Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!


pbernal's picture

Sunnyside, Houston, TX

When I was four, I started school and had to go to the afternoon session of Pre Kindergarten. Rather than spending my mornings watching PBS kids, I’d walk around my neighborhood with my grandma and our two-seat stroller looking into people’s trash bags, searching for aluminum cans. We’d carry big black trash bags in the stroller making it easier for us to walk around and keep piling on the cans inside the trash bags. If we had a good day, we’d fill two trash bags and come home to a rinse with the water hose and climb back into bed as we both watched the telenovela and had pan dulce with cola-cola for breakfast.

I started to explore my community and get to know the people around us by picking at people’s trash. I didn’t think there was anything bad with it. No one would point or stare. If anything, our friends around the neighborhood would already have separated the aluminum cans from the rest of the trash and saved us the time and effort. My grandmother wasn’t an American Citizen or Resident at the time, but she had to make money some way or another because my grandfather and her couldn’t support a house full of seven men and three daughters, plus a new granddaughter. 

My grandmother and I would walk around and talk about random things, like what we’d make for dinner or why my uncles were so lazy around the house. As we talked in our walk, people from their houses would step out and talk to us; keep in mind my grandmother doesn’t speak English and could hardly understand it. And I was just learning to even speak English, but we managed to have conversations even if it was just by gestures and our facial expressions.

In our morning journeys, we’d always walk by a small convenient store that by some strange reason would always have a different name every other three months. The owner of the store would always paint a different mural on the sides, but something that never seemed to change was the bold name always standing out, “Sunnyside.” He never changed that and I’m glad he never did because without it, I wouldn’t have known the name of the community I was living in and walking around in my grandmother’s stroller.

For Pre-Kindergarten, I attended the local public school, Kelso Elementary, just a few minutes away from my grandmother’s house. All the kids I’d play with in the streets and would occasionally see when I’d walk around looking for cans in their trashcans would have class with me. We’d take naps together, share meals, and sing along to the same songs- we were the same. We never took into consideration the color of our skin, our family differences, or our different religious beliefs. All of those things were oblivious.

After school was over, my grandmother would walk and pick me up, never leaving her stroller behind. There were days where instead of walking straight home and starting dinner right away before everyone would come home from work, my grandmother and I would take the afternoon off and choose to buy fried chicken from the local Original Timmy Chan’s Restaurant also known around the community as Hood Classic.

Sunnyside is a predominantly black community with a large portion of Hispanics also making up the demographics of the community. A Chinese family tries and successfully achieves mixing their culture with the culture of the Sunnyside community. They manage one of the most favorite local restaurants of the Sunnyside community by selling the foods all the people in the community like. The Original Timmy Chan sells fried chicken, shrimp fried rice, fried onion rings, sweet and sour chicken, and etc. During lunchtime in school, I remember a lot of my teachers would get together and order food from there as well. Regardless if you lived in Sunnyside or not, people would buy from The Original Timmy Chan Restaurant, a place that welcomed everyone disregarding race or ethnicity. 

When my grandmother and I would walk in, before I myself learned how to speak English, we’d flap our arms to demonstrate that we’d want chicken wings along with fries. Neither the people at the cash register nor the people behind us waiting for their food would laugh. The cashier would simply ask if that was all for today and take the next person’s order. The owner of the restaurant would even give my grandmother the aluminum cans he’d saved for her to pick up and pack in her stroller.

Picking into people’s trash to find cans for my grandmother to have a little extra money for the big family she and my grandfather were supporting was one of the best things I’ve ever done. If I hadn’t walked with my grandmother and her stroller, I wouldn’t have gotten to know the community I was a part of, Sunnyside Houston, TX.


jccohen's picture

community, interdependency



What a moving story of your community and how you, your grandma and the rest of your family, friends and neighbors, and even the Original Tommy Chan restaurant evolved as an ‘community ecology.’  I’m especially struck by how deeply relational this web is, with you and your grandma at a kind of center of the web, then the strands of connections with neighbors, other family, etc., and also at how economics is central here with the collecting of cans as the activity/theme that takes us through the essay.  Language also plays an interesting and somewhat unexpected (to me) role:  instead of acting as a barrier in some of the typical ways, language seems more an opportunity here for people to discover and invent ways of communicating to meet wants and enact connections.  Nice!


Although I didn’t ask you to necessarily speak to the readings in this piece, I’m curious about whether and how any of the readings speak to the experience and process your describe here.  I can see connections with Bateson’s idea of “the pattern which connects” and also Daloz’s thinking about “interdependency” – what do you think?