Dear Houston, I love you.

I was born in Houston 29 years ago. The year was 1988 and my mom was in labor with me for 20+ hours at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the heart of downtown. What did she expect from her first born? I was practically the best thing ever so of course I had to make my entrance.

I have been saying this repeatedly lately to numerous people I encounter: I could not possibly imagine growing up anywhere else besides Houston, TX. Growing up anywhere outside the state of Texas to be exact. People that aren’t from here or who visit for work don’t get it. We have tons of traffic, it’s hot and humid about 10 months out of the year. Hell, we practically get away with wearing flip-flops on Christmas Day. Let’s face it, you have to be a special type of person to immediately fall in love with Houston. But let me tell you something, Houston is unique. It’s special. I know all of it’s secrets.

Houston isn’t physically beautiful. Hell, we have highways (ahem, 290) that have been under construction for 10+ years. I’m sure by the time I get married and have children, they will still be under construction. The streets have potholes that feel like sink holes when you hit them dead-on with your car tires. Thank God the majority of us drive SUV’s in this city because we would be losing tires left and right. The same people that flip you the bird when you cut them off are the same people that hold the door open for you. People from out of town might complain because they can’t navigate the highways that seem to run from one to the next. Houston isn’t a grid like NYC, deal with it. But what outsiders don’t know is that anyone of these highways leads to the best damn cuisine that Houston has to offer: Tex-Mex being numero uno (I beg you to find someone that disagrees with me). Nope, I’m not talking crunchy tacos from Jack in the Box. I’m talking a big, sizzling platter of Texas sized Fajitas from El Tiempo served with hand rolled flour tortillas made by a little lady that you calls you things like “guapa” & “chica.”

I grew up off Telephone Rd. right next to Hobby Airport in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Houston, Garden Villas. My parents were both raised there as children. They also attended a nearby Catholic School in the neighborhood. You bet i attended the same school…Pre-K through 12th grade. The neighborhood is surrounded by Sim’s bayou. It’s the same bayou that tore through my childhood home when Tropical Storm Allison showed up. I remember putting my feet over the side of my bed and stepping into ankle deep water. My parents were strangely calm as water started to rise in our home. I trudged down the street in my dads rain boots that were no use as the water was up to my hips. My family knows what it’s like to lose everything. But really, it’s only possessions, it’s lives that matter. I had two labrador retrievers growing up, Jake and Beau. They were street pups. They knew the neighborhood and bayou like the back of their paws. My mother would get phone calls that they had been found on the 8th hole at Glenbrook Valley Golf Course. We even had to go pick them up from the air traffic control center at Hobby Airport because they had made their way down Telephone Rd. I’m the eldest granddaughter in a large extended Italian family. My father is one of nine children. I have 20+ first cousins on that side of my family. We all grew up within a block radius from one another. Our neighborhood was a small, multi-cultural community. I loved it. I loved running barefoot on the hot blacktop down the street to my best friends house. I loved after school food runs to Dairy Maid, a family owned drive up burger joint on Belfort. You can get a burger basket with piping hot fries, a burger so juicy that it will make your mouth water, and crispy texas-sized onion rings. Oh, don’t forget the chocolate shake. This is why Houstonian’s have trouble understanding the IN-N-Out’s of the world. My Friday nights revolved around high school football and trips to Taqueria Del Sol where I was guaranteed the sloppiest, best platter of chicken enchiladas and a Marranito (Mexican pig-shaped cookie) from the panaderia that smelt like butter and spun sugar. I learned to speak Spanish by singing Selena songs at the age of 9. I cried when I saw that her statue remained unharmed after the storm passed through Corpus Christi.

It gripped me to see the 59 Kirby exit under water. That same exit is where my mother would take my sister and I to Parker School Uniforms when we were in grade school to get fitted for our yearly school attire. I will never again wear blue plaid in my life…EVER. I now see the George R. Brown & NRG stadium being used as a shelter for those who lost everything in this storm. The George R. Brown is a place I know very well because every year around Thanksgiving I attend Autorama with my dad. It’s our daddy-daughter time to look at classic cars and eat candy pecans. Instead of rows of corvettes & chevelles, I see rows of cots where people who have lost everything now sleep. NRG is the same place that I step foot in every year during March as a volunteer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I go from being Chelsy the realtor to Chelsy, the cowgirl, fully clad in my cowboy boots, turquoise everything, leather mini skirt, and hair so big it reaches the heavens. It’s the smell of slow-smoked hickory barbecue and piping hot funnel cakes as I walk around with a giant turkey leg in my hand and a smile on my face. It’s seeing horses run around, kicking up dirt, and cowboys riding bucking bulls, and the sweet sound of country music and couples two-stepping in the stadium pathways. It’s the “yee-haws, and y’alls, and hell-yeahs, and a shiner bock raised in my hand as I sway back and forth and sing aloud to “mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” Instead of hay barrels I now see mountains of clothes that have been donated to the people displaced by the storm.

It’s the beaches of Galveston and Port A where I grew up as a child, running barefoot in the sand, building sandcastles, running in and out of the sea so as to not get swept away by the sea weed. Yes, the water is dark and ugly but the island vibe makes up for it. Think fresh seafood and local bars with live Texas blues music. Take a trip to The Strand in old historic Galveston, where I spent many nights at the Tremont Hotel with family. I remember an older black man who would play the piano in the lobby. I’m sure he has passed on after all these years. Take me back to The Peanut Butter Factory, an old warehouse that doubles as a little fudge shop and antique boutique. I loved their peanut butter fudge. Now, I see debris from the high winds of Harvey scattered on the shoreline. This beach is also where my grandfather proposed to my grandmother, a native of the island. Thank goodness Sacred Heart Cathedral is still standing. They were married in that church. As a child, I attended the feat of St. Joseph every year there. Just think one large Italian food buffet. It’s heaven. If I marry in a church, I pray that it’s that one.

I see the northside of Houston, it’s freeways completely under water. Where there were once cars creating traffic, I now see rescue boats racing through water. My great uncle Joe comes to mind when I think of the north side of Houston. He owned one of the oldest Italian restaurants in Houston, Joe Matranga’s on Irvington. My father proposed to my mother in that restaurant, clad with red and white checkered table cloths with the smell of sauteed garlic and fresh baked bread coming out of the oven. I would sit in my father’s lap as he shared a giant bowl of capellini pasta with me. I was around two years old, so I had more sauce on my face than in my mouth.

It’s going to be tough Houston. Once the cameras leave and the news moves onto something else, we will still be here cleaning up this crap. Harvey is like that ex boyfriend that we all can’t stand. He shows up, causes destruction, you break up with him, but he left a giant mess for you to clean up so now he is on your mind constantly. Over the past week, I have seen Texans come together. I have see ordinary, everyday people become heroes. I have seen people unite and help one another regardless of race. In a world full of hate, TEXAS, you are the definition of love. Texas, we have set the standard for love. One thing I do know to be true, Harvey may have torn through our city,  but he didn’t take the memories, mine, yours, ours, they are still here. Let’s rebuild and make more. Houston, you are truly making America great again. Te amo Houston. Te amo Texas.