Houston – One of the Most Misunderstood and Underappreciated Cities in the U.S.     

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By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine

When someone thinks of Houston and is from someplace other than Texas, a myriad of misinformation might come to mind such as cowboys talking with thick Texas drawls riding on horseback down Main Street of an old west town with tumbleweeds rolling around and they all work in the oil industry.  The fact is that only once a year is it likely that one would see people dressing like cowboys and riding down Main Street and that’s for Go Texan Day and the annual rodeo and parade.  There are no tumbleweeds here as Houston is very warm, humid, and tropical due to its close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.  We are the fourth largest city in the U.S. and very cosmopolitan.  We are the energy capital of the world but we also have the second largest port in the country and one of the largest medical complexes.  We have fortune 500 companies from technology, manufacturing, professional services, and a range of other industries.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Houston is the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the United States, having surpassed both New York City and Los Angeles.  With more than 92 different consulates here, you very well may hear someone speaking with an accent but it’s because they are originally from another country but native born Houstonian’s have rather non-regional accents making it hard to discern where they are from.

From 1990 to 2010, the city experienced an unprecedented growth of 2.2 million people, an increase of nearly one third of the population and 93 percent of this growth was nonwhite.  Yet, despite its enormous demographic growth, Houston’s diversity is fairly well-balanced.  There is no dominant ethnic group.  Only 40 percent of the population is Caucasian.  Latinos make up 35 percent, while African-Americans comprise around 18 percent.  Finally, Asians occupy fourth place with 7 percent; however, this group is the fastest growing and has doubled in the past decade.

The cause of this phenomenon is evident for it is linked to the city itself; Houston is a colossal jobs creator.  The creation of jobs has been driven by the oil and gas industry, the largest in the U.S. but the Texas Medical Center is constantly drawing in talent not only from the U.S. but from the rest of the world as well. Houston’s port is a commercial powerhouse for trade.  In the last decade, Houston’s job base has grown by an astounding 7 percent.  In addition to these driving economic factors, residential factors have also had a relevant impact.  For decades, land around Houston has been inexpensive in comparison with other metropolitan areas.  Comparatively, homes are very affordable, thus augmenting the city’s attractiveness to potential residents.  And above all, Houston is a great place to live with wonderful, friendly people and tremendous opportunities.

Houston’s welcoming character itself has also contributed to its diversity. Houston has welcomed more than 70,000 refugees since the late 1970s.  In several waves, refugees came to the city, settled in, and established support networks.  These networks have made it easier to accept new refugees and connect them with family members who can help.  In the 1970s, the refugees arrived primarily from Vietnam and Cambodia fleeing the war.  In the 1990s, they were primarily Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs fleeing the civil war in the former Yugoslavia while Congolese and Rwandans who came here were escaping ethnic strife in their respective countries.  Currently, the Houston is experiencing a large influx of ethnic groups from Burma fleeing the civil unrest there. Additionally, there has been a marked increase in refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan due to U.S. involvement in those countries.

Today’s reality is undeniable; we live in a city where cross-cultural communication is more important than ever before and must be utilized.  There are many methods one can employ to effectively communicate across language and culture.  First, the most important strategy is to keep an open mind.  This sounds simple but bear in mind that encountering a behavior that is different usually elicits a negative response.  We need to consciously remain open-minded and our focus should be on relationship building, cultural understanding, and fostering trust.  Second, where possible, it is important to establish rapport through mirroring the counterpart’s communication style.  In any interaction, it is necessary to focus on the common goal of communication.  Finally, if the counterpart does not speak English then the best option is to employ a qualified interpreter.  This option will ensure that information is transferred in a complete and accurate manner,

In many ways, Houston’s history and character have accelerated its cultural development faster than most other cities throughout the world.  Most companies in Houston today have remarkably diverse teams and customer bases.  They have the innate ability to conduct business without having to leave town. Houston’s diversity represents a veritable microcosm of the world and demonstrates how diverse more cities will be in the future.  It is apparent that in the near future, the world will recognize and value Houston for the treasure that it is and that one day, people will recognize Houston as being the most culturally progressive, ethnically diverse, and friendliest city in the world!

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As a graduate of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine, Founder, CEO, and President of MasterWord Services, Inc., started her company with a vision of seamlessly connecting people across any language, any time, and any culture.  She can be reached by email at [email protected], by phone at 281-589-0810, or visit her website at www.masterword.com.

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