I am thinking about 1978 and 2017.


That night, mom, when the hurricane blanketed our house with reservoir waters, did it feel like that evening in 1978? Back then, you were 22, packed anything you could eat or sell, and walked to the shore of a Danang beach. You boarded a fishing boat headed anywhere except Vietnam. I wonder, what was in your bag? Did you pack enough snacks and underwear? Did you ever step back towards grandma’s shuttered candy shop? Were you scared?

You never told me about the full journey from Vietnam to Houston, but I know slivers of the story. One day, in Galveston, we stood on the seawall and looked into the opaque waters. It’s scary, you said, being on a fishing boat for days, surrounded by nothing but infinite ocean. Once, you and I boiled water for a package of ramen. You laughed thinking of grandpa, standing portside, heating seawater for his bowl of noodles. He didn’t need salt, you said with amusement.

Before each first day of school, you would buy me a pair of Lee Jeans. One August, you proudly showed me the logo tags that I loathed to feel against my skin. You sewed those on in a Hong Kong factory, you told me. You were able to make a few dollars for boxed char sui fan lunches as you waited to be sponsored by a brother in Texas.

That night, when Harvey drove the floodwaters up to your ankles, I called you past midnight. I was 2,000 miles away, uncertain if what I read was what you were living.   The voice that picked up the phone was not the one that had once lulled me to sleep singing “Que Sera, Sera”. It shivered in tone, perforated with muffled splashes of you scooping away water with a cup. An abrupt electric pop severed one of your sentences. What’s that, I asked. You had to go, you said. You still haven’t told me what that sound was.

Hours later, through articles and our hurried conversations, I pieced together tatters of your escape. At sunrise, you put a few bottles of water and some valued papers in a bag. With our dog in your arms and a lifejacket on your chest, you left the house, walking into waist-deep water. As you waded, a boat found you, pulled you from boundless floodwaters and offered to steer you anywhere except home. I’m still waiting for the rest.

I wonder, what will we eat or see or touch that provokes the next scrap of story? The whirr of a boat engine? The feeling of wet shoes? The smell of salt? Will it remind you of that night in 1978? Mom, were you scared?

Editor’s Note: Houston is home to a significant refugee population, many of whom fled from their home countries over the last 50 years.  In the 70s, the refugees were Vietnamese.  In the 80s, they were Central American and Cuban.  Today, many of the refugees are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani.  A lot of them fled their countries by boat.  In 2017, during Hurricane Harcey, a lot of them were rescued by boat.  This includes my mom.

I am thinking about my mom and Houston.

I am writing this on a Wednesday night. It’s hard to believe, given the range of emotions experienced over the last 72 hours, that it’s only fucking Wednesday.

From Sunday night to Wednesday morning, I felt swept away in a series of rapidly changing events in my hometown as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Most of the events revolved around the status of my mother – our flooded house, the next plan of action, evacuation, tortured silence from her dead watered down cell phone, rescue by boat, transport by truck, arrival to the edge of higher ground also on the verge of evacuation. The aforementioned sequence of events comprised of 10 hours that, simultaneously, felt so fast and ever so slow.

Being far away from my parents made the situation more difficult and confusing – everything I read from news sources had to be calibrated against testimonies from my parents, family, local friends, and social media. As a result, my thoughts are as fragmented as the information I tried to piece together.

Here are the fragments I am mulling over right now:

  1. Friendship: If you search #squadgoals on Instagram, you’ll end up with pictures of friends wearing the same outfit, dogs hanging out with cats, and other stupid shit that is supposed to emulate friendship. After Monday, I have a much clearer idea of what incredible friendship can look like. A friend is someone who checks in on you because they know you live alone and the local forecast looks precarious. When things get dire, a friend offers to pick you up in your flooded neighborhood despite the fact that stretches of every main artery to your house – the 99, 1464, 1093, I-10 and the Westpark Tollway – have all been deemed impassable by the local authorities. They feed you, house you, text pictures of you to your daughters, and then offer to drive you back to your flooded home to assess the long recovery ahead. They never ask you when you’re going to leave. Thank you to my mother’s friend, Thimy Ly, for setting some fucking impossible standards for #squadgoals and for being my Houston Hero.
  1. Local Heroes: By writing the above, I’m not advocating for people risking their lives to fulfill an impossible standard of hashtag friendship. I am also exceptionally appreciative to the high school classmate who took pictures of roads around my dad’s house to contextualize Alief’s flooding situation, to the wonderful people who offered their homes in case my mom’s exodus to Missouri City was unsuccessful, and to the family members who ensured me that everything would be okay.
  1. Thinking Beyond Black and White: The main question/criticism circulating right now is whether Houston should have been evacuated sooner. It’s easy from the comfort of our computer screens and keyboards to pose such black and white proclamations. However, when you’re in it – when you’re walking through the possibilities with loved ones – it’s not so simple. You could leave, but risk getting stuck on one of the many flooded corridors heading in and out of the city. You could stay, but remain in imminent danger due to uncertain reservoir conditions. You could leave, but will be forced to wade through murky waters with dangerous conditions and currents. You could stay and assess the situation, but you may not be rescued if you wait too long. The decision my mother made to evacuate early in the morning by foot initially frightened me. It ended up being the right decision. It’s not always, if ever, black and white.
  1. A Surreal Time Warp: I cannot imagine a more surreal experience than tuning into a local news broadcast and seeing images of your neighborhood – mailboxes your recognize, houses that look like yours, streets and playgrounds you have passed – all submerged in a catastrophe. It’s numbing, disorienting, dystopian. Here’s a story filed by the CBC that featured rescues in my mother’s neighborhood – Twin Oaks. I have only been able to watch it once.
  1. Local Media Saviors: I give local news a lot of shit for filing stories like which restaurants have slime in the ice machine (an actual Houston news segment). This entire climate disaster has, at least temporarily, flipped my perceptions of the role that the media plays in covering major stories. I give infinite kudos to the local ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates for their dedicated coverage of this climate disaster. All of the on the ground reporters I followed – Miya Shay, Brandi Smith, Steve Campion to name a few – were essential to my understanding of road closures, the status of reservoir integrity, evacuation notices, the impact in the different quadrants of Houston, and, in many cases, risked their own lives to rescue and report. The information was functional as opposed to purely sensationalist and entertaining. There were so many instances of a person stepping off a boat to tell a local reporter, “I watch you every night. You’re like my family.” Local journalism, like local politics, is where real, impactful, meaningful change happens.
  1. Mom: My mom remains the most measured, hopeful, and resilient person in my life. Only 3 days removed from a sleepless night of watching water rise in our house and making the difficult decision of evacuating with just a few small bags and our dog, she seemed to be in incredible spirits. “Hopefully when you come visit me next, I’ll have a brand new house!” she said to my sister and I after we discussed the first steps of many in rebuilding her life. Me too, mom.

I am making a protest sign.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, I have been to 2 protests – the Women’s March in San Francisco and a “pop up” protest at the San Francisco International Airport. As of this writing, this amounts to approximately 1 protest every 5 days. I don’t even clean my bathroom once every 5 days, but perhaps this is an indication that I should clean my bathroom more rather than protest less.

Unlike the Women’s March, the latter protest was a sudden occurrence. I received a text message call for participants, which was almost lost amid correspondence from the Bitmoji machine that is my mother. There was little time to prepare, so my partner and I made the decision to hop into our car and drive to the arrivals section of our airport’s international terminal – a drive fueled less by anger and more by an acute determination to not be silenced over the next four years.

My biggest non-political takeaway from the last two weekends of rallies is to always be prepared with snacks, water and a noisemaker – a drum, a protest kazoo, or that plastic recorder that you played the hell out of in 3rd grade music class. Finally, always bring a sign, your best god damn sign game, and your best god damn penmanship.

With the frequency of these protests on a broad scope of issues, I’ve decided to create a series of generic signs that I can reuse:




Clockwise from the left:

  • NAW.
  • NAW, DAWG.

Additionally, if I am feeling particularly specific in my signage, my partner put a poster creation kit in our car – an old blank poster board, painter’s tape, markers, and a handful of political pins. I don’t even have an earthquake kit despite the fact that there is a 37% chance that a 6.7 magnitude earthquake will occur at the fault line closest to my office within 25 years.* Should there be an earthquake, at least I can make a sign.

Editor’s Note:

*Thanks to the geologist who made an appearance at our university’s emergency preparedness meeting this past week for this reminder.