HOUSTON – Howdy, y’all, and welcome to H-town, Space City, Hustle Town, or whatever other name you may use to identify the great city of Houston.
I’m sure many have heard the phrase, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and my hometown is no exception. With an infrastructure that is as big and “bad’ as it is bustling, it is no surprise that Houston has managed to garner a reputation as being one of the most diverse cities in the southern U.S.
The city itself is a true marvel with a history that runs as deep as modern colonialism. Its namesake, Sam Houston, played a pivotal role in organizing Texan forces during the former country’s struggle for independence from Mexico.
“Here we don’t call 911,” read the signs that line our streets – a loose allusion to our past that leads me to question whether it’s because we’re civil or because many wield guns (I’ll let you decide).
Houston is notorious for its various people groups that cluster in ethnic enclaves throughout the city. Here you can find districts like Little Asia Town, where you can enjoy a Boba tea or a bite of my favorite crispy Japanese pastry or ice cream called taiyaki. From a Korean restaurant, we get soft serve called Somi Somi (Ironic right?).
Travel about 30 minutes out and you may spot the blinking sign of Finger Licking Good, a restaurant that actually serves authentic Nigerian foods, like fufu and egusi. As a Nigerian, I can attest to the fact that my mother’s is better, but I digress.
Journey a little further and you may stumble upon the Mediterranean stylings of Dimassi’s Buffet or even the unmistakable, smiling face of Jollibee, the mascot of the highly acclaimed Filipino fast-food chain.
It is safe to say that with a full tank of gas, some tenacity and a hefty appetite, you can set out to eat virtually whatever you want in Houston. You simply need to “find your people.”
One of the biggest distinguishing features of Houston – other than the sweltering heat of course – is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Texas’ past as a wild western frontier seems to manifest itself in many forms throughout the year, but during the annual rodeo season, it explodes into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
During this time, art students pull their hair out in anguish as they have to complete yet another set of western/cowboy-related works. Families flock to mini-fairs and rodeos to prepare for the ultimate boss, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. At these events, they enjoy watching steer wrestling – which I still don’t fully understand myself – and bull riding.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the people of Houston consume atrocities like fried Oreos and Snickers bars. There has never been a greater culinary faux pax.
At the big livestock show, once Houstonians have gorged themselves in a matter fit only for a Texan, they stream into the stadium at the center of the main event. Inside, crowds of over 72,000 individuals are almost drunk on the electricity of the scene, although the discarded beer cans may suggest their zeal may have other origins.
The top-performing artists from all over the world take the stage in a series of performances that manage to break the internet – in ways both good and bad – year after year. It’s a sight to behold, and one cannot truly understand the nature of a Houstonian’s existence without attending the rodeo at least once.
As vibrant as life may be in Houston, it is apparent that the glitz and glam of urban life contribute to the drowning out of many deep-seated issues that thrive away from – and even amidst – the star-studded eyes of conservative Houston and America.
Racism, sexism, poverty and gun violence are dismissed as issues only faced by radicals and those “on the fringes of society.”
When I marvel at elaborate rodeo displays and shopping centers where consumerism abounds from ceiling to floor, I can’t help but be reminded of the “bread and circuses” of Ancient Rome.
People are all too eager to shy away from topics that are more difficult to digest and have the potential to tear our picture-perfect society apart.
It is important that we learn to appreciate the beauty of our home without cowering from the conflicts that plague it.
If we remain stuck in our ways, our everchanging world may cast us aside like a bumbly tumbleweed in a dusty Western film.
Christine Marinho is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.