Houston—a Texas Melting Pot

Texas Independence Day Parade
Women of the Houston American Vietnamese Texans participate in a parade.

When you think of a city that is the ultimate in ethnic variety, New York or Los Angeles may come to mind. That designation actually goes to Houston. The Texas city was recently determined to be the most ethnically diverse big city in the United States, based on census data. In this metropolis of more than 2 million people, every racial/ethnic group is now a minority.

Not that long ago, in 1980, 63 percent of Houston’s population was Anglo. That figure has dropped to 33 percent. Hispanics are now the largest group, at 41 percent; African Americans make up 18.4 percent; and Asians and other groups make up 7.8 percent. More than 100 languages are spoken in this, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Such ethnic diversity is interesting, of course, but Houston is hardly heaven on earth. It is the epitome of highway-fed urban sprawl, and then there are the mosquitoes, occasional hurricanes, and constant humidity. (Oddly enough, the heat and humidity actually make some immigrants from Southeast Asia feel right at home.) Houston’s lack of zoning laws results in skyscrapers situated next to schools and churches next to bowling alleys. And to a large extent, Houstonians experience “economic segregation”: the rich live among the rich, and the poor among the poor.

So what has drawn people from all over to Houston? Immigrants may not know about the city’s excellent museums, galleries, or restaurant scene—or, at the other end of the glamour scale, its “art car” tradition, or the house adorned with thousands of flattened beer cans. But many new Houstonians will have heard of the city’s nickname—The Big Heart. The name dates from the 2005–2006 Hurricane Katrina disaster, when Houston housed, fed, and comforted more than 150,000 survivors from nearby New Orleans. That feat has been called the biggest shelter operation in U.S. history. Some newcomers have discovered that Houston is one place where the American Dream isn’t just a dream. As one local artist put it, “If you have an idea and you want to do it, Houston is one of the best places in America to be, because nobody is going to put anything in your way.”

Image Credit: © AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Deborah Cannon

Related Links

  • What Makes Houston the Next Great American City?
    From the article’s introduction: “Oil and culture are a powerful mixture in Houston, which has quietly become the most diverse city in America.”
    (Source: Smithsonian, July–August 2013)
  • Demographics of Houston
    This site provides a multicolored map of the city’s ethnic makeup, on which each dot represents 25 Houstonians.
    (Source: Wikipedia; accessed August 5, 2013)
  • The Official Visitors Site for Houston
    Check out what’s happening in the bustling behemoth on the bayou.
    (Source: Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau; accessed August 5, 2013)

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