In the News: In Houston’s Katy suburb, a Venezuelan population thrives

They call it “Katy-zuela.”

According to a recent article by Sebastian Herrera in the Houston Chronicle, half of the 11,000 Venezuelan homes in the Houston area are in Katy, a western suburb. Now there are several points of importance in that one statistic.

First, let us start with the simple fact that the Chronicle finds this to be news. They are right, too. If we are paying attention, story after story of ethnic groups settling in and around our major cities is cropping up in the news. Just search “in the news” on this website and you will find many I have mentioned here. The frequency with which we are seeing these stories points to the magnitude of this shift. Truth is, churches in our metro areas need to realize that this is our new ministry context. Changing contexts mean changing methods.

Second, let us drill in on the content of the article. There are 11,000 Venezuelan homes in the Houston metro area. That is a lot of Venezuelans, considering many of these will be family homes. The article points out that many came here for jobs in the energy sector. Of course, Houston is known as an oil town, and Venezuela is an oil country. Houston (along with many other US cities) have lots of ethnic populations similar to its Venezuelan community. This is the new normal. In fact, the online version of this Houston Chronicle article has an option to have it read to you in Houston’s most spoken languages of: Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. Let that sink in.

Third, they are concentrated in a specific area of the metro. Half of these homes are in the same city. Herrera notes, “With time, an intricate network formed between Venezuelans in Katy, thriving through social media, get-togethers and other connections. Venezuelan restaurants and other businesses also began rising.” This led to the nickname, Katy-zuela. Herrera continues, “The nickname was born, though no one seems quite sure who to credit.”

We have talked about ethnic enclaves before, and this is a great example. The article details one family and the cultural dance studio they opened to teach their children traditional Venezuelan dance. The owner of the studio says, “Our dance studio helps Venezuelans to hold on to their roots, and it also shows their roots to other people.” This studio is one of many means that the community will use to transmit their culture on to their children and maintain their cultural identity.

Ethnic enclaves are not ghettos, and this suburban Venezuelan community in Katy demonstrates that. Unfortunately, many people falsely assume that immigrants are poor and uneducated. The assumption carries to a ghetto mentality that imagines ethnic communities form because people do not have the option to live other places. However, many ethnic enclaves are middle or even upper class, and these are most often by voluntary association. In short, Katy has so many Venezuelans because well-off Venezuelans chose to move close to each other so they could create a community. This community provides support and a way to maintain culture instead of being absorbed.

Finally, ethnic enclaves are not a solely urban phenomenon. This is another false assumption. Suburbs are also a destination for international migration. Suburban churches are also in transitioning contexts, and no one church can reach a city, even a suburban one. In order to reach groups like this with the gospel, simply requiring them to assimilate into a traditional church is not the best solution. If this is true of Venezuelans, then imagine what it takes to reach those cultures furthest from a Christian worldview living in our cities. The many Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist peoples that are developing large social networks in our cities to maintain their culture, worldview, and religion will need cultural manifestation of the gospel. We cannot rely on mission methods in our cities that require people to become American in order to become a Christian.

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