line.

The auto industry, though, was not as sustainable as everyone thought. The
industrial bubble could not float forever and in the 1980s, it became
painfully clear that things were not going to continue. The closing of the
Cadillac plant was the clearest illustration of the humbling of the American
Dream. The Cadillac plant closed. The Cadillac was everything that America
boasted about. It was big, strong, beautiful, and best of all — built in

Lolita Hernandez worked in the Cadillac plant for twenty-one years. She
watched and listened and participated in life at the Cadillac plant just
like anyone else. But Hernandez has written the most moving love letter to
that life, in the form of her debut book, “Autopsy of an Engine and Other
Stories from the Cadillac Plant.” Filled with the sounds, smells and
personalities of the Clark Street monolith, the twelve stories are not only
thrilling and poignant for the histories that they present, but for the
virtuosity of the writing. 

Hernandez has been reading poetry in and around Detroit for the last 30
years. She is talented and enjoyable. Her book, though, is incredible. 

While factory work has long been considered dehumanizing and repetitive, in
her hands, it hums not just with life but also life-force. In the story
“Thanks to Abbie Wilson,” the reader feels the grief and lost sense of
purpose that propels the title character to bake cakes for her former
co-workers, leaving them around the abandoned workshop. 

“The Last Car,” which is about just that, illustrates the extraordinary
sense of family and pride that went into building Eldorados, Sevilles and
Fleetwoods, until the very end when the last Fleetwood Brougham rolled off
the line in 1987. That last Fleetwood was to be given away to someone who
worked in that plant; there was a raffle. People dressed in suits, silk
blouses, skirts and heels to mark the day. Workers wore black armbands.
There had, indeed, been a death in the family — that big, strong, beautiful,
built-in-Detroit Cadillac.


Lolita Hernandez

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