Some people might be skeptical that any major city in the South has a diverse population. However, Houston has a different story. Here, dozens of countries are represented in one place, and diversity in Houston is simply a way of life.
When you think about diversity in Houston, what comes to mind? Is it a vague notion of people who defy the traditional Texas stereotype? A village of people from all different backgrounds, coming together in friendship? Or perhaps it’s a rich tapestry of art, food, and history affected by the respective countries they hail from. Keep reading to find out how Houstonians represent all of this and more, as well its historical path to becoming one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.
The Road to Diversity in Houston
One look around Houston is enough to know that we are a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities — but the road hasn’t always been easy. Journey back to the turn of the 20th century as diversity first emerged, then explore the effects of the oil rush that lasted through the ‘80s. And finally, we’ll tie it all together in modern times as we see what diversity in Houston really means.
A Blast From the Past
Houston, which emerged as a hub of shipping and commerce, was always more diverse than most of the South. Its close proximity to Central America meant that Latinos were always an important part of the culture.
Beginning in the 1920s, immigration policy favored European immigrants. As a result, other countries were heavily underrepresented until the mid-60s. Prior to mid-century, immigrants were mainly interested in assimilation. Most wanted to learn English and quickly adapt to the Texan way of life.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement made its way to Houston. Though media coverage was bleak, desegregation quietly took place along with the rest of the country. African-Americans have long had a powerful voice in our city.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
Things really started to change in the ‘60s, with a reform in immigration laws. A decade later marked the height of Houston’s oil rush, creating numerous job openings for all skill sets. Houston was unique in its lack of strict zoning laws, so migrants and low-income families managed to settle in close proximity to some of the wealthier neighborhoods. This placed them close to good schools, health care, and employment opportunities. Additionally, individuals tended to settle near others from their respective countries, encouraging community.
A City Of the Future
After this initial burst, other types of employment became available. For example, the oil industry has always been a major factor, but Houston drew — and continues to draw — people from all over the world to work in the medical field, biotech, and shipping. The growing economy remains better here than in most of the country, let alone many parts of the world. Affordable housing and a reasonable cost of living are the cherry on top.
In fact, by the year 1990, Houston had no racial or ethnic majority. Today, many experts consider Houston to be the most diverse city in America. Whites are now a minority, which is the census projection for the entire country by the year 2050.
Despite some bumps along the way, modern-day Houston is barely recognizable, even compared to a few decades ago. One glance at local high schools tells a story that’s unfolding differently from events of the past. Students from all races, cultures, and backgrounds walk the halls together each day on their journey to adulthood and career paths. They’re supportive of one another and understanding toward those who are different.
In addition, our population now looks totally different. Many Houstonians have multiracial backgrounds — and that number is climbing steadily with each generation.
None of this has been easy by any means, and issues still arise constantly. But along the way, this new generation is changing norms and forming bonds. And that’s everything diversity in Houston should be.
Houston's Most Diverse Neighborhoods
The major ethnic groups in Houston are Anglo, black, Asian, and Latino. While you’ll find a great deal of culture representing the big four, they are by no means the end of the story. Here are some of the most diverse neighborhoods in Houston:
How to Experience Culture and Diversity in Houston
Food. What better way to experience another culture than through its cuisine? There’s just something about food that speaks to the soul, transcending all differences and bringing us together. And nowhere will you find more diversity among restaurants than on Westheimer Road. Try authentic Italian cooking at Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar, where the chef is a Salerno native. Or head to Pho Binh Westheimer for some of the best Vietnamese fare around. Got a hankering for empanadas? They’re the special at The Original Marini’s Empanada House, where you’ll find both sweet and savory options with an Argentinian flare.
Art. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is a center for art from all over the world. In addition to native Houstonian pieces, the museum collects art from:
- Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
- Latin America
- Islamic Worlds
Festivals. Depending on the time of year, you can enjoy multiple cultural festivals in Houston. Here are just a few:
If you can’t travel the world, the next best thing is enjoying all the world has to offer right here in our city. Houston is full of opportunities to learn about other countries, cultures, religions, and ethnicities. So get out there and enrich your life, while becoming a better-educated citizen of this planet.
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