Written by Camille Frey //
The neighborhood I live in is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Houston. Refugees, immigrants, African Americans, Vietnamese, Latinx, and whites call it home. With this great ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity comes the beautiful mosaic of stories lived by its citizens. As I moved into the neighborhood in 2018, I began to grasp the depth of what these stories meant, and, how through living together, our stories become intertwined.
I moved to Sharpstown, Houston, in August, almost a year after Hurricane Harvey came through Houston bringing mass flooding and destruction of infrastructure, and ultimately uprooting many people’s lives. Upon the anniversary of the hurricane, I found myself reflecting with another woman from Sharpstown who was relocated to Houston after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005. Her story is one of forced migration due to natural disasters. Taking her three daughters with her, she evacuated New Orleans right before the devastating hurricane hit. They found shelter in Sharpstown and began to reorient their lives after a fast and dramatic uprooting.
When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, she knew the devastation well. Twelve years after the storm that hit New Orleans, Harvey served as a traumatic reminder to many members of Sharpstown who, like my neighbor, had been forced to migrate due to various natural disasters. For her, the time that had passed between hurricanes was enough to begin to allow Houston to feel like home. When Harvey hit, many of the painful memories of Hurricane Katrina arose again, and the question of whether she and her daughters would be forced to move arose once more. Thankfully, Sharpstown was not severely affected by flooding in the same ways that other areas of the city were. However, in September, a year after the storm, she still felt as if this place she now called could be taken away from her.
It was a gift to sit and share stories with my neighbor over a plate of cookies. We reflected upon Houston’s rallying cry after the storm — “Houston Strong.” Indeed, my neighbor, and my neighborhood are strong. Houston is a resilient city and Sharpstown is especially full of resilient people. This one neighbor’s story is her own; however, there are many stories of forced migration due to natural or man-made disasters that are carried throughout the apartment buildings, streets, and public and privates spaces of Sharpstown.
As part of living here, I have sought to respond to the trauma that is woven into these stories, both thoughtfully individually, and with my community. Houston’s rallying cry, to believe that Houston is strong, exists because of the diverse stories and experiences of neighborhoods like my own. In response to Harvey, my neighbors opened doors to friends and family affected by flooding. They showed up for other neighborhoods more directly affected, they re-planted gardens that had been drowned by rains, and they welcomed new faces to public spaces while others were being renovated.
Through stories of their own trauma — as victims of Hurricane Katrina, unpredictable weather patterns in Eastern Africa, or landslides in South America — citizens of Sharpstown spread hope and resiliency into Houston. This neighborhood is home to immigrants from Central America who have had to flee from interconnected violence. It is home to refugees from drought-ridden and violence-prone areas of the Sahara desert. It is the home of Katrina victims pushing through healing each day through hope, and it is now beginning to be home to me. Each person carries a story of what it looks like to be strong after trauma brought on by uncontrollable disasters.
Paying attention to this trauma and lamenting many of the interconnected factors that cause it, I’ve considered what carrying these stories and unfolding my own can look like as I live in Sharpstown and contribute to our mosaic. I have learned that natural disasters have very personal and practical implications on our conceptions of home, safety, and community. For my neighbors, home has been redefined because of events like Harvey, but it is through weaving trauma and hope together that our mosaic has grown stronger and echoes of a redeemed home grow louder. For now, Houston is home. And Houston is strong.
Camille Frey is a wonderer. She often finds herself more comfortable asking “why?” and living in the unknown than fully knowing something, or someone. As a connector, Camille finds magical mystery in the ways our lives intersect within our culture, our earth, and our communities. She hopes her own life can be one of living in liberating intersections. Some things that you can find Camille thinking about on any given day are doubt, spaces, creativity, liberation, and podcasting. Camille grew up in Austin, TX, moved to the suburbs of Chicago for college, and is now slowly making Houston, TX her home.