I was five years old when our car crossed the Texas state line.
“We made it, kids! We’re in Texas!” my Mom shouted from the passenger seat. After a silent moment, she turned back to look at me, visibly confused at my lack of enthusiasm. Just days before I had shown nothing but excitement about this new state that we would soon call home.
When it was announced that we’d be moving to Houston, Texas, one of the major selling points to me was the abundance of big buildings that comprised the country’s fourth largest city. In the tiny town we came from in northern New Mexico, skyscrapers only existed in magazines, movies, and television shows that depicted images of bigger, better places. So the idea of seeing these mammoth creations in person fascinated me enough to make moving seem like an excellent idea.
We crossed the border and I eagerly peered out of the car window only to be met with views of sprawling plains and an endless blue sky. Nary a big building in sight. “But Momma, where are all the big buildings?” I asked. My Mom laughed. “Oh, no, sweetie,” she comforted me, “The big buildings are in Houston, not all over Texas.” I was devastated.
All along our drive to Houston, I moped, envisioning a land full of flat plains and people riding horses while wearing cowboy hats and listening to that annoying country music my Grandma listened to. I couldn’t believe that I was tricked into thinking this move was a good idea. No doubt about it. I thought. I’ve been duped. It wasn’t until the last day of the trip, when my mom said, “Here you go! We’re about to see the big buildings!” that things started to look up.
I was hesitant to believe her until I saw it – a staggering skyline of countless skyscrapers, the likes of which I had never seen in person before. I was in awe. The buildings got bigger and grander as we approached them. I couldn’t see where their rooftops ended and the sky began, no matter how far back I craned my neck. The fact that humans built these massive structures amazed me. We made our way around downtown while the traffic zoomed by us. The freeways crossed over one another in a labyrinth of roadways that I never knew existed outside of movies. My heart beamed. This was a real city. A city made of the types of people, cars, buildings, and stunning energies I had only ever dreamed of experiencing. I couldn’t believe it. We live here?! Suddenly, Texas didn’t seem so bad. Maybe I could get used to this.
I often think back to that first day in Houston and how little I knew then about what that city and those big buildings would come to mean to me. About how the Houston skyline would one day represent to me my own history as well as the celebration of an absolute melting pot of cultures and lifestyles, and the pride I feel knowing I got to be a part of it.
I retrace my memories of growing up in Houston, and I think of how lucky I am to have called it home. I think about how it is where I learned to drive, and how when I was terrified to get on the city’s crazed interstate, my Dad said, “If you can drive in Houston, you can drive anywhere!” How I found my niche in the city’s wonderful community and high school theater scene. How I became obsessed with real Tex-Mex and privy to the best 24-hour Mexican food restaurant to hit up after concerts. How my Grandma was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center and how when she died, there was a signed card made by my classmates waiting for me when we arrived home after the funeral. I think about driving down I-45, blasting 104.1 KRBE, and heading to Galveston for the weekend with my friends. I think of my high school prom at the Houston Doubletree and walking in my high school graduation at Reliant Stadium. How it is where my favorite childhood house and my first adult apartment still stand, and where some of the most important people in my life, including my parents, still live. Mostly, though, I think about how no matter how far away I travel, Houston will always feel like home.
In addition to these memories, I cherish the way Houston celebrates and relishes in diversity. The vast array of races, religions, orientations, and backgrounds that make up the Bayou City, and the pride which every Houstonian has for this multifaceted identity, is unparalleled. I am so honored to have called Houston home for over 15 years of my life because in doing so I learned that great things, like big buildings, grow best in the presence of so many different types of people.
As I sit and watch the news in the last few days, I find it hard to control my emotions. I see the highways I drove regularly submerged completely underwater. I see stop signs, trees, light posts, and traffic lights disappear one by one as the water overtakes them. I see people standing on roofs awaiting rescue and photos of helpless residents trapped in their homes, which hour by hour become more filled with water. I see my hometown, a city larger than some U.S. states, literally sinking beneath the flood. This has gone on for days and yet the rain, like my tears, continues to fall.
In a time where respite is unlikely and so little seems promising, I hold on to the irrefutable fact that what makes Houston great is not its buildings after all, but rather the millions of different people who call it home. Amid the nightmarish imagery splattered beneath news headlines across America, I see not just Houstonians, but also Texans coming together. Residents and organizations from Houston, Dickinson, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and so many more are rising together to prove the truth to the state motto, “Don’t mess with Texas.” Civilians with boats are risking their lives to make water rescues. Locals are using social media to connect with one another and collaborate to save people they don’t even know. People with little resources for their own families are sharing with those in need. Stray animals are finding warmth in the shelters of neighboring Texas cities.
Though the rushing waters separate so many from their homes, I can feel the connection Houstonians still have to their city. Though the sun remains hidden by Harvey’s dark clouds, I can feel the warmth of Texas’ pride nonetheless.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the yet to be determined long term damage that will affect Houston and other areas along the Gulf Coast for years to come, I am comforted only by knowing that when tragedy strikes, we still have each other. That amid disaster and under the umbrella of unifying titles – Houstonians, Texans, Americans – it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, the religion you practice, who you love, or who you are. All that matters is that when the flood waters rise and eventually recede, and we find that our material possessions are washed away, we come together to rescue, regroup, and rebuild. That we put aside our differences and commit to healing one another with love, compassion, and understanding.
I love you, Houston. As a city with big buildings and bigger resiliency, I know that you will make it through this. And until that time comes, until the rain passes, all we can do is huddle together and weather the storm the best we can. We can love one another and remind each other that we’re not alone in this fight, for we are all human and we are all experiencing loss.
We are all Houston strong and Texans forever.