COMMON GROUND

Houston: The International City

Program 0127 July 3, 2001


Related Links:
www.houston-guide.com/protocol/index.html
www.khou.com
www.quilts.org

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

SONJA GARZA: In Texas everything is bigger and better and in Houston itís of course the best of all of Texas.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, Houston, the international city.

MIKE DEVLIN: You donít have to be a genius, you donít have to know demographics to know that the number of Latin and Hispanic residents is growing at an enormous rate in Texas. It always has. But within the last ten years or so, an enormous growth.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And Iím Keith Porter. Houston, Texas, is famous for its oil wells, rodeos, and barbecue. But Americaís fourth-largest city is also an international center for trade, technology, and culture.

MCHUGH: The city of Houston itself is nearly half the size of Rhode Island, and home to nearly 2 million people-four million if you include the immediate surrounding area. Residents speak 90 different languages, giving new meaning to the stateís popular tourism slogan, "Texas-Itís Like A Whole Other Country." Sonja Garza is the Executive Director of the Houston International Protocol Alliance. She says Houstonís diverse population can trace its heritage to countries all over the world.

SONJA GARZA: Right now, approximately one-third of the community is Hispanic, either direct or descent. And when we say, we lumped it as Hispanic and it changes depending on where you are. California uses Latino. So the terminology changes. But in Houston thatís a very large Mexican population; over 50,000-actually I think itís over 75,000-people from El Salvador; a very large Guatemalan community. So Central and South America have large representations here. Itís about one-third Afro-American, including descendants from Nigeria, which is one of our largest communities, but Ghana has a very large representation; South Africa; Niger; Kenya; Ethiopia. We just had a delegation of Ethiopian ministers here. So, many of these African countries do have a community base here. Some of them are here for educational reasons. Some of them have already established themselves here and are working and living here. And then we have a growing Asian community, both Japanese and Chinese; Southeast Asian, for example. So itís right now about a third in the Afro-American, a third Hispanic, and then a third of the Caucasian/European background, with a growing Asian community.

MCHUGH: I donít think people realize that Houston is an international city. It kind of comes as a shock to them. But yet it really is a very international city.

GARZA: You are absolutely correct. That has been one of the dilemmas we have encountered, that when you go outside of Houston most people donít know that. We actually have the fourth largest consular corps in the country. More foreign governments are represented in Houston-outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So itís truly, itís a vital part of our economy, itís a vital part of our life, and itís something we see every day.

MCHUGH: Houston city officials, conscious of the communityís growing and diverse population, created the Houston International Protocol Alliance in the mid-1980s. Sonja Garza says the Protocol Alliance is now a department of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and focuses solely on the cityís international relations.

GARZA: We were established now almost 15 years ago under former mayor Kathy Whitmeyer, who felt that the future of Houston was going to be in international relations. And there was some concern, both by the mayor and by the city leaders, that we were not as well prepared as we could be, should be, to succeed in the global marketplace. And that perhaps we could be better served by having a professional office that would focus on international relations-on the government side primarily-so our focus is serving as the cityís liaison to the consular corps. And we have 73 consulates represented in Houston. Everything from Albania to the Ukraine. We also handle dignitary visits, so whenever we do have visiting ambassadors, dignitaries, to the city of Houston, we help coordinate their itineraries when they are here and facilitate their interaction with Houstonians.

We handle sister city relations. We have 13 sister city agreements around the world. Those are municipal exchange programs, manned primarily by our volunteers and we just provide them the support necessary to fulfill their mission of promoting people-to-people understanding, cultural ties, business exchange.

In addition to that we actually serve as the Mayorís Office of Protocol and International Relations. And I also accompany him and coordinate the logistics as well as the protocol side when we are at another country, and advise him on protocol and cultural sensitivities as well as the existing relationship between Houston and the country that we are visiting.

In addition to that, what we have found is that as Houston has grown in international relations, there has been a greater need in the general public for awareness. For information. We are a nonprofit, a service organization. So anyone can call us and say, "We have an ambassador coming in"-a corporation, for example, thatís doing business-"What would be an appropriate gift? What types of foods can we serve, shouldnít we serve? What topics would be appropriate? What courtesies can the city of Houston provide that might help us enhance our business opportunities with this country or with this dignitary thatís coming in?" So we advise them as well.

MCHUGH: Garza adds the Protocol Office responsibilities extend beyond Houstonís government and business sectors. The Office also coordinates what she calls a unique, "suitcase" project. The outreach tool is designed to help area schoolchildren learn more about the cultures and histories of the countries that have strong ties to the city of Houston.

GARZA: That was something that was suggested to us by one of our former consuls general at the Consul General of the Netherlands. Felt we had a very unique opportunity, because of our relationship with the consulates, to educate the youth of Houston about the international community and ties that we shared. So we actually did some fundraising, purchased real suitcases, on wheels, and worked with the Harris County social studiesí supervisors to implement a program that school teachers could use to teach a lesson on the Ukraine, on Mexico, on China. And then we worked with the consulates and said, "These are the types of things that would be useful for a teacher whoís going to be teaching social studies to a fifth grader. And they helped us put together suitcases. And we launched that program just over three years ago, and now several of the countries that are in highest demand have three or four suitcases to meet the demands of school teachers. For example, the Indian suitcase has an Indian Barbie in a sari, for example. It has currency, it has flags, it has maps, it has music, it has videos. It has what the kids might want to play with in India. So they are fascinating pieces and theyíve become very popular. So thatĎs been one of our outreach programs.

MCHUGH: Capitalizing on the success of the Protocol Alliance, city officials recently formed another outreach organization, called the "Houston Image Group." In addition to her duties with the Protocol Alliance, Sonja Garza also serves as Executive Director of the Houston Image Group.

GARZA: Iím sure youíve come across this since youíve been in Texas. In Texas everything is bigger and better, and in Houston itís of course the best of all of Texas. However, we found that when you go outside of our borders that image wasnít always shared, to our surprise. And so former Mayor Lanier decided that we needed to do a bit more of an aggressive job in promoting ourselves. We all knew we were wonderful and that the city had so much to offer, but we werenít sharing the differences, the diversity in our people, diversity in our economy, our attractions, with the world outside, both domestically and internationally. So that, Houston Image Group was developed out of that concept. We have then since moved not only to promoting it on a domestic level, but also on an international level. Because when you consider that Houston has the port with-itís the first port in international tonnage in the country-the 8th largest port in the world-huge international ties. Our medical center, which is one of the largest in the world, also receives many, many international patients a year. Our airport is growing phenomenally. We have more than 44 international destinations that we can fly to.

Business, because of the energy sector primarily, we started reaching out and doing business in different countries. Well, after the energy pioneers went in then we had our high tech, bio tech, Compaq Computers, BMC Software, offshoots, of the space industry, of the medical industry, that were opening doors for us all over the world. So, we decided we also needed to focus our marketing efforts on the international side. And therefore we have marketing materials in Russian, in French, in Mandarin, in Japanese, in Spanish, in Portuguese. We find those are our major language markets when weíre doing business internationally, so we try to make sure that anyone who wants to do business with us, we can make it as easy as possible for them.

MCHUGH: What would you estimate is the economic impact of the international community here in Houston?

GARZA: Itís huge. Itís billions of dollars. I can tell you one of the statistics, that the mayor, Mayor Lee Brown, is often quoting, is that one out of every three jobs is either directly or indirectly impacted by international business. And if you look at our schools there are something like over 50 languages spoken in our schools. Because we have a community of over 50,000 Indians-people from India. We have over 50,000 Vietnamese. We have over 50,000 Nigerians. I mean, almost, itís, Houston really is a microcosm of the world. So just about every aspect, like I said, through our port, our medical center, our high tech, is impacted by international business.

MCHUGH: Why are they attracted to Houston?

GARZA: You know, itís really funny because I ask people this all the time. The answer I usually get is that first, Houston is green. Houston is clean. And then, the one when people start to think about it, what I think is the most significant factor, is that Houston is a very open place. And open, I say, weíre known, we can, we just call ourselves "the city with the can-do spirit." And people will tell you over and over again, you can come here with nothing. We have a leader in the Asian community who literally came here with nothing, from China, and is now one of our major bankers in the city. And when one individual succeeds that way it impacts many other individuals. And others are attracted to the opportunities that Houston offers. And itís an opportunity thatís open, for example, in volunteering. People tell me sometimes that they go to other cities around the world or other cities in the US, and they want to contribute in some way. But sometimes doors are shut or itís not easy to make friends; youíre not sure where to go. Most Houstonians are very good at reaching out to those who have come. And they will tell you, "Well, here, you can go and you can go volunteer at M.D. Anderson, it has a very active program." And because we get patients from all over the world seeking treatment there, many of our consular corps spouses, for example, volunteer there. They use their language abilities to help some of the cancer patients or their families. If you want to go and volunteer at the opera, you can go and volunteer at the opera. If you want to go and work with our schools, you can go and work with our schools. So it really is pervasive. Every aspect of Houston-itís a very open society.

MCHUGH: If there was one thing that you would want to tell my audience, what would it be?

GARZA: I would say itís friendly, itís open, itís a big city with a small town feel. Itís very easy to live and work here. Itís a good place to raise a family. And itís a good place to do business and succeed and accomplish the dreams that you have set for yourself.

MCHUGH: Keeping up with the happenings of Houstonís large international community is a challenging and time-consuming task. The Houston Chronicle, the cityís main daily newspaper, has a weekly column dedicated only to the events happening within the international community. One of the cities largest television stations is taking that a step further. CBS affiliate KHOU operates a full-time Mexico City bureau.

[sound of a street protest in Mexico City, followed by a reporter ending her report] "Angela Kucherga, 11 News, Mexico City."

MIKE DEVLIN: You donít have to be a genius, you donít have to know demographics, to know that the number of Latin and Hispanic residents is growing at an enormous rate in Texas. It always has. But within the last 10 years or so, an enormous growth.

MCHUGH: Mike Devlin is KHOUís Executive News Director.

DEVLIN: They are underserved in, by the media. Certainly the Telemundo and Univsion stations here serve them in Spanish. But we are, you know, as an English station, like all English stations, simply weíre seeing our audience become fragmented across the entire spectrum. And secondarily, we still are an English station. We need to educate and enlighten, I think, our folks out there who have a certain viewpoint of Hispanics in Houston. So this was a way of, we can tell some stories. And if we want to do that, where do have to go?

MCHUGH: KHOU chose Mexico City after consulting with colleagues at the Dallas Morning News, a Dallas newspaper owned by Belo, the same media group that owns the television station. KHOU started airing reports from its Mexico City bureau in January of 2000. Devlin says the television bureau combines its resources with the newspaper operation.

DEVLIN: We have one reporter, a photographer, and we have a driver, which is very, very important down there, because getting around Mexico City is a nightmare. And so it really is a three-person crew. But they travel together a lot. Our newspaper and TV people travel; they go out on many of the same stories. We use that word "synergy," which has become a great clichť. This is probably a great example of terrific synergy down there, from a media standpoint.

[sounds of street protest in Mexico City]

DEVLIN: We want to stay with the hard news bent. When Fox was elected we certainly were there. In fact, we were the first US TV station to get a sit-down interview with him the next day. We have done some features that range from the fire breathers there you see on the street corner.

Angela Kucherga: [reporting, with the sound of heavy traffic in the background throughout the report] During the day he shines shoes outside a subway station in Mexicoís bustling capital city. At 7 pesos a pair, the equivalent of 70 cents, Deliberto Vasquez Martinez makes about $5 a day. Vasquez is known as "Carritas" to his many loyal customers."

[Vasquez speaks in Spanish to one of his customers, then Kucherga resumes reporting]

KUCHERGA: [reporting] But no matter how hard he works itís never enough. So every afternoon he puts on clown makeup and prepares for a second job. As the sun sets Carritas goes to work again.

[sound of a blast of flame, then Kucherga continues]

KUCHERGA: [reporting] Small torches, a jug of diesel, and strong lungs are his tools. Carritas is one of Mexicoís fire breathers, who entertain motorists at busy stoplights.

[sound of a blast of flame, then Kucherga continues]

KUCHERGA: [reporting] Carritas admits itís dangerous if you donít know what youíre doing. It took him years to learn the technique from another fire breather.

Deliberto Vasquez Martinez: [via a translator]: Iíve lost my fear of working with fire. Many people say Iím going to die with cancer, but I donít believe them.

KUCHERGA: [reporting] The 40-year-old has been a so-called "lanca fuegos" for 17 years, most of his adult life. Heís even taken his act to Acapulco, Vera Cruz, and Puerto Vallerta.

MCHUGH: How difficult is it to gather news in Mexico City?

DEVLIN: You have a history of the media in Mexico City, principally the newspapers, who are very, the reporters are very underpaid. And many of them historically have been paid off by the ruling dominant party. So, and thereís just a different viewpoint of the media. I mean, the first amendment is a, is one of the greatest, obviously, documents in the history of the world. And we take it for granted. And so the entire viewpoint of the media and reporters down there is much different. So you have kind of that cultural difference. You also have a just, logistical difference. I mean, Mexico City, our crew sometimes it takes them an hour and a half, two hours, to drive six miles, on a bad day. So itís very, very difficult for them to get around. And then you have, just, you know, the citizens down there are either wary-they are wary of talking with an American. They donít trust them, Ďcause they canít see the product. And they have a deep distrust of the media there because historically it has not, you know, been known for its accuracy. Things are changing, though. So it is a very difficult job for them to do down there.

KUCHERGA: [reporting] These days itís hard to find fire breathers on Mexicoís streets. A few years ago social service organizations launched a campaign urging motorists not to tip people like Carritas, the goal to force the "lanca fuegos" to find a safer way to make a living. But enough people are willing to pay to keep some of the fire breathers in business. Carritas says he earns between $10 and $30 a night. Street-corner entertainers are just one segment of Mexicoís thriving informal economy. Because thereís not enough full-time employment, the government estimates up to 40 percent of the population survives doing odd jobs.

MCHUGH: It is really unusual for a local station to finance an international bureau.

DEVLIN: Well, it depends on how you define local. We, our niche these days, we are a local TV station. We do not cover national events unless a local story becomes national. But, it is how do you define what is local? And sometimes what is local is not purely defined by the borders of your city or of your television reach. To the Mexicans, Houston is a northern Mexican city. Mexico City is an hour forty-five by plane. And there is this vast movement back and forth along the border of multinational people.

MCHUGH: Is this a short-term venture or a long-term venture in terms of finances?

DEVLIN: Well, this will be a long-term one. The costs are, Mexico City costs are comparable to Houston. And this is really a long-term play. As long as our crew can handle it down there.

MCHUGH: Whatís the response been in the Houston community?

DEVLIN: I think overall it has been very positive. Within the Hispanic community, and we certainly have not gotten anything from the Anglo community that says, "Hey, how come youíre doing that?"

MCHUGH: Sonja Garza of the Houston Image Group agrees.

GARZA: Mexico has a huge community here. So having a bureau office that is really aware of the international impact of Mexico on Houston was significant.

PORTER: Houstonís annual International Quilt Festival, next on Common Ground.

LEZLIE ZWALL: Thereís the Internet quilters, which is how I got to know about this, was through the Internet. And Iím here staying with a friend I met on the Internet. Until yesterday I had never met her live. But weíve been chatting back and forth for the past three years or so on the Internet.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Houstonís two major airports and warm climate make it an ideal location for large, international business conferences and conventions. Dozens of large gatherings happen every year at Houstonís George R. Brown Convention Center. But the biggest by far in recent months was the International Quilt Festival

[Someone making announcements about the quilt festival over a public address system]

MCHUGH: Quilting, or the simple task of sandwiching layers of fabric together to make garments, bedding, or carpets, can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. And although many consider it an American art form, quilting is popular in nearly every corner of the world. Just ask the nearly 54,000 quilters from 26 different countries who gathered at the convention center last November to view more than 1,000 quilts, participate in hundreds of classes, and attend dozens of lectures on the art of quilting.

CHRISTINE PERNING: I want to see all the nice quilts and see the them , and not only in picture, in magazine, and books.

MCHUGH: Christine Perning, of Stockholm, Sweden, is just one of hundreds of people who waited in line for more than two hours to get a sneak peek at the International Quilt Festival. Perning, like most in attendance, is interested in seeing how crafters from other parts of the world interpret the art of quilting.

PERNING: We are not so many of us who do quilting, and I donít think quilting-it is in the old Swedish tradition, but not as much as here in America or in England.

MCHUGH: Still others, like Lezlie Zwall, of Edmonton, Alberta, attend the quilt show to meet new friends. Zwall uses the Internet to correspond and share ideas with quilters from across the world.

LEZLIE ZWALL: Thereís the Internet quilters, which is how I got to know about this, was through the Internet. And Iím here staying with a friend I met on the Internet. Until yesterday I had never met her live. But weíve been chatting back and forth for the past three years or so on the Internet.

MCHUGH: The highlight of the International Quilt Festival is the display of the annual award-winning quilts. The theme for the 2000 contest, sponsored by festival organizers, fabric companies, and sewing machine manufacturers was "Quilts-A World Of Beauty." Hollis Chatlain, of North Carolina, won the Fairfield Master Award for Contemporary Artistry with her quilt titled "School-Itís Never To Late To Learn." The 47"x63" quilt, which looks more like a painting than a traditional quilt, was inspired by the years she and her husband lived in Africa.

HOLLIS CHATLAIN: This is a photograph that my husband took. My husband worked for a humanitarian organization. And they had set up a training program for women to learn to read and write so that they could start their own businesses. And he photographed these women at the training program, and the women are not only there learning to read and write, but theyíve brought their little girls with them.

MCHUGH: Chatlain says she started quilting so she could capture her memories of Africa. But she also says her quilts send a powerful message to others.

CHATLAIN: One of the wonderful things about doing this type of work is Iím able to bring across a positive message about Africa. Because my memories of Africa are very positive. The people are really wonderful people. Theyíre fun to be around, theyíre really hard working. They donít have easy lives but they show up every day for work with a smile on their face. And theyíre just a real inspiration to me. And I want to show that in my work. I want to show the joy and the spirit and the beauty, because I do feel that in the media we hear so many negative things about Africa. People think of Africa as statistics about famine and war and turmoil. And so many of the people live very quiet lives in the country and theyíre very happy. And they have, within them, they have such a joy, that I want to bring that across in my work.

[Sound of a large crowd interacting]

MARGUERITE HEINISCH: The name of my quilt is "And Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood."

MCHUGH: Austrian native Marguerite Heinisch won the 2000 Founderís Award. Her red, white, and blue creation is a breathtaking celebration of the new millennium and her recent American citizenship. The 102 square inch quilt is full of symbolic references. But the hallmark is a painstakingly hand-drawn border.

HEINISCH: The border is because when I thought I will be the citizen of America, I thought, "I give up one citizenship in one country, but I will become a citizen of 50 states." And when that dawned on me, when I had that flash of an idea, I just thought, "Fifty states," and I thought, "That would be wonderful just to show all the 50 states and do, not, maybe the flag," or I thought maybe the state flower, but then I thought, "No, I want to do the state capitol." And so thatís what I did. Researched it in the encyclopedia and drew it on a piece of muslin and incorporated it as a border. Thatís the finishing touch of my quilt.

MCHUGH: Quilting is one way for Marguerite to connect with her new culture. In other parts of the world, handiwork is an ancient tradition that still plays a role in everyday life. Prudence Hefron, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, has spent nearly 30 years studying the unique folk art of the Cuna Indians.

PRUDENCE HEFRON: They are an indigenous Indian people. They speak their own language, which is Cuna. They live on a large group of tiny little islands that run along the coastline of Panama, literally hugging the coast. They run all the way down to the northern part of Columbia.

MCHUGH: Hefron was one of the expert instructors at the International Quilt Festival. She teaches the Cuna folk art known as "Mola ."

HEFRON: Molas are a type of folk art and they are a true folk art in that the traditional molas, which is a panel of cotton cloth, one is worn in the front, one is worn in the back. It is your clothing, but it is how a woman expresses herself.

MCHUGH: Many quilters say their hobby is a form of therapy. But Hefron says the Cuna Indians are known to take it one step further.

HEFRON: There is a type of leaf, itís called "capysartang" in Cuna. It is a leaf from a tree that grows up in the mountains, that somebody who is really serious about their art would go to a medicine person where they would be, would take the leaves and soak those in water and then bathe their eyes and hands in this water. And itís to help them envision to make better molas.

MCHUGH: A recent survey by Quilting In America magazine shows quilting is a $1.8 billion dollar business in the US. Itís easy to see why. There were nearly 900 retail booths at the International Quilt Festival alone. And the Houston Image Groupís Sonja Garza says the local economy reaps the rewards of the thriving quilt industry.

SONJA GARZA: Clearly itís major when you have 50,000 people coming in. You have hotel nights, you have car rentals, you have restaurants, you have shopping. So, yes, itís a dramatic impact.

MCHUGH: Whatever the impact, new American citizen Marguerite says quilting can broaden horizons.

HEINISCH: Itís a message and itís very visual. And people see it and talk about and say, "This is the idea," and you think a little bit more about it. Because if you talk about the piece and you donít have a vision, what it can mean, it means that we can harmonize together.

MCHUGH: The city of Houston hopes to capture the very harmony Marguerite is referring to by being the annual home of the International Quilt Festival. And Sonja Garza says the city now dreams of hosting what is arguably the most important global celebration.

GARZA: We have a Houston 2012 Group, a nonprofit, that is seeking to have Houston host the Olympics in 2012. And they took a delegation to Australia for the recent Olympics. And we feel optimistic. We think we do have a good chance at hosting them. Houston has been the site of the Economic Summit, of the Republican National Convention. So weíve had some major international events already held in the city. So weíre hoping that we can add Houston 2012 to the list.

MCHUGH: For Common Ground, Iím Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0105. That's Program Number 0105. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500. That's 319-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is commonground@stanleyfdn.org.

PORTER: HťlŤne Papper is our associate producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Additional audio courtesy of KHOU-TV in Houston. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2001 by The Stanley Foundation

Related Links:
www.houston-guide.com/protocol/index.html
www.khou.com
www.quilts.org

Sponsored by
The Stanley Foundation
209 Iowa Avenue
Muscatine, Iowa 52761  USA
319•264•1500
319•264•0864 fax
commonground@stanleyfdn.org
www.commongroundradio.org