Storefronts of a Houston, Texas Community

As an important immigrant destination, Houston, Texas has become one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. It is at the forefront of a new diversity that is reconstructing the social and political landscape of the country. During the 1960s and 1970s, Houston was a quintessential boomtown. While the rest of the country languished in a long national recession, the city's barrels of oil exploded in value. However, the “bust” arrived in the early 1980s. By 1986, the economic downturn had reduced property prices to 30% below the national average, giving immigrants a chance to buy into the American dream at rock-bottom prices.

Spring Branch, a neighborhood on the west side of Houston, has witnessed a startling transformation from a middle-class white enclave to a thriving community of working-class immigrants. Within a span of twenty-five years, this predominantly Anglo area became home for tens of thousands of Latin Americans and Asians. Many businesses of Spring Branch tellingly illustrate this transformation. Most of the commercial buildings were constructed during the oil boom, and are no different than the average small strip malls and commercial buildings 30-40 years of age. However, the current proprietors often employ bright colors and a variety of flags, pennants and streamers. In addition, ethnic architectural flourishes abound, such as small pagodas or faux adobe with red clay tiles. The commercial spaces exhibit ethnicity, not only to attract customers and find a niche in the local economy, but to create cultural space as well. The Spanish advertisements and Vietnamese slogans communicate solely to those that speak the respective languages, and to no one else. These acts of communication and identification via material culture are indicative of a healthy independence and pride in a local community reborn.

Maury Gortemiller