Three Asian Americans on Harvey: A stranded evacuee, a Katrina survivor, and a Trump booster
If you’re a president known for tweeting, of course, there’s only one way to
show any empathy.
You do selfies.
It was Trump in what would be known as a “mulligan” in golf–his second visit to
Houston since Hurricane Harvey demolished Texas. Trump arrived on Saturday at
the NRG shelter in Houston and on the make-good finally seemed to understand his
role as comforter-in-chief.
When he spoke to reporters, he seemed impressed by what he saw.
“Very happy with the way everything’s been done, a lot of love,” said the
president about the aid effort.
Trump likes to throw that word “love” around these days. Let’s see if he finds
any for DACA recipients on Tuesday.
But on this day, Trump said people he talked with at the shelter were happy.
“It’s been a wonderful thing,” he told reporters. “As tough as this was, it’s
been a wonderful thing. Even for the country to watch and the world to watch.”
Of course, the whole world saw the state of American infrastructure under Trump.
People in high water trudging along as if the U.S. were a developing country in
denial of climate change.
Will this Trump show of empathy reverse first impressions?
Sure, he’s promised a personal donation of a million dollars to help. And he’s
asking Congress for $79 billion for Houston’s recovery. So he’s done what’s
Will it be enough to undo what could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S.
EVACUEES STILL WAIT FOR WATER TO RECEDE
While some residents were able to pick through the debris of their material
lives on Saturday, that didn’t include Jessica Kong and her mother and brother.
The home where they live to the west of Houston in Katy–where the reservoir
releases made Harvey’s impact even more formidable–was still underwater.
The Kongs lived in one of the estimated 200,000 homes in Houston damaged by
Since Monday, August 28, the family voluntarily evacuated, when the water was
just thigh high.
“I really don’t know when we’ll be back,” Jessica told me by phone on Friday.
She shared a picture of her home that a neighbor took on Thursday.
“The water is still high,” she said. “We have no flood insurance.”
Her family has already applied for FEMA relief online. Reports say more than
450,000 have already registered. The Kongs have also contacted their homeowner’s
insurance company. After staying in a shelter in the local middle school,
they’ve since relocated to Jessica’s older sister’s suburban home, which did not
suffer from Harvey’s rains. And even now, as she contemplates the laborious task
of rebuilding after Harvey, she marvels at how strong her core family has been
throughout the whole ordeal, relying on each other, friends, neighbors, and
She feels that the storm has prioritized the importance of things in her life.
She paused as she thought of a friend who lived in Dickinson, a more heavily hit
area toward the coast.
That friend, a young woman, had been diagnosed with cancer this year. And she
lost everything in the storm.
It’s a reminder to Kong of her relative good fortune.
As she and her family rushed out of the house, they took only what was
necessary. But one item she had to leave behind was a special portrait of her
mom that her late father, who died of cancer in 2005, commissioned for her 50th
“It was too big,” Kong said. They placed it on the second floor of the home and
hoped for the best when they return.
Whenever that might be.
On the podcast Emil Amok’s Takeout, she talked about
how the family left her home when the water was still about thigh high and
shared what she thinks her lasting memories of Harvey will be. And she
contemplated the actions of Donald Trump, and if a show of compassion to Harvey
victims could force his hand on DACA or expose him as a hypocrite. Kong said
she’s been disappointed by Trump’s performance to date and doesn’t expect much.
KATRINA SURVIVOR DOESN’T WANT TO SEE SAME MISTAKES IN HOUSTON
Also on the podcast is Katrina survivor Steven Wu, 25, who talks about how the
experience helped him to both cope and assist his neighbors in his new hometown,
“I have an idea how to help, ” he said on an interview conducted Aug. 31 for the
podcast, Emil Amok’s Takeout.
He talked about the power of the group hug, as he witnessed the love shared by
volunteers who comforted Harvey victims in the shelters.
Wu, working as a volunteer for the Organization of Chinese Americans, said there
were 17 shelters set up in churches and community centers in the west part of
the county specifically to help out Asian Americans who needed language
assistance. Some even offered the comfort of Asian food.
Such a detail can be important in limiting the trauma that comes with mass
evacuations during natural disasters.
Wu said that his Katrina experience as a 13-year-old made him “grow up quickly.”
He worries about the kids who will have to deal with the trauma of Harvey,
because he knows how Katrina impacted him.
He’s also worried about FEMA and the insurance process.
“FEMA was a trainwreck,” Wu said about his Katrina experience. which included
life in a FEMA trailer outside his damaged home, eating MREs and living with an
inconsistent water supply. The memory of that motivates him to help out for as
long as necessary in the place he’s called home the last three years.
“I want to make sure it’s as easy a process as it should be,” Wu told me. “We
went through this before as a region and a country. We shouldn’t make the same
mistakes in Houston.”
The biggest lesson Wu learned from Katrina is that a community can rebuild,
although it will take many years. Because he’s seen it before, he offered some
tips. “Conserve your energy,” Wu said. “This is a marathon.”
He also added this for those who may feel personally overwhelmed by the losses
“We need you to be positive and to tell yourself not to give up,” Wu said. ”
Please don’t give up hope now.”
HOUSTON’S FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN COUNCILMEMBER EVER–MARTHA WONG
Martha Wong, 78, is an Asian American political legend. The first Asian American
woman elected to the Texas state house, she was also the first Asian American
member of the Houston City Council.
She’s also a Republican. Wong wasn’t a Trump supporter at first, but became one
by the election. She said Trump may not be great as far as empathy goes, but she
was still satisfied by his first visit.
And she has no doubt Houston will be back on its feet.
She was untouched by Harvey, living in a high-rise next to Joel Osteen’s
Lakewood Church. We talked about that and other things, including Houston
politics and how small government conservatives might sing a different tune in
post-Harvey politics. And we talk about why Houston floods so much.
Listen to my conversation with Wong on the podcast
NOTE: OCA of Greater Houston, which AALDEF represented in a voting rights case
in Texas, has helped to establish the Harvey AAPI Community Relief Fund. Help
the Asian American community in the Houston area by making a donation:
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.