Houston; We Had a Problem

by christina garrett

It is good to be back home in the Willamette Valley where the sense of community is authentic, the environment is rich with acceptance, and the air is breathable fresh. In 2007, my family relocated to the Houston, Texas area, with jubilation, seeking enhanced cultural diversity and new experiences. My family is best described as multi-racial my husband is African American, my children – biological, step, adoptive, and foster are comprised of African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Russian children, 16 in total and I am Caucasian.

A native Oregonian for nearly 35 years, I grew accustom to living in a community that in large part embraced and presented as accepting of the cultural and ethnic diversity within my family. This experience failed to be a shared experience while living in Texas; the environment proved challenging and called for an enhanced sense of patience and understanding.  At times the hostility directed toward my family was cruel and equally unnecessary.  Individuals appeared to struggle as they sought to understand why we choose to create a multiracial family; others gawked with disgust.  My ideology rests firmly in that there is a reason behind one’s behavior; I desired to learn the origination of these inflexible attitudes lacking acceptance.

From a historical perspective, it is the South; there is a deep history of divide between whites and blacks; highlighting only a few historical examples of where negative attitudes may have been cultivated. I learned of an annual celebration called, Juneteenth.  June 19, 1865, two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863), slaves in Texas finally learned they were free.  During the 60s, school integration was slow and riddled with a variety of restrictions and conditions that prevented true integration from occurring. Similarly, geographically, Texas shares its borders with Mexico; there are negative attitudes toward people of Mexican descent and a great deal of controversy surrounding illegal immigrants. Having gained an awareness of the environment I was navigating in, I armed myself with patience, understanding, and acceptance; I found this to be rather laborious at times.

My family resided in a home at the end of a cult-a-sac, in a middle class suburb of Houston, on a street whose population was multicultural. We placed a basketball hoop outside for our teenage children to shoot hoops.  Placement of the hoop elicited an uproar of discontent and confrontation from our neighbors. Several neighbors remarked they felt compelled to gather their children and bring them into the safety of their homes when all those Black kids would come over to shoot hoops. It was not long before the youngsters and several adults in the neighborhood were using an expletive when referring to my African American children. Not only were my children being alienated because of the color of their skin, I too was barred from social circles because I dared to break the implied rules of social etiquette. The unfortunate experiences are many from an African American Child Protective Services caseworker dropping in for an unannounced visit with one of our foster youth at 5:30 in the morning, individuals cutting in front of our family in the grocery store line, to individuals asking how are you supposed to raise children of color, when you are white!

It truly is refreshing to be back in Oregon where acceptance is considered the norm and where individuals do not pay much mind to the color of your skin or the make-up of your family. I remain acutely aware of discrimination and the imprint it leaves on families, no community is devoid of discrimination. What is uniquely different and pleasant is to know I reside in a community where the collective conscience is that of acceptance.