Ypsi Immigration Interview: Alexandra Sarkozy

A former Ypsilanti resident, who, the last I heard, had gotten married and run off to become a farmer in Hawaii, sent me a short, cryptic message a few weeks back, suggesting that I look up a friend of his who just moved to Ypsilanti, and interview her as part of our Ypsi Immigration Interview series. All he told me about her was that she was a “smart, creative and cool” medical librarian, who had recently moved back to Michigan from Brooklyn… Here’s the interview.

MARK: What’s your name?

ALEXANDRA: My name is Alexandra Sarkozy.

MARK: When did you first hear of Ypsilant? And what did you hear about it?

ALEXANDRA: I first heard of Ypsilanti when I was a toddler; we used to pass it on the highway when my family would make trips to Dearborn from Kalamazoo to visit grandparents and aunts and uncles on a regular basis. I first started spending time in Ypsilanti when I started graduate school at U of M in 1999. I had heard that Ypsi was rougher than Ann Arbor, but I always liked the more laid-back vibe and the lack of pretension.

MARK: Why did you decide to move to Ypsilanti?

ALEXANDRA: I decided to move to Ypsilanti about two years ago. I had been living in New York City for a few years, and while I wasn’t ready to leave yet, I always had Ypsilanti on my radar. I wanted to live in a house with a yard, where I could grow a garden and have space to do crafts and hobbies, both of which were very difficult to do on any scale in NYC given the small size of apartments and community gardens. I had maintained relationships with friends in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, and my family lives in Kalamazoo, and I realized that I wanted to be closer to home. I was also looking for a community with a downtown that was walkable, had architectural character, interesting people, and had public transportation. I like that Ypsilanti is a small town with a slower pace of life, and is more affordable than Ann Arbor. I like that Depot Town does not feel like the suburbs- everyone I’ve met has been welcoming, friendly and most folks are progressively-minded. When I saw a job opportunity come up in this area last year, I applied for it, interviewed, and got the job. I then moved to Ann Arbor last April, and to Ypsilanti in June.

MARK: Do you think that it was a good decision?

ALEXANDRA: I definitely think it was a good decision! While I’m still getting established, I have been very happy here so far- Ypsi has so much to offer- a farmer’s market, local watering holes, restaurants, the food co-op, a local music scene, EMU, downtown and Depot Town shops- I enjoy all of them. I’ve made new friends, am continuing to learn about the town and area, and am happy with the move.

MARK: Have you read any of my other interviews with people either moving to or from Ypsi and if so did anything either resonate with you or give you cause for concern?

ALEXANDRA: None of them gave me cause for concern; I knew the basics about Ypsi’s economic situation before I moved here. It’s exciting to read the interviews with new folks in town, and bittersweet to see community members leave. I’m happy to see people grow, but sometimes that means a geographic move.

MARK: Having been here for a little while now what have you learned about Ypsi either good or bad? Anything unexpected?

ALEXANDRA: I’ve learned more about the character of the town, its makeup as well as little niches like motorcycles and vintage cars and beer fest, its history, as well as seeing more clearly Ypsilanti’s relationship to both Ann Arbor and the greater Detroit area. I still feel very new and I have plenty more to learn! I want to spend some serious time in the Ypsilanti Historical Society’s collections to learn even more. I didn’t expect my neighbors to be as nice and cool and helpful as they are.

MARK: What do you miss about New York?

ALEXANDRA: The wonderful friends I made there. Chavella’s. Unnameable Books. Issue Project Room. Anthology Film Archives. Prospect Park. The uptown 4 train. just kidding.

MARK: What kinds of local businesses would you like to see here that don’t currently exist?

ALEXANDRA: I’d like to see a home and garden store that sold plants and garden supplies. An Indian restaurant. I’d like to see a hacker space. A tool library. I shop mostly at thrift stores, and there are some nice ones around. A bookstore that specialized in small presses. What I’d like to see, while not necessarily businesses, are more “third spaces” and community groups and spaces where people can come together, learn from each other, share resources- physical and otherwise, build capacity, and build community. I think those really provide the most value, especially in a town like Ypsi that doesn’t have much disposable income yet still has great human resources and knowledge to share. I’d like to see more of that, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that in Ypsi. I’m thinking about spaces like the public library (which is awesome) and the transition town movement and Growing Hope, which all bring tremendous value, though not always in dollar terms, to Ypsi and the surrounding area.

MARK: How would you describe Ypsi to a friend.

ALEXANDRA: Victorian era/turn-of-the-last-century architecture, having economically tough times, with tons of opportunity to redevelop in a sustainable manner. Full of interesting people. Sometimes I feel like I’ve gone back in time, in the best possible way.

And, for those of you who are interested, Brooklyn’s Chavella’s, apparently isn’t anything like our Cabela’s.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I need an Ypsi Immigration Interview graphic that I can use each time I run one of these… Any ideas?

  2. Erika
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.

    http://colorlines.com/archival_images/immigration_flattery_032210.jpg

    http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/wp-content/uploads/in_praise_of_flattery.jpg

  3. Edward
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I find it incredibly heartening to hear stories of young, energetic, community-minded people making a conscience choice to become Ypsilantians.

    Welcome to the neighborhood, Alexandra.

  4. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Issue project room is a great place. My friend James had a residency there this year, and his project was an improvisational opera based on Naked Lunch. I can’t wait to visit again.

    Meanwhile, welcome to Ypsilanti!

  5. anonymous
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    For those of you unaware of Issue Project Room, details can be found here.

    http://www.issueprojectroom.org/about/

  6. Kerri
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    This is fantastic! Alexandra has been our friend for years and I’m so happy she moved here. It’s been wonderful to see her build her “Ypsilanti shanty” homestead and to see our town from her perspective. People who hang on to a grass-is-always-greener mentality about other cities need to sit down and talk with her. Mark, I’d actually been meaning to suggest that you interview her, so it’s great that this happened. Welcome back home, Alexandra!

  7. Eel
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    A home and garden store would be awesome.

  8. Andy C
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I met two fellas on the Bike Ypsi Sunday ride a while back who were both new to Ypsi. Both came up from Ohio and have never met before that day.
    I also played a show in Milwaukee a few weeks ago and met another fella at the show who said he had friends at the Ugly Mug and planned to migrate here in the Spring by bicycle.
    I think more people might be migrating here than we know.

  9. Mr. X
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    What about something like an annual city-wide event for new people? It could be really simple. It could just be a big party, where new people get special name badges, identifying them as new. Or, it could be bigger, with representatives from the schools, local clubs, the library, community gardens, police force, city government, all setting up tables.

    As for some kind of “Ypsi Immigration Interview” graphic, how about a dust bowl, Grapes of Wrath-era photo of tired, beaten-up people, all hunched over, in black and white, standing one step away from the glorious world of color that is Ypsilanti? Kind of like in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy steps out of her witch-killing Kansas home, into Oz.

  10. Andy C
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    How about a hitchhikers hand out with the water tower where the thumb should be?

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