These stories were part of a yearlong look at the growing immigrant community. About one in four residents of the Greater Houston were born in another country and they are changing the city. I spent time immersed in the communities and found stories of people who came from all corners of the world.
A refrain rises inside Jerusalem Halal Meats, through crowded aisles and hidden alcoves.
It is in the eye-popping posters advertising Shan Ready-to-Eat cuisine. In the “swoosh” of automatic doors welcoming customers with signs in Spanish and Arabic. In corners stacked with Islamic gowns, ornate prayer rugs and hookah pipes.
It echoes in the voices of customers who hail from Angola and Afghanistan, Brazil and Bangladesh. It reverberates in the hum of employees from Cuba and Guatemala, Ethiopia and Egypt. It dances in the words of co-owner Khaled Atieh as he greets regulars – “Assalamu alaikum” (peace be upon you) – and chats with workers in Castilian Spanish, complete with the signature lisp.
It resides in his story, a man affectionately known as “Shawish,” Arabic slang for “Sarge.” A Palestinian born in Jordan, Atieh came to the United States 30 years ago to study. He built a life, a family, a business.
Today, his store in a strip mall on Hillcroft Avenue is a gathering spot for immigrants from every corner of the globe, who are drawn by the panoply of products stocked on his shelves.
It is “B” lunch at Lee High School. The cafeteria, hushed and empty just a minute earlier, now shudders and shakes with the rumble of nearly 700 teenagers.
They jostle in the food lines and sprint to octagonal tables, Styrofoam trays balanced precariously in hand. They gossip and giggle and gab, voices sweeping and swirling like an ocean’s roar.
Amid the tumult, one table stands out.
Here, a group of girls cluster, their laughter chiming like church bells on a Sunday morning. They drink cartons of Tru Moo chocolate milk and munch on hamburgers, pizza and baby carrots. They agonize over algebra worksheets and moan about English essays. They whisper secrets, text friends and post pictures.
Just like high school girls everywhere across America.
But look a little closer, listen more carefully.
These 10 girls, who sit together every day, hail from nine different countries. They are originally from Angola, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Nepal and Thailand.