In May of 2016, I was getting ready to leave my hometown of Houston, Texas to move to Australia in order to work for a year. I wanted something to remind myself of my beloved city while I was away, so I tattooed the state of Texas on my ribs with the word "Houston" on the southeast border. But it wasn't until a few days ago that I really understood what a privilege and honor it was to be able to wear this tattoo on my body, and I began to comprehend what it really meant to be a Houstonian- and not only that, but a Texan. I have lived in a few different states and countries throughout my 25 years of life, but I always end up coming back home.
I am currently in North Carolina for work, and watching the devastation from six states away has been absolutely heartbreaking. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life, and not being there to fight through the storm with my friends and family has been the toughest part. When Hurricane Harvey hit, I don't think anyone could have anticipated just how devastating and catastrophic this natural disaster was going to be. At least 37 deaths have been confirmed as of today, and officials say the body count is going to rise significantly as the flood waters begin to clear away- which could take weeks, if not months. People have lost everything they own, been displaced from their homes, been left stranded and over 32,000 Houstonians are taking refuge in shelters.
One-third of Houston is submerged underwater, and that statistic is terrifying if you take into consideration that Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States with over 6.5 million residents in the metropolitan area. That is the equivalent of Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, D.C, Vermont and Wyoming's populations combined- which would explain why it was so difficult for Houston to evacuate. Getting 6.5 million people to safety on such short notice is next to impossible, and if you aren't from Houston, you may not remember what happened in 2005 with Hurricane Rita. I know this has been brought up a lot recently and I may be beating a dead horse with this, but a lot of non-Texans seem to want to criticize our Mayor's decision to refrain from evacuating, so I am going to talk about it anyway.
In 2005 before Hurricane Rita was set to hit, thousands upon thousands of Houstonians attempted to evacuate, essentially causing major traffic jams that resulted in the deaths of over 100 citizens. That means that the hectic road conditions ended up killing almost as many people as the actual hurricane did. My family opted to take our chances and hunker down in our home to ride out the storm, and that turned out to be the best decision we could have made. We watched as the people on the roads broke out into fights, succumbed to heat strokes and sat in their cars for 20+ hours. One of the worst outcomes of the Rita evacuation tragedy was that of a bus carrying nursing home evacuees that caught fire, killing 24 onboard. We also need to take into consideration that during evacuations people with animals, disabilities and special needs cannot just pick up and leave like the rest of us can. I am sorry, but a city of 6.5 million people trying to evacuate all at once in a matter of days is just downright unsafe. But anyways...
Now that the rain is starting to subside and the sun has come out, Texas is facing months (possibly years) of recovery. But after seeing the events unfold over the past couple of days, I am confident about one thing. If anyone can get through this, it's Texas- and I am going to tell you why.
Since the first raindrop from Harvey hit the ground, Texans came together in a way that the world has never seen. I am actually in tears right now just thinking about the unity that was displayed from the Lone Star State over the past few days. I cannot explain the amount of pride I felt watching my fellow Texans take immediate action by jumping in boats to rescue strangers and animals, opening their homes to those who lost theirs, sharing posts thousands of times on social media with the location of those in need of rescue, donating supplies, volunteering in shelters and putting the lives of their neighbors in front of their own. Texas grocery stores donated truck loads of essential supplies to shelters, and local restaurants gave out free food to those who needed it. Let's also not forget Matress Mack, a true Houston hero who opened his warehouse to thousands of families and is feeding them three square meals a day. The Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department showed incredible bravery and relentless strength in order to protect their city and the people in it. I could go on and on regarding the acts of bravery and kindness displayed by Texans under the recent pressure, but there is not enough time in my lifetime to do so. Nobody down in Texas sat around and waited for anyone to come help, and if you were raised Texan, you wouldn't have either.
But the thing I love the most about being a Texan is the size of our hearts. The kindness I saw through my friend's and family's social media over the past couple of days is the Texas I have always known, the Texas the media doesn't want you to see- the America the media doesn't want you to see. Texas is not separated by race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, age, height, weight or status. To Texas, this was never about anything other than the fact that human lives were at risk, and our true colors came out bright and beautiful. A man named Chuck Thompson who was fighting out Harvey in Porter, Texas stated "I just saw White people helping Black people. Black people helping Hispanic people. Hispanic people helping Asian people. A Democrat helping a Republican. The fourth largest city in the United States is working together. Not to remove a statue and not to be supreme, but to survive."
I know it is a running joke that Texans are too cocky and prideful, but I think we have a damn good reason to be. Texans were raised to treat everyone with the same amount of respect, say yes ma'am and no sir, lend a helping hand, work hard, embrace diversity and have a damn good time doing it. The undeniable truth is that as human beings, all of our lives are equal, and all of our lives are equally precious. During a time like this, we need each other. Texas is a big place so we have a lot of work ahead of us, especially since it wasn't just Houston that was hit. Port Aransas, Padre, Flour Bluff, Corpus Christi, Portland, Ingleside, Rockport, Fulton, Refugio, Victoria and every other place affected by Harvey need our help too. Each and everyone of us possesses unique skills, trades, strengths and talents that when put together can do incredible things. I have 100% confidence that we are going to grab a beer, roll up our sleeves and get this beautiful State back on its feet- because thats what Texans do. It's not going to be pretty, and it's not going to be easy...but we will. The media is eventually going to try to turn what happened to Texas political or about race, attempting to make the world forget the love and unity that occurred in order to fit an agenda. So please, please do not forget the truth. Do not forget what actually happened. We came together, stood together, and we will remain together.
Lastly, I want to take a moment to pay my respects to those who lost their lives due to Hurricane Harvey, and to those who still have not been found. You are in our hearts now, always and forever. I want to thank every Texan who didn't hesitate even for a second to help friends, strangers, animals and everyone in between. I want to thank Louisiana and the Cajun Navy for getting over to Texas as quickly as they could, using their resources and risking their safety to ensure ours. When Harvey makes its way to y'all, I guarantee we will be the first ones there to help. I want to thank the rest of the country for sending us good vibes, keeping us in their thoughts and remaining in solidarity with us. Texas is a great state, but America is a great nation- and if we spent half as much time working together as we did focusing on our differences, we could be even greater.
One Proud Texan