As some of you know I am a cemetery buff. I am especially fascinated by Houston cemeteries and have spent countless hours walking and /or riding my bike in many of them, from the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil elegance of Glenwood to the workingman’s dead across town at Evergreen, with it’s riotously colorful Mexican section, so alive come Dia de los Muertos each year. I’ve tramped many a mile walking the oystershell trail loop at the historic African American College Park cemetery, on West Dallas, where Montrose peters out into River Oaks.
(Below, two from Evergreen, in Houston’s East End.)
Of all the cemeteries in Houston today the one that most accurately captures the city as it is in its multiethnic splendor is Forest Park Westheimer. Here you will find little pockets of every ethnicity — there is a plot for the Antone family and allied Lebanese not far from an Armenian section, for example. Elsewhere there are Islamic graves — always laid flat on the ground, and another section for Indian Christians.
And as far as I know, it is the number one favored graveyard for Houston’s East and Southeast Asian communities. Some of them opt for elaborate tombs….
And others don't. Some craft memorials for loved ones locally for loved ones who died a world away.
Such was the case with the subject of this post. In addition to traditional gravesites, Forest Park Westheimer hosts mausoleums in which surviving family members can construct aquarium-sized memorials to their lost loved ones. These typically contain photos of the deceased and mementos of their lives — a model of a beloved car, a football, drawings, paintings, pics of descendants or pets, whatever.
One that really touched me a few years ago depicted a Chinese man and with pride of place in his memorial was a bumper sticker that read “My grandchild goes to Rice,” or something similar. I thought to myself, what a sweet little encapsulation of the immigrant experience and the American Dream.
I posted the pic the other day and got the following response, from Julie Tam, a Houston “Mom & wife. Top Houston real estate broker. Multilingual TV talent, ballerina, soprano, synesthete.”
Oh, wow. Wonderful that you found that special place we put together ￼to remember a very impactful man.
I am the grandchild who went to Rice 1999-2003. I wrote the poem in the frame. That’s my late maternal grandfather, Lieh Fu Chen — former Mayor Pro-Tem of Amoy in Fujian, China and part of the administration of China’s former President Chiang Kai Shek before the Communists invaded. Grandpa was on the Communist “kill” list, so he fled to Taiwan and became a senator, while his wife and kids (including my mom) fled to Hong Kong.
In his later years, grandpa was the director of Cebu Eastern College in the Philippines￼.
One of my Rice application essays was about the week I spent￼ with my family hosting visiting dignitaries and other friends, while my grandpa lay in state in 1999. We attended his funeral procession and cremation, and picked his bones out of the ashes. We brought his urn to Houston, where he rests in peace.
And where I am now a little prouder of my hometown.