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THIS SUMMER WE SPENT FOUR days driving around the Bayou City with the aim of documenting how its residents live. Like representatives of Publishers Clearing House, we knocked on doors unannounced, but unlike them, we had to plead, “We’re not selling anything—please don’t close the door!” Many did, of course, but a few brave souls agreed to be photographed as is—with no primping or tidying up. Here is what we came back with: a portfolio of people who call Houston home.
Photographs by Artie Limmer
The Harpers: Georgia, 1 1/2, Jene, 34, Jay, 7, Carrie, 32, and Caroline, 6 months
“We love Houston,” says Jene, an executive with a medical-supply company. “I’ve worked other places, and I went to school in Austin, but I always planned on coming back.” The Harpers live in Hedwig Village, one of the Memorial area’s towns-within-a-town. Two of the neighborhood’s pluses, Jene says, are great schools and alert police officers. His wife, Carrie, a full-time homemaker, adds, “I have cousins right around the corner; we go out to eat with them every Friday. Saturday we might go swimming and to our son’s baseball game, even if it’s a hundred and ten degrees. Sunday we go to church. We’ve got a small-town life in the big city.”
Tony Lee, 25, and Caleb Chan, 25
“I moved here from Taiwan at age thirteen,” says Tony, hanging out here in his parents’ garage. “I knew a little English already, so it took me only a couple of months to settle in. I’ve been here twelve years now.” But he’s never been crazy about the city, so every fall for the past few years he has headed off to the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t like the Houston traffic; there are too many cars on the road. And it’s so hot. I mostly stay at home. Outside you melt.” His friend and neighbor Caleb, who attends the University of Houston, agrees: “Yeah, it’s too hot. Houston is just so-so. There’s nothing special about this place.”
The Cohens: Mike, 17, twins Ben and Hannah, 2 1/2, Dorene, 36, and Don, 53
“I’ve been here forever,” says Dorene, an attorney. After 27 years in town, her husband, Don, is practically a native too. An oral surgeon, he’s the patriarch of a blended family; Mike is his son from his first marriage, and his daughter Laura, 22, is away at college. The couple’s opinion of the city is blended too. They give Bellaire high marks for good police service and accessibility to downtown, but their concerns about greater Houston include crime, flooding, and “ongoing, all-encompassing road construction,” says Dorene (about the last, she says philosophically, “No pain, no gain”). Heat is a problem too, they agree, but they can always cool off in their backyard pool.
The Phillipses: Keshaun, 7 months, and Osby, 29
“It’s a good city; there’s so much to do,” says Osby, a lifelong Houstonian who installs insulation and lives in an older area of the city just north of Brays Bayou and south of Texas Southern University and U of H. “I like all the diversity in the neighborhood, the different races intertwined. I got this house from my grandmother— been here 28 years.” Though he worries about the city’s economic growth, he dismisses the idea of moving away. “Am I fixing to leave anytime soon? Nope, I’m fixing to renovate, doing a big renovation.”
Jason Gutierrez, 27
“I moved here from Dallas four months ago,” says Jason. “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of innovation going on in Houston, like the light rail and the midtown social scene. And Houston’s downtown is much more developed than the downtown in Dallas.” Jason’s work as a marketing manager for E. & J. Gallo Winery takes him all over town, so he learned the city quickly—especially, he says, “restaurant-wise. When my friends want to go out, they say, ‘Have you eaten here?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘How about here?’ ‘Yep.’ That’s why I have to put in my time on the exercise machine.”
Priscilla Flores, 16, Alex Herrero, 25, Edgar Mendez, 8, Jessica Herrero, 5, Rudy Herrero, 36, Rudy Herrero, Jr., 3, Jose Mendez, 35, Mikey Reyes, 5, Yesenia Herrero, 21, Luis Mendez, 5, and Maribel Herrero, 28
This large and extended family regularly convenes to celebrate important milestones; in this case, they gathered to mark Mikey’s fifth birthday. Mikey’s mother is Yesenia Herrero, a doctor’s secretary who has lived in the same house for 21 years—her entire life. “I live with my little boy, my little brother, and my parents,” she says. “The rest of my family are not that far away. We know all the neighbors—the ones next door have been there fifteen years. My neighborhood is mostly Hispanic. It’s our culture, our people. We know we fit in.” Adds her older sister Maribel: “I’ve moved around some in my life, but I always find my way back to Houston.”
Inwood Forest Village
The Broussards: Jontel, 5, Jonathan, 31, Sondra, 31, and Jasmine, 8
“There’s never a dull moment,” says Sondra of life in Houston, which she has always called home. After work— she manages a Copy Doctor store and her husband, Jonathan, is a technical drawing specialist—the couple make sure they fit in family fun. “The girls love Boudreaux’s seafood; they love AstroWorld. And Jillian’s, where you can bowl, dance, play games, everything.” Sondra’s greatest concern is the threat of crime. “Lately there has been a lot in the news about children being kidnapped,” she says. “That possibility worries me the most. But for the most part, Houston is a great city to live in. It’s beautiful, and it’s drawing lots of people from other states.”
Kevin Kaiser, 41, and Ralph Butler, 50
“Worst thing around here is the pollution,” declares Ralph, an ex-Marine. “I can throw a rock from here and almost hit one of the [petrochemical] plants. Best thing is, some good folks live back here.” They include his friend Kevin, who works for San Jacinto Boring and Tunneling. Says Ralph: “We get together; we barbecue. Somebody’s wife makes potato salad; somebody else brings Spanish rice. They’re poor, but they’re good people.” He is the only one in the trailer park with a phone—”Everybody uses it”—and he notes of his residence, “It’s not much to look at, but I call it home.”