HOUSTON: From jazz and blues concerts to films about Palestine, the historic Eldorado Ballroom, located in one of Houston’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, has been host to numerous events that have showcased the voices of the people. It was the perfect place for local community arts organisation, Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), to host an event where a diverse group of Houstonians gathered to express solidarity with the people of Pakistan, give money to flood relief efforts, and learn about breadth of the disaster and grassroots aid efforts in Pakistan. VBB artists and organizers donated their time to make the event, a success.
Many in Pakistan might wonder why citizens of Houston care about their plight. Houston may be associated with Bush, Halliburton, oil companies, Enron, and cowboys, but as VBB’s Founding Director, Sehba Sarwar noted, “There is a side of Houston that cares about what goes on in the world and all the people in it.” It was this Houston that showed up to raise about $7,000 in aid, and the checks are still coming in.
I sat down with Project Row Houses Founder, Rick Lowe, to ask him why he decided to attend. He said that when someone in his community is in need, people with the least amount of resources will always find a way to dig deep into their pockets and do what they can to help. He also added, “So many people have done so much for our community and we want to be able to show that same support for others.”
The kind of support and compassion that Lowe talked about was mirrored on a screen that projected images of the recent Aman Ki Asha People’s Caravan. The mood quickly turned somber however, as ferocious sounds of water filled the room. Video clips of the floods portrayed the devastating reality in Pakistan. Everyone in the room went quiet, their eyes fixed on the screen.
The corporate media in the United States has, for the most part, stopped covering the floods in Pakistan. 1972 Vice Presidential Nominee, Sissy Farenthold, who was also in attendance commented, “I looked in the New York Times this morning thinking I might find something on the terrible flood, but there was nothing.” So when images of the floods appeared, for many it was the first time they had seen them. Several attendees said that they did not realise the sheer magnitude of the disaster. Images often speak louder than statistics.
Video clips of interviews with people involved in relief efforts in Pakistan and India, such as human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, came next. Additionally, the audience was treated to a slideshow of fundraising posters produced by Pakistani non-profit Designers United for a Cause, Karachi (DUCK) and students at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.
As the event came to a close, Houston’s Consul General of Pakistan Abdul Karim spoke, urging people to help in whatever way possible, especially in light of Pakistan’s engagement in the war on terror. The community before him was more concerned with how they could help the flood-affected people of Pakistan. As with the familiar unnatural disaster of the flooding in nearby New Orleans, the flooding in Pakistan seems like a story we are supposed to ignore but won't.