(…eat your heart out California!)

Our recent short visit to Houston was a pleasant respite from the Bay Area which, by comparison, seems fixated on maintaining a frenetic pace and lifestyle. Of course, this may all be an illusory perception arising from Houston’s definitely laid-back…ambiance.

Then again…that impression may just be the result of topography. The Bay Area is mostly hilly…with lots of things to see. Houston is flatter than a pancake with the horizon line somewhere…out there…beyond acres of Texas space…and other than NASA…there isn’t much else to see, the Gulf shore and its beaches are an hour’s drive away, but then…in Texas…a one hour road trip isn’t much more than going to the local food mart for pizza and beer. That’s not really true, of course, but, for the most part pretty much so.

But in the area where we were staying, along the suburban Bellaire-Sugarland zone of Houston, we couldn’t help but wonder if we had, somehow, travelled back to Southeast Asia…without our passports…even though, as far as the eye could see, we were in the midst of endless arrays of cluster and strip malls between scatterings of housing “parks” and enclaves, some actually gated, which while exuding a very prosperous and lively Middle America quality we hadn’t seen in years…were yet somehow very foreign because…in all those malls, offering every conceivable type of enterprise or business services anyone might need or want…all their signs were in Vietnamese and English…and all its swarms of people with smiling faces there…were Asian. In short, there were few non-Asians around, and, no panhandlers were to be seen cluttering up the sidewalks there either (probably because there aren’t that many sidewalks there in the first place), or else, these have all moved on to hang out in downtown Houston instead…wherever that might be.

Even so, despite all of that, there was one aspect of that area which showed that it was also typically Texas – car country- because everyone was driving, and, the predominant type in all that traffic was the latest SUV model. The fact that fuel prices at the pumps also only averaged between $2 and $2.50 a gallon, further helped no doubt in making SUVs the personal transportation of choice there. It should also be noted that there seemed to be a much more disciplined and civil class of drivers here, compared to the Wild Wild West style and character of those found in the Bay Area.

The overall size and quality of this Vietnamese/Chinese community was truly impressive. Even more impressive was how people…who had arrived here with little or nothing as refugees from their terribly war-torn country…have not only done well for themselves but have also managed to achieve the American “dream”, mainly from collective family enterprise and a hard-work ethic (everyone we met seemed to have not one but two or more jobs), enabling them to thus acquire and live in spacious well appointed homes (with just about every “modern” convenience available) in all those neatly kept and manicured housing “parks”, enclaves of tree-lined, clean and well paved roadways and sidewalks, with individualized homes, rather than sterile rows upon rows of cookie-cutter tract housing.

The most striking aspect, however, is the way they have not so much assimilated themselves into being Texan Americans, but how they seem to have successfully blended together both that Texan American lifestyle with their own native cultural core. This was particularly noticeable among their second generation youths who were born here. Their style and manner easily flipping back and forth, chameleon-like, into either pure Vietnamese or pure American, depending upon the situation requirements of the moment (perhaps we’re more attuned to that sort of thing because of our own bi-cultural Franco-American upbringing). In any event it made for lively conversations and animated interactions while we were there.

As to food, these folks not only believe in eating well, but eating high quality cooking besides. Here again, that “cultural blending” is found with the eclectic range of their tastes. While allowing for the fact that we were being given a visiting VIP treatment, it was not strange to find a dining spread offering everything from Cajun style crawfish, the finest of Dim Sum, Texas barbecue, fried chicken and catfish, chili, Chinese spareribs, Vietnamese pho, Mexican tacos, and even good old Pizza, all together on one table, making it literally the edible display of the great American Melting Pot, and as good a way of expressing our country’s ideal of…E Pluribus Unum…as anything else (even if it left us feeling like a well-stuffed Christmas Goose).

Well, here’s one immigrant community that has shown how things can and should be in America. No doubt, like any other, they may have their less than admirable elements, and complaints about the greater surrounding society to which they now belong, but the crux of their success here seems based not on whining for handouts from safety net programs, or bitching about cultural slights and violated rights, but getting out there, getting it on… and…just doing it.

In closing, and this may just be a bit of hard-wired male perspective, but all those former au-dai and chung-sam clad Asian beauties, have mostly gone the way that old country and western song put it some years ago…lord have mercy…Baby’s got her blue jeans on! And for that, if nothing else, the State of Texas and America are sure to be the better for it.

Meanwhile, Houston…we’ve got April showers here…eat your heart out California!