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Dingell keeps Paczki tradition alive in her new Congressional district

Paczki delivered to the WEMU studio from the office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Paczki delivered to the WEMU studio from the office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU and it is Paczki Day around these parts. Are you planning on indulging? I'm David Fair, and for the uninitiated, Paczkis are traditional Fat Tuesday snacks that originated in Poland. But it has a rich history and tradition with strong roots right here in Michigan. Now, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and Packzi Day--Fat Tuesday--is the official beginning of the day before Lent. That makes today Fat Tuesday. And here at WEMU, we love to celebrate anytime we can with the very best of music. And we have an affinity for the jazz and blues of New Orleans. As such, today is a one day pop-up Mardi Gras fundraiser. Now, I was today years old when I learned that Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. Where have I been? All of your favorite Mardi Gras sounds are coming up between ten this morning and four this afternoon on WEMU. And, by 4 p.m., we aim to raise $15,000 for your community NPR station. Make a donation now at WEMU, and let the good times roll. Now, meantime, I want to share with you the source of our first Packzis of the day. Every year, area media outlets are gifted a box of these delicious treats from Congresswoman Debbie Dingell--WEMU included. The sixth District Democrat from Ann Arbor is on the other end of the WEMU news line. And, Representative Dingell, on behalf of a grateful fundraising staff, we thank you for our 2023 Packzi supply.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell
Michigan House Democrats
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

Debbie Dingell: David, happy Packzi day.

David Fair: Well, what made you decide to launch into this annual tradition of sharing Packzis with area media?

Debbie Dingell: First of all, I married into it. John Dingell started it decades ago. His grandfather came over from Poland. He was of Polish descent, went into Poland many times. Then he started doing this...I don't know how many decades ago, before I married him. So, it was more than four decades ago. And rituals and traditions matter. There's something to tie generations together. So, I decided to continue it because we do need to remember where we come from, how much we share with each other, and share those cultural traditions.

David Fair: Well, we have some great local institutions here in Washtenaw County offering up these sweet treats every year. Dom's Bakery, Washtenaw Dairy, among others. There are some Michigan traditionalists, though, who are willing to take the drive to Hamtramck every year and stand in line and await their turn. Many consider that the home of the Michigan Packzi. So, that used to be a part of your congressional district and wasn't far from your former home in Dearborn. So, do you feel a particular connection there?

Debbie Dingell: Well, jumping the love tantrum. It was a celebration of Polish roots and traditions for years. I can't tell you how many times we did the Labor Day parade and other things. So, you know, you hang on to things that meant a lot that celebrate where you've come from, but you also look to the future. So, I love Hamtramck. I love going to the bakeries, quite frankly. I pick up my Paczkis early, so I'm not there in line, although I hear they're moving fast today. I think what's important is the thought, the concept, the ritual, and the tradition that we do pass on from generation to generation, and that ties us together.

David Fair: You are listening to Morning Edition on 89 one WEMU. And I'm David Fair. This is WEMU's annual Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday fundraising celebration and all the Mardi Gras music you want begins with Michael Jewett at 10 this morning. And, by 4 this afternoon, with your help, we're going to raise $15,000 for programs and operations here at WEMU. Now, while we talk with sixth district congresswoman Debbie Dingell this morning, you get the ball rolling with a donation at WEMU dot org. Up until January of this year, Representative Dingell, you were the 12th District Congressional Representative. Redistricting shifted the boundaries, and it now incorporates all of Washtenaw County. And, with those new lines in mind and you talk about building towards the future, but with tradition in mind, you made the decision to move from your longtime home in Dearborn to Ann Arbor. What have you learned about your new district so far?

Debbie Dingell: Well, I knew much of my new district is much of my old district. More than two thirds of it is the old district. And I'm so glad I still have that downriver. I love western Wayne, Canton, Plymouth, Washtenaw, and I even have part of Novi. And many of the people there come from rich, traditional, different cultural backgrounds in their communities that celebrate traditions, that celebrate where they've come from. They invite community in on their holidays. And I love that part of it. So, that's been fun. I've been in western Washtenaw much of my congressional career because it is so close to what I was representing. But, you know, it's more agricultural. I love going to the Dexter farm because it really keeps you in touch with what people are saying, the different farmers' markets, the different traditions. I love all of the different celebrations. All the communities have: the ice sculptures, etc. So, I'm getting to know people. I'm listening to people. And I'm celebrating their customs, rituals, and traditions.

David Fair: Another change since January is that you were no longer a part of the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans took over with wins in November. How was that changed the way you have to go about the business of governance?

Debbie Dingell: So, for me, David, I always operate the same way. I work across the aisle. I go over every time we're in session, talk to my Republicans, check in with my Republicans. There are things I think that we need to get done. I don't think many of the issues that I care about from making sure we don't have lead and water, long-term care, protecting the auto industry are political issues. I mean, we may disagree in our approach, but these are things that we have to do, period, and as Americans. So, while I don't love not being in the majority, I'm very close to the chair of both of my committees, both Republicans, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ruth Westerman. And we have had discussions on how do we get things done. We got to work together to get things done. That's my approach, and that's what I'm going to do.

David Fair: Now, I want to be mindful that, as we speak today, we collectively continue to grieve with and for the Michigan State University community in the wake of last week's mass shooting that killed three and wounded five others. This is an incident that came just less than a year and a half after the school shooting in the Oxford School District in Oakland County and adds to the growing number of such shootings around the country. Even when Democrats were in full control in Washington, Congress failed to pass meaningful gun reform law. Should we assume any efforts to do so now are futile?

Debbie Dingell: If you assume that something is futile, it will never get done. You know, I had hoped Parkland was horrific. I could go back to the numerous shootings that were horrific. I really thought Parkland might make the difference. I met with many of the kids over the last couple of weeks or even before because of some domestic violence issues, But. In this last week, I was on the Michigan campus again last night. We're having a rally tomorrow night in the ice and snow for action. You've got to keep working for a change you make. Sometimes, it's not as fast as you want. It's not as much as you want, But people should be able--the kids should be able--to go to school and feel safe. You should be able to go to church, the theater, movie theaters, shopping malls, and not worry if someone's going to come in with an assault weapon. So, I'm never going to stop fighting. I'm going to keep fighting. You try to build those alliances. I'm not sure that my voice is as effective as the young people. I said to the kids at Michigan last night,"Join with your counterparts across this country. Do a march on Washington. Every time a member is home, go meet with them. Put their human face on it." We keep trying and eventually bring about change.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with sixth District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Ann Arbor. And as as staff, again, we want to thank you for once again sending some Paczkis our way on this Fat Tuesday. It is the last day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. Is there anything, Representative Dingell, you think Congress should give up for Lent this year?

Debbie Dingell: You know what? Well, we could stop with some of the anger, the rhetoric, the viciousness of which we treat each other. But I'm not giving up anything for this year, David. I am going to intentionally make sure that I do an act of kindness every single day outside of the box. Somebody that may be really down, somebody that needs that helping hand, somebody that you can make all the difference in. That's what I'm going to do. And I would encourage all of us to do that. We need to really be worried about the tone of how we're treating each other, the divisiveness. And maybe we could work on reminding ourselves there's far more that unites us than divides us.

David Fair: Understanding that all you control is the actions you decide to take. Do you think that is a message that has the possibility of resonating amongst your colleagues?

Debbie Dingell: I never stop. And, as I said to you on anything else, you keep going. If you don't practice what you preach, if you don't keep trying, you're never going to accomplish it.

David Fair: Well, finally, I want to ask you a question as we celebrate Fat Tuesday. Do you have a favorite flavor Paczki? I'll make it my mission to see if I agree as soon as we're off the air and I bite into the one you tell me is best.

Debbie Dingell: Well, I have a sweet tooth. Not that a Paczki isn't sweet, but how can you not love the chocolate custard? It's one of the things I do before Lent begins tomorrow. I love them all. How can you not? There's enough sugar and fat in all of them. You can't help but not like them.

David Fair: I'm right with you. Thank you so much again for sending the Paczkis to the staff of 89 one WEMU. Thank you for the conversation today, and I will look forward to more meaningful conversations with you as we move forward through the year.

Debbie Dingell: David, thank you and happy Paczki Day.

David Fair: That is sixth District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Ann Arbor joining us on WEMU's Mardi Gras one day pop-up fundraiser: a celebration of jazz news and blues. All the Mardi Gras music begins at ten this morning, but you can get the ball rolling on our $15,000 fundraising goal with a donation now at WEMU dot org. Invest in the listening of tomorrow with a donation today. Again, it's WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and we thank you for supporting your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Rep. Debbie Dingell

Debbie's Blog

Rep. Debbie Dingell on Facebook


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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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