I don’t know where I’m from.
It’s a Third Culture Kid thing. When someone asks you “where you’re from?” your brain doesn’t know how to compute, how to answer that question.
My friends tease me – I change my answer based on moods. Am I English? American? Texan? Who do I cheer for at the Olympics? I’m the classic turn coat. And it’s a real thing. The conflict inside. The not knowing where you’re from.
I moved to Houston when I was 7. I still remember the first breath of thick wet air pressing on me as the airport doors opened. It felt foreign and strange, I didn’t fit in and I was sure everyone had guns and that fire ants would kill me. As I grew older, like every teenager I just longed to escape. Houston was filled with a sugary sweetness that I didn’t know how to interpret as anything other than ‘fake’ because of my family culture. I moved back to England for college and realized that I didn’t belong there either. My accent made me a Texan to them, whether I wanted to be or not. When I would come back to Houston to visit, I would notice the way Houstonians – strangers – would smile at me and I began to realize, it wasn’t fake, it was just a different culture. Houstonians have no interest in sticking to themselves and privacy is a danger they will rescue you from.
After college I moved back to Texas: Austin, because Houston was the place we’d fought to get out of as kids. Then, one by one, the people I loved began to move back to Houston. My BFF from junior high and high school, my sister, my best friend from Austin. And Houston became a new city to me – not the place I’d tried to escape as a kid, but a place I got to discover as an adult. With art and culture and the friendliest damn people you will ever meet.
And as I woke up this morning, with my heart heavy with more than just the heartbreak and fear for my loved ones, but a grief for a people, I realized – Houston is precious to me.
I’ll tell you this about my Houston: this city welcomed me. When I pushed back and denied her. When I rolled my eyes at her southern charm. When I fought to get out, she was filled with people who wanted to know me, who invited me back, who invited me in. I’ll tell you this about my Houston: almost exactly twelve years ago I stood in her Astrodome and saw her open her arms to Hurricane Katrina evacuees. And after that, when the honeymoon phase of helping the hurting wore off, when people were ready to have their cities back, I watched Houston make space for people to live in her. While my sweet and precious Austin pleads with strangers not to move here, Houston opens her arms wide in a way that reminds me of that statue of liberty in the water so far north.
This Houston. She does not belong to me and I have too often denied her. But this city raised me. I wasn’t born there. But I am ‘from’ there as much as I’m ‘from’ anywhere. He placed me in her so that I could be shaped and molded by her culture and her kindness. What a privilege.
She’s not perfect. But she’s Houston.
Praying we will follow her example and be the Houston for her that she has been for us.