Mississippi’s Gumbo | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mississippi’s Gumbo

I love history. I can spend hours reading about it and watching documentaries. To me, the present isn't understandable without historical context. History is one of the things that drew me to Mississippi, a state steeped in rich, diverse and groundbreaking past.

What saddens me is how often Mississippians get tangled in the black-white dichotomy of oppression. I thought about this recently when a reporter asked me about the lack of African American appointments to the state's charter-school board. I responded that the board didn't have other people of color, either.

I understand why people often don't think about other minorities. We are a state where the majority minority, African Americans, make up more than 
37 percent of the population. It is easy to think that blacks and whites are the only people here—or at least the only ones that matter.

But Mississippi history says otherwise. Before whites or blacks arrived, our Native American brothers and sisters were here. They were part of the Trail of Tears. And Spain and France occupied this land.

Mississippi has always had a diverse group of people. Think of an ethnic group and, in all likelihood, its people reside here. Though their numbers may be smaller, all of them matter. Their history and cultures matter. They are part of the Mississippi gumbo that makes us great. Their history is our history.

It's time for us to do some history homework. I tell my children: "There is no shame in being ignorant. To be ignorant means you just don't know." For those of us with technology at our fingertips, ignorance is often a choice. We have access to wide amounts of knowledge and information—and I'm not just talking about YouTube videos of dancing cats and babies. In 2013, if you know nothing of people unlike yourself, it is because you choose not to know.

Sept. 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. It's a chance to pause and take time to learn some history that has been left out of the history books regarding 2.7 percent of our state population. With all the hate and bigotry some in this state are whipping up regarding Hispanic people and undocumented immigrants, it wouldn't hurt for us to learn about our neighbors.

Here's your first fact: The U.S. government defines Hispanic or Latino as people who can trace their origins to Spanish cultures, such as Puerto Rico, and countries in South or Central America, regardless of race. For the 2010 Census, the form did not define the term. Happy learning, y'all!

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