Understanding Houston: Rice professor chronicles the oral history of city's Asian American community


This is a part of a series connected to our partnership with the Greater Houston Community Foundation's regional project Understanding Houston. This story, and others, also appears on the Understanding Houston website.

Chinese dragon statue and building

This is a part of a series connected to our partnership with the Greater Houston Community Foundation's regional project Understanding Houston. This story, and others, also appears on the Understanding Houston website.

Since 2010, Rice University’s Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA) has chronicled the oral history of Houston’s Asian American community.

“Houston has the eighth largest Asian American population in the country but does not have an oral history archive to record the contribution of Asian Americans to the city. That’s why we are documenting all this,” said Anne Chao. “My goal is that whoever the next historian of Texas will be — that scholar would have to consult our archive to put in Asian American activities. Because if you look at the textbooks of Texas now, they don’t mention Asian American activities and we’ve been here since the early 20th Century.”

To ensure these valuable voices are preserved, the stories of local Asian-Americans are available on the HAAA website, whereby interviewees such as Nathalie Ho Roff demonstrate the importance of Houston’s vibrant Asian American communities, highlighting how their remarkable experiences reflect the larger spirit of the Bayou City.

Roff fled Vietnam with her family in 1978 as a child. Their boat sank, tragically killing much of Roff’s family, including her parents. She and her remaining family members were sponsored by a Baptist church in Virginia with help from an aunt who had come to the United States in 1975. Roff and her brother weren’t happy in Virginia. After a visit, their older sister, seeing the conditions they were living in, took them away to Houston, where they stayed with friends of the family.

Roff went through middle and high school in Houston and eventually made her way to the University of Texas at Austin for college. Roff did everything she could to pay for her education and graduated with only a small amount of loans.

In 1990 Roff finally attended Baylor College of Medicine, where she earned her M.D. specializing in internal and geriatric medicine. After a childhood filled with strife and tragedy, Roff fought her way to an excellent education and currently serves as a respected wound care physician in the heart of Houston.

Roff is just one of more than 200 Asian-American Houstonians whose stories you can explore on the HAAA website. Visit the website here to explore how these experiences shape and inform our region, and visit the Understanding Houston website to learn more about diversity and immigration in the Houston area.

Heather Leighton


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