Now that the International District’s three largest and oldest high schools have produced a generation or two of alumni, it’s fun to examine which famous athletes, musicians, performers, artists, business leaders and scientists came from each of these schools. Looking back now on the past 47 years since Hastings opened (followed soon by Elsik and later Taylor, Kerr, and Early College HS), it’s clear that the International District more than holds its own as a leader in every field of human endeavor from the recording studio to the laboratory, the boxing ring to Broadway.
In the first of three articles, we’ll look at graduates from Hastings High School.
Duy-Loan Le, is an immigrant success story to end all immigrant success stories and one of the most accomplished people to have ever attended a high school in Greater Houston history. Arriving in America at the age of 12, separated from her family and speaking no English shortly after the fall of Saigon, Le mastered English in months and just four years later graduated from Hastings as a 16-year-old valedictorian. After acquiring an electrical engineering degree from UT (magna cum laude, of course) at the age of 19, Le hired on at Texas Instruments as a memory design engineer. Now retired, she is the only female senior fellow in TI history, the holder of of 22 patents (with eight more pending), and accolades and philanthropic works too numerous to mention. All that and a black belt in taekwondo plus mad skills at the poker table and as a deep sea angler.
Keeping with the tech theme, there’s self-described “technologist” Richard Yoo, who founded web hosting company Rackspace and single-handedly added a whole new tech tier to the economy of San Antonio. Today Yoo serves as a consultant and adviser to companies like Inventables and Xenex and also busies himself as an I.T./Web 2.0 Advisory Board member for the Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship, the Children’s Museum of Houston and the Houston Mercury Orchestra, and was Chair of the Accessibility Internet Rally for Houston. He’s spoken at South By Southwest’s tech conference and is a regular judge at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
In politics, most recently Mumbai-born economist Sonal Shah served as National Policy Director for Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 United States presidential election. This comes after she helped run President Barack Obama’s transition team in 2008 and ‘09 and then as director of Obama’s White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. In the private sector she has helped lead Google.org’s Global Development Initiatives and worked with the Omidyar Network and the Soros Foundation.
Novelist Monique Truong’s three novels examine sexuality, food, and the immigrant experience through the prisms of the lives of historical figures such as Lost Generation author-muses Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in 2003’s The Book of Salt. In last year’s The Sweetest Fruit, the story hinges on Lafcadio Hearn, the Victorian era Greek/Irish New Orleans journalist. Hearn’s globetrotting, taboo-shattering life ended in Japan, where he moved after having been illegally married to an African-American woman from whom he was divorced in 1877. On that country’s southeast coast in the city of Matsue, he married a samurai’s daughter and had four children; Truong tells Hearn’s remarkable story through the memories of the women who loved and/or abandoned him over the 54 years of his life.
Hearn’s life has some strong similarities to that of actress / writer Tembi Locke, star of TV’s Sliders, Eureka, and NCIS: Los Angeles. Like Hearn, Locke married both internationally and across the color line. In Locke’s tragic case, her union with Sicilian chef Saro ended when he died of a rare form of cancer in 2012, and it was to his memory that she wrote her first book: From Scratch, part memoir and part cookbook (as any memoir of a chef/spouse would be). This foray into literature found her straying into her younger sister’s domain: Attica Locke has written five gritty and critically-acclaimed crime novels set on the Texas/ Louisiana Gulf Coast and recently penned scripts and produced episodes of Fox’s smash-hit hip-hop drama Empire.
Speaking of hip-hop, last year Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah, Jr., known to fans as Maxo Kream, released Brandon Banks, his major-label debut. Featuring street-savvy songs set on Bissonnet, Dairy Ashford and Spice Lane, it won plaudits from Pitchfork.com (Best New Music” and a very high 8.4 rating) and GQ. Vanity Fair praised Maxo as “a supple and silky storyteller, with a thick, booming voice that he nimbly contorts into entrancing internal rhymes.” Rolling Stone called Brandon Banks “superb” and “sprawlingly autobiographical.”
Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer, who just 20 years ago arrived as a refugee from the Kuwait war, is enjoying more and more mainstream success. In the past five years, he’s toured as Dave Chappelle’s opening act, made his network TV debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and released The Vagabond, his Netflix comedy special, making him the first Arab-American to star in his own hour-long televised special.
The Locke sisters aren’t the only talented siblings Hastings has produced. Identical twins Jermall and Jermell Charlo are the ranking WBC champs in their boxing divisions. Jermall, the older of the two by a single minute, is the middleweight champ while Jermell, who has been eating for 60 seconds less, defends the light middleweight belt.
On the gridiron, Rodrique Wright was a defensive anchor for the Vince Young-led Texas Longhorns 2005 National Championship team and after three years as a Miami Dolphin is now the defensive line coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Perhaps the most accomplished baseball player nurtured on Alief’s diamonds, pitcher Pat Combs was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies 11th overall in 1988. Combs enjoyed one great year in professional baseball — his first. In 1989, Combs pitched very well or outright dominated at every level of professional baseball, from class A to the National League, where he posted a 4-0 record and a 2.09 ERA in his first six games. Combs was unable to follow up on that success, however, going 10-10 in his next season and retiring two years later.
Hastings has also produced at least two Olympians: the 2016 Rio games saw Ahmed Ali sprinting for Sudan, while Shawn Dingilius-Wallace swam for the Pacific Island nation of Palau, where he holds several national swimming records.