Colonialism and wars, particularly the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s, displaced many Vietnamese from their Asian homeland. The Vietnamese are among the most recent groups of immigrants to settle in Mississippi, which is home to many ethnic groups.
The Vietnamese are one of many ethnic groups that migrated to the United States. It was the similarities between Vietnam and Mississippi, especially the coastal area, that lured this group to become a part of Mississippi’s cultural landscape. Today, generations of Vietnamese families have not only embraced the communities in which they have settled, but they have made significant economic and cultural contributions to the local communities.
Much of the story of Mississippi’s people, both past and present, has focused on, as Willie Morris writes, her two great blood sources: Great Britain and West Africa. (Morris, My Mississippi , p. 36) However, it is both short-sighted and historically incorrect to ignore the influences of other smaller ethnic groups in the state’s development. The Italians comprise one such group. In this lesson, students will study how and why the Italians came to Mississippi. They will discover unique aspects of the Italian heritage and their contributions to the state’s culture.
Jews have always been a small minority of Mississippi’s population, yet over the centuries they have forged communities in the state and preserved their religious traditions.
Their religious traditions go far back into world history. The history of the Jews began with Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion in Hebron, twenty miles south of Jerusalem in the Judaean hills. The Jews created an identity earlier than most other people — more than 4,000 years ago — and that identity still survives. Jews first arrived in North America in 1654.
Italian families have been found in cities and small towns throughout Mississippi since the 19th century. Their story of coming to America shows the obstacles that immigrants to Mississippi faced in assimilating to the broader society and their achievements along the way.
The Mississippi River towns
The first Italians came to Mississippi as part of explorations the French and Spanish governments conducted in the Mississippi River Valley. They were part of Hernando DeSoto’s expedition in the 1540s, and Berardo Peloso was the first European to see Pascagoula Bay in 1558.
A small group of Chinese immigrants came to Mississippi after the American Civil War. In their new environment, they sought ways to earn money and to adapt to the predominant culture of the state while preserving their ethnic identity. They came into a society dominated by Mississippians of British or African ancestry, and the Chinese carved out a distinctive place within this society.