texasmonthly.com: What first got you interested in writing about Hubert Vo?
Pamela Colloff: Vo was one of the only Democratic success stories on election night, so there was a lot of media coverage about the race last November. The odds against him had been really steep, so I thought that the story of how he had won must be an interesting one.
texasmonthly.com: Your article focuses on Vietnamese Americans and Arab Americans. Do you know what’s happening with the other Asian Americans in Houston?
PC: There is such a multiplicity of Asian American communities in Houston that it’s hard to answer your question. There are Filipinos who have just immigrated to the city, there are Chinese Americans who have lived there for generations, and so on.
texasmonthly.com: In your story you mention that Martha Wong, a second-generation Chinese American, is a Republican state representative who represents affluent Houston neighborhoods. Do you think East Asians (namely Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans) are generally of a different political standpoint than the Vietnamese Americans and Arab Americans you mention in your article?
PC: Again, it’s hard to answer this question because of the diversity of communities that we’re talking about. Are we talking about new immigrants, or Chinese, Japanese, or Korean Americans who have been in this country for a long time? Are they wealthy or working class? As for Martha Wong’s district, it is overwhelmingly Anglo.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think other Houston minorities running for office can be as successful as Hubert Vo?
PC: Absolutely—especially if they run a campaign as smart as Vo’s. It targeted voters who had not necessarily felt that they had a place in the political process before.
texasmonthly.com: How do you think white candidates can reach out to Asian voters? How can Asian candidates reach out to white voters?
PC: Again, it depends on whether we’re taking about Asian immigrant communities, or second- and third-generation Asian communities. If we’re taking about Asian immigrants, I think that white candidates have to be much more in tune with their districts than Talmadge Heflin was. Representative Scott Hochberg is a good model here. As for Asian candidates appealing to white voters, it depends on whether we’re talking about affluent Anglos (such as Martha Wong’s constituents), or Anglos in Alief, who are in a more modest tax bracket. So it’s hard to say definitively.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think Gordon Quan has a good chance against Tom DeLay? Why?
PC: I think everyone, including Republicans, can agree that DeLay is vulnerable right now. Quan could definitely appeal to new voters in the same way that Vo did. But it remains to be seen if Quan will be the candidate who Democrats get behind. So far, former U.S. Representative Nick Lampson is the only person who has formally declared that he will be running in the Democratic primary in DeLay’s district.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think that other large metropolitan cities in Texas could also come to have a majority of minority populations in the coming years?
PC: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio are already “majority minority” cities. Asians represent a small, but growing, percentage of these minority populations.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story?
PC: The language barrier was frustrating. Vo sometimes talked to his constituents in Vietnamese, for example. Even though he was kind enough to translate for me, I’m sure that I missed the texture of these conversations. This was particularly hard when I went to Radio Saigon Houston, because I couldn’t understand anything that was being said around me or on the radio, but I was sure that it was key to the story!
texasmonthly.com: How did you find out about Sally Joe’s Old Houston Bar-B-Que?
PC: Mustafa Tameez told me that I had to go to Sally Jo’s to understand how much Alief had changed, and he was right.
texasmonthly.com: Many out-of-staters picture Texas as a place where people wear cowboy hats and ride horses. Although the demographics of Texas are changing, when and how do you think the image will change?
PC: I’m not sure that it will ever change; people like to hold on to Texas myths. Besides, a lot of Texans outside of Dallas, Houston, and South Texas don’t necessarily know how ethnically diverse our state has become.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this piece?
PC: Radio Saigon Houston was its own little universe. I’d love to write a story about it someday.
texasmonthly.com: In your article people are quoted as saying that the Asian constituency is up for grabs. Which way do you think the Asian community will go, left or right?
PC: I don’t think anyone can really say for sure right now. It could go either way.
texasmonthly.com: Do you see the future of Houston’s politics changing because of the racial makeup of the city? If so, when do you think this shift will occur?
PC: I think it’s happening right now.