Get Out the Vo

Before Asian voters flooded the polls, nobody gave an unknown Vietnamese-born Democrat a chance to upset one of the most powerful Republicans in the Legislature. Houston, we have a new political landscape.

WEDGED AMONG THE KARAOKE BARS, orchid shops, halal butchers, sari stores, dim sum restaurants, taquerías, African groceries, Zen meditation centers, and Persian rug dealers that line Bellaire Boulevard in west Houston is Sally Jo’s Old Houston Bar-B-Que. Sally Jo’s is one of the last Anglo-owned businesses on this stretch of Bellaire, and anyone who stops in for the $6.95 brisket plate can sense that the restaurant’s time has passed. In the afternoons, after the lunch rush, it is quiet inside except for the gurgling of the deep fryer. A photo of John Wayne hangs on the wall, above the red-checkered tablecloths. Across the street—where red pagodas mark the entrance to the vast Hong Kong City Mall parking lot—are Arab women in white head scarves and long black abayas; stylish Vietnamese women, a few of whom shade themselves with parasols; West African, Filipino, and Pakistani couples with children in tow. The most popular bumper sticker on the cars parked outside the mall is red, white, and blue and reads “God Bless America.”

Sally Jo’s has served barbecue on Bellaire since the Carter administration, when Alief, as this pocket of west Houston is called, was overwhelmingly Anglo and Republican. (In 1976, 78 percent of the electorate voted for Gerald Ford.) Dairy farms still dotted the landscape then, as did the new subdivisions that appealed to whites moving out of Houston’s urban core. Alief’s demographics began to shift in the late eighties, when the city’s growing Asian community was drawn to the suburbs for the same reasons that whites had relocated there a generation before: safer neighborhoods, better schools, larger lots, and cheaper homes. As immigrants moved in, whites began moving out, pushing farther west to Katy and south to Sugar Land. The exodus has been dramatic: 61 percent of the area’s residents were Anglo in 1990, compared with just 34 percent last year. Now it’s easier to find a bowl of

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