PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the Hispanic community along the coast of Mississippi by eating food from various countries in South and Central America, listening to music and shopping.
The Sun-Herald reported that the festival, called Festival Hispano, was held Friday in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which started on Sept. 15 and goes until Oct. 15. Parts of downtown were blocked off to facilitate the pedestrian-only crowd, the newspaper reported.
Lazaro Rovira, who has lived on the Coast since 2014, had helped launch a similar festival in 2015 but then it later lapsed. Then the new mayoral administration reached out to Rovira to see about reviving the festival. Rovira told the newspaper that he nearly started crying when they did.
“It really makes us feel welcomed, appreciated and part of the community,” he said. “We don’t always feel that way. So when the city reaches out and does this, it really means a lot to us.”
The Hispanic community is growing along the coast and in Pascagoula. According to the 2020 census, the Hispanic community in Jackson County grew by 57% over the last decade. Across the state the Hispanic community grew by 32%. About 20% of the students in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District are Hispanic, the newspaper reported.
Katarina Scott, a public information officer for the city of Pascagoula, said the city has also seen a growth among Hispanic-owned businesses.
“We wanted to celebrate the contributions that they make to our community,” she said.
Ingalls Shipbuilding had a table at the festival staffed by people who speak Spanish so they could talk to festival-goers about jobs at the shipbuilder.
Linnette Sanchez, who attended the festival, moved to the Coast from Puerto Rico six years ago after her husband got a job with Ingalls. She works at a law firm that specializes in immigration law. They live in Gautier, in part because she liked the district's programs designed for students who are learning English, like her daughter. The Coast, said Sanchez, reminds her of where she's from in Puerto Rico.
“People here are very much like our hometown,” she told the newspaper. “Very welcoming, looking out for each other.”