I have said a few times about Houston that I love the diversity here.
(Side note: I make a real effort to identify the things I like about Houston. So far the running list of things I love:
- My aunt who lives here (and bonus: her neighbor friends!)
- Great bird watching. (Houston is smack in the middle of the migration path so the bird diversity in fall and spring is spectacular – it is one of the best spots in the US for bird watchers.)
- Discovering the parks (like the Arboretum and Brazos Bend)!
- The beach is just an hour away. (Even if it’s not the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen, it is still refreshing to the soul).
- From here it is only a 3-hour drive to visit my parents and hometown friends.
- The diversity of people that live here
That’s about it. But after a day of 104-degree F heat index, I am extremely impressed with my ability to be so positive about H-town!)
So, back to my point… I do love the diversity of people (and birds) here.
I don’t think racial diversity was something I really noticed as much… until I experienced being the minority in a less diverse place. Standing out all the time, every time, even when you least expect it was new for me when I served in the Peace Corps. Even after 3 years, the assumptions people made about me based on my different appearance sometimes caught me off guard.*
When I traveled from my Peace Corps site and suddenly found myself immersed in greater racial diversity I was surprised to observe that I felt more at ease, more comfortable. (Maybe I felt I could blend in more? Maybe there was an assumption that people used to seeing a lot of people that looked different from them would be more open-minded?)
However, even in “diverse cities”, there is still segregation. (See title photo.) In someone’s daily life they may rarely have meaningful encounters with people of different ethnicities, races, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or different political ideals. As humans we naturally tend to seek people similar to us and so we naturally end up with somewhat segregated neighborhoods, friend circles, cultural events, and even micro economies. It can actually take effort to step out of our “bubble”.
My experience in Houston has been a little of both – I have seen a very segregated diversity (like a restaurant with all white clientele and the only people of color were employees), but I have also experienced deeper diversity in some places – like at the grocery store, when visiting the arboretum and other parks, at Miller Outdoor Theater’s summer concerts, and at some popular, low-key restaurants.
But the “winner-takes-all” diversity experience (so far?) was during my surgery at a major hospital.**
The guy who checked me in was a young, white man, and the cashier woman who took (a large chunk of) my money was a friendly Latina woman who joked around with me. She left me in the hands of a lovely Mexican woman who tested me to see if my Spanish was fluent and taught me to say anesthesiologist in Spanish. (Wow – but she didn’t teach me to spell it – thanks to Word for helping with that.)
I then met my nurse, a young, white American female who somehow managed to be friendly and humorous despite being at the end of her long shift after having been called in last night. She handed me off to the young, black American woman nurse, who then left me to the east African women (one older and one younger than me) who made sure I saw all the right doctors before heading into surgery.
Meanwhile, my surgeon showed up – a young Persian woman who grew up in Iran but has lived in Houston since she was 17. And then finally my anesthesiology team came in – two Asian men: a young, witty and mildly cocky MD and an older the nurse.
When I awoke from the surgery, a kind, no-nonsense, older woman came and helped me use the restroom as I struggled to balance while the anesthesia was still wearing off and I had a surgical shoe on my freshly operated foot. (I was too groggy to notice or remember much else about her, as I was focusing on not toppling over.)
The discharge nurse was a young south Indian man who plays cricket. He feels right at home in Houston’s heat and humidity, which isn’t so different from his hometown.
I never would have guessed that just going into an outpatient surgery I would have the opportunity to travel around the world! Or at least get such a great peek into Houston’s diversity. I really would like to throw a party for my whole hospital medical team. First to thank them for being so great, but really to hear more about their varied experiences and backgrounds…THAT would be a trip around the world.
Until I figure out how to make that happen, I am so glad I had the surprise opportunity to peek into this melting pot and so thankful for the friendly exchanges and mini-conversations we had, not to mention the excellent care they each gave me!
How can/did you step out of your bubble today? (Without going to the hospital, please.)
*Being a racial minority and being white is still a different experience than being a racial minority and being darker skinned. The assumptions people made about me were different than those made about my dark-skinned friends. For example, it was often assumed that I had more money, wealth, or resources or was more knowledgeable about certain things. On the other hand, there were also assumptions that I didn’t speak the language, that I was less knowledgeable, and that I was gullible… all depending on the person’s biases and experiences.
**Don’t worry, it was a minor surgery.
**I couldn’t attend Pride due to my surgery so I missed out on what I’m sure is the real “winner-takes-all” diversity experience in Houston. Next year.
***Photo is from https://bestneighborhood.org/race-in-houston-tx/