It was both exciting and overwhelming making Mexico City my home last summer. Every aspect of the city fascinated me, and studying abroad improved my Spanish just as much as my professors promised it would. I could never learn in a classroom what I learned in Mexico. I could never see Mexican history unfold through the arts, or eat authentic foods, or dance the salsa, or drink genuine tequila, or interact with the community and experience their way of life.
Not only in my travels around Mexico, but also in my ventures to Colombia, Costa Rica and the Yucatan, I have seen the passion and richness that fill the traditions of the Hispanic people. As the Hispanic population has continued to increase in Mississippi, I have seen changes in my own culture, as Mississippi takes on some much needed Latin flavor.
There is no better place to sample this flavor than the 12th Annual Latino Festival on Sept. 16.
Victoria Scantlebury, president of the Mississippi Hispanic Association, observes that after people attend the festival they become more aware of the importance of the Hispanic migration to our state.
"It shows that Mississippi has been transformed into a multicultural community and that the Hispanic community has contributed immensely to this society," she says.
As Scantlebury describes the changes she's seen within the festival itself, she also talks about changes she has seen in the public's response. "When the festival started," she says, "it was a smaller gathering, but now over 3,000 people attend. I think this is because people are more interested in learning more about Hispanic culture."
"Most Americans came from somewhere else, same as with every country," explains Elsa Baughman, a co-founder of MHA. "My family lives in Venezuela, but our roots are in Spain. The more variety in a culture, the richer that culture is, because everyone has a little something different to add to that community."
There will be natives of 15 Hispanic countries at the festival with booths showcasing cultural and educational items unique to their homelands. Jim Turner and his wife Tere, a native of Mexico, were in charge of these exhibits and hope that by visiting the booths, people will begin to understand the differences between the Hispanic countries.
"People often lump all Hispanic cultures together. But just because they all speak Spanish doesn't mean that they are all the same. When you take a closer look, they are all very different, and we hope that the festival will help people see that," Jim says.
The festival is an opportunity for Hispanics to gather together, but Baughman, who is in charge of student activities, urges all Mississippians to attend.
"It's about sharing our culture, and any person who wants to have fun, learn and share a day with us is especially invited to come enjoy the food, music and art," she says.
When I think back on the colorful culture I was a part of last summer, I remember the power and importance of the music in their culture with great affection. Where there was music, there was dance, whether it was a night out on the town, at a home where a few friends were gathering or out in the street. I look forward to seeing the authentic essence of the Hispanic people pouring out in an atmosphere of Latin rhythms and beats, right here in Mississippi.
The Latino Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Rapids on the Reservoir on Sept. 16. Admissions is $6 for adults, and $4 for children 5-years-old and up, senior citizens and members of the MHA.
I cannot think of a better post for JFP as September is Hispanic- American heritage month. We had a huge party in downtown STLa couple of weeks ago.
- El Canario
Victoria Scantlebury ROCKS.
And Festival Latino is one heck of a party. I went to the last one in 2004 and had a great time. (We had to skip the one in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina.)
- Tom Head