TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s special correspondent, Esther, recently met up with Sports Host/Anchor of FOX Sports Southwest in Houston’s Chinatown to talk about his career path, family, and passions. As one of the very few Asian Americans in the sports broadcasting industry, he is driven to make change in his hometown and through national broadcasts. It all starts with good bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
We are one of the first customers at Star Snow Ice; it opened just minutes ago at 11:00 am I had asked if he wanted to meet at a Starbucks, but Howard Chen suggested Chinatown. “I’m a Chinatown addict,” he texted me. Who am I to turn that down?
Never mind the heat is making October unbearable for a Chicago native like me, as soon as we enter the restaurant, Chen is excitedly recommending the beef noodle soup – a hot dish. It’s one of his favorite Taiwanese foods. Again, who am I to turn that down?
He orders in Mandarin. We pick a table in the middle of a sea of tables. He gets up to grab utensils. He gets up again for some hot sauce. He is a ball of energy. Our two hot bowls of beef noodle soup arrive fast, but not fast enough, as Chen has already covered several topics, including his cute baby niece. He says he’s lucky to be in Houston, just hours away from her.
Chen spent the second part of his childhood in Houston. His family moved here from Taiwan by way of Canada. When they immigrated, his father’s engineering degree wasn’t recognized in North America. “He had to live in the basement of his older brother in Calgary,” Chen explains, “while being a cook at a breakfast joint similar to Waffle House as he got his master’s degree in engineering.” Chen’s father is one of 12 siblings. “Each sibling had to be an engineer – guaranteed money – and pay for the next sibling’s college education.” This, after Chen’s grandfather escaped from China, and lost all their money at sea. “It wasn’t the best of boats.”
With his father’s work ethic, Chen began his career in college, interning at a variety of places, including Sports Radio 610 in Houston. Like many journalists, his first job was in a small market – Zanesville, Ohio. He ended up working in the state for a decade, before landing a job with Comcast Sports Network in Houston. “It’s very rare for somebody to be part of a game broadcast that they grew up watching. I grew up watching Rockets and Astros game broadcast.” Working at CSN, he says, was a check mark on the list of “big goals” in life.
Yet, despite CSN now being defunct, Chen is satisfied and thankful to still be working in Houston as a sports producer at FOX 26. After all, he is doing what he loves. “One time, my sister asked, ‘what do you want to be?’ I was in seventh grade or so at the time. I didn’t really know. She said, ‘well what do you like to do?’ I said, ‘Well I hate science. So I’m not gonna be a doctor.’”
That in itself is already a deviation from the stereotypical Asian American experience.
Turn the TV to anything sports related, and you’ll see the underrepresentation. “That’s why I really pursued it,” Chen says. “That will do way more good to see my face on a TV screen… than hearing my voice in radio or seeing my name in print.”
Being in the broadcast industry is tough. Small market reporters don’t get the opportunity to interview big time athletes. They cover high school sports. They do it, often without the help of a photographer and without a decent salary. “The thing that kept me going was to be that face.”
“I love sports, but I’m not going to be an NFL linebacker or NFL safety. Probably not going to make the big bucks being an NHL player. The next best thing, other than tackling people and getting paid for it, is talking about sports.”
Not just talking about sports but seeing it. “I feel like I’m witnessing history.” Chen lists off the big moments he has witnessed: Lebron James’ first breakout game in the playoffs, where he scored 54 points. NBA all-star weekend in Houston. NBA playoffs. Yet, for all his mentions of basketball, he says his favorite sport is football.
“Looove the NFL. Every Sunday, there’s nothing more I love than sitting in a sports bar and watching ten games at the same time. My head’s on a swivel!”
We wrap up our conversation at the restaurant, which is packed now. He suggests a bubble tea shop across the street. This man is full of good ideas about Taiwanese food. It’s something he appreciates, after spending his 20s in cities with a dearth of Asian cuisine.
“Every time I’d come back, I’d have to book my flight for lunch. Pick me up from the airport, go straight to Chinatown,” Chen reminisces, “When I would leave, it’d be a 4:00 pm flight because that’s enough time to go to lunch, shop for barbecue pork or pastries, pack it in a luggage, then go to the airport.”
With good food, a good job, and his proximity to family, I ask him if he ever plans to leave Houston.
“To be able to be part of the sports pantheon in Houston – I mean, I’m in my hometown, this is pretty cool. So who knows what will come. It’ll have to be something really good to pull me away from here.“
About the Author
Esther grew up in Chicago and now works as a writer. She enjoys coddling her dogs, brunch, working out, and a spellbinding book. A good day would include all of those activities along with a hearty bowl of 牛肉麵.
Wow, what a great article! 🙂