Sep 3, 2017
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You can donate to help Asian American Harvey victims here:
Emil Guillermo interviews:
Jessica Kong, who evacuated from her home with her brother and
mother the first Monday after the storm hit.
Steven Wu, a Katrina survivor who now lives in Houston.
Martha Wong, the first Asian American city council person in
Houston's history. She talks about the post-Harvey politics.
Guillermo: Three Asian Americans on Harvey: A stranded evacuee, a
Katrina survivor, and a Trump booster
September 2, 2017 8:53 PM
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
When he spoke to reporters, he seemed impressed by what he
"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
Will this Trump show of empathy reverse first
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 expected.
Will it be enough to undo what could be the costliest natural
disaster in U.S. history?
EVACUEES STILL WAIT FOR WATER TO
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 Harvey.
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
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 extended family.
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 birthday.
"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
, 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
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, Houston.
"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
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
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 from Harvey.
"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
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
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
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
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: http://www.ocahouston.org/harveyrelief.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily
represent AALDEF's views or policies