Memphis will be the international destination of 21 Latin American countries during the 2012 celebration of the National Hispanic Heritage Festival, which will honor Hispanics who work in the transportation and truck show industries.
Garland H. Reed, president of the Mid-South Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Memphis is going to be an important destination point for Hispanics in mid-September. National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15 in the United States.
“Preliminary contact with the Mexican president’s office seem favorable for accepting our invitation to address our community,” said Reed. “Already, we have begun correspondence with the White House. President Obama would be a welcome guest at our community’s celebration. We expect that he will certainly accept our invitation as well.”
During the festival, about 600 exhibit booths will be used in networking with international officials. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent in Memphis during the month-long observance and in the contractual deals to be made with Mid-South vendors, said Reed.
“International representatives will buy and sell transportation and other support services….Not only will the Hispanic business community benefit greatly, all Memphis merchants can grab a piece of the pie,” said Reed.
Since 2012 is an election year, Reed and the chamber board also expect a number of local, state and regional candidates to take advantage of the opportunity to appeal to so many in the Hispanic community.
Tennessee is one of several southern states where Hispanic communities have taken root and continued to grow exponentially over the past two decades. Davidson County, where Nashville is located, boasts the largest Hispanic population with more than 61,000, according to a demographic study by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in Tennessee. The 2000 census showed there were nearly 124,000 Hispanics in the state. In the 2010 census, that number had more than doubled, with a count of 290,000.
No longer a migrant population
Three decades ago, the Hispanic population in the South consisted primarily of migrant farm workers. But that has all changed, Reed said.
“In spite of all the racism and systematic prejudice by both blacks and whites, Hispanic communities are flourishing all over the country. A bank can deny loan money for a car or house, but our families have overcome the challenges of putting down roots by paying cash on the spot for what they want,” he said.
“No longer is this a migrant population. Hispanics are here to stay. These families have the same dreams for their children as other parents do. Immigration is still a huge issue in this city. Acceptance is desired, just as others have tried to assimilate into the mainstream population.
There are more than 500 Hispanic trucking businesses in the Memphis area, said Reed, noting that landscaping, authentic cuisine, and construction are also huge industries for Hispanic entrepreneurs.
“Many of these men and women are turning a profit, despite the downturn of our economy. Those tens of millions will do a great deal for the city of Memphis. We are reaching out to merchants in other communities to collaborate with us during our celebration and beyond.”
The Mid-South Hispanic Chamber of Commerce expects thousands from all over the South to converge on Memphis hotels, car rentals, restaurants, beauty and barbershops, and every conceivable aspect of hosting a global event.
“We reactivated our charter a few years back to offer services and support for existing businesses as well as aspiring business owners,” Reed said. “We’ll be moving back to the Clark Tower, our original headquarters in 1995 when I first organized the Hispanic Chamber. In January, we hit the ground running. We look forward to cultivating a closer friendship with other communities and government on every level.”
Reed, a Chicago native, is African American, although he is often mistaken as a Hispanic. He would like to see the two communities engage in more social and economic collaboration.
“I think it would be mutually beneficial for African Americans and Hispanics to work more closely together. The minority experience is commonly felt in both communities,” said Reed.
“I hurt for African-American males who are demonized and victimized by the penal system in this country. That kind of racism is institutionalized and harder to fight. These two communities are more similar than different. There is great mutual benefit in working together.
(For additional information on the 2012 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, call Garland Reed at 901-232-5384.)