The magnificent diversity of Houston shines through its music

The Statesman put a call out to staff and readers for their love letters to our beleaguered neighbor to the southeast. You can read them all online here. This is mine …  

Like the rest of us in the parts of Texas that aren’t underwater right now, I’ve watched the devastation Hurricane Harvey unleashed on our state’s coastal areas with a heavy heart. I’m not a native Texan, but I’ve lived in the state for more than 20 years. Both of my daughters were born here, and gradually, over the past decade, my entire family has migrated to the Lone Star State. I love my adopted home fiercely. My heart aches seeing Texas’ quirky seaside communities suffering so profoundly. And Houston. Seeing Houston submerged kills me.

Austin is my beloved home, but I always tell friends from around the country that Houston is the other place in Texas where I’d love to live.

 I grew up in the Midwest, a small-town girl with big city dreams, and Houston is a massive cosmopolitan city. I love the world-class museums, the fancy restaurants and the leaping fountain that shoots over the Metrorail downtown. But mostly, I love its diversity.

 Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in America, a title it took from New York City in 2010. 

 Beyoncé, the city’s most famous musical export, is the queen of Houston, and the city holds the regional throne for Dirty South hip-hop. Houston’s signature sound reflects the tricked-out, candy-colored rides that parade through the streets each year, slow, low and banging. The (Underground) King of Houston is Bun B. He’s revered in the city as an elder statesman, and, in recent years, he was tapped by Rice University to teach a class on hip-hop and religion.

 Houston is home to the second largest Hispanic population in the country. A full 41 percent of people living in Harris County are Hispanic. One of the city’s underdog heroes is self-described tamale kingpin Chingo Bling, a rapper-turned-comedian with an incisive take on immigration issues.

 Houston feels like a gateway to the rest of the world and that’s because it literally is. From the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, it’s a short hop to Mexico and Central America and there’s steady traffic in and out of South America daily. The Port of Houston is one of the country’s biggest shipping channels.

 The city’s population also connects us to the rest of the world. As the Houston Chronicle explored with a beautiful, in-depth reporting project in 2015, 1 in 4 residents of Harris County, over a million people, are foreign-born. They come from all over: South and Central America, Europe, all corners of Africa and Asia. According to the Times of India, more than 150,000 Houstonians hail from my father’s homeland, making the city home to one of the largest East Indian communities in the country.

 Houston’s diversity and internationalism is reflected in my favorite H-Town bands. The Suffers, fronted by vocal powerhouse Kam Franklin, blend reggae, Mexican influences and hints of bayou Cajun sounds into a mix they call Gulf Coast soul. Khruangbin mixes surf pop and psychedelic sounds with Thai funk of the 1960s.

 Vocalist Asli Omar, who’s half-Somali, fronts the Tontons, a dreamy indie rock band that includes a Vietnamese bassist and a pair of Latino brothers on guitar and drums. The bandmates have been friends since high school. Omar once told me the fact that they all come from hard working and proud immigrant homes is a bond they share.

 A first-generation American who came of age in wholesome, white-bread, small-town America, I always longed to live in a city defined by a rich tapestry of ethnic communities. Growing up in a mixed-race family, I was raised with the naive belief that love trumps all, that our common humanity will always be greater than our differences. Having married into an African-American family, I cling to that idea more than ever these days.

 After Harvey pummeled Houston, the nation’s eyes were opened to the city’s beautiful diversity. Images of Houstonians, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, standing together and risking everything to help their neighbors uplifted us all.

 I realized, in Houston I see my American dream. The recovery is going to be a long, hard haul, but as soon as the city is ready for visitors, my husband and I, along with our Afro-Anglo-Indo-American children, will be among the first to come.

Singer Beyonce during GRAMMY Awards in 2017. (Contributed/Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

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