Many students and faculty associate James Meredith’s arrival with the opening of the doors of opportunity to the black community. But to Ariel Blanco, president of the Latin American Student Association, the promotion of Meredith’s integration signifies something more.
“Integration means a mix of cultures, ethnic, racial, religious and creed differences,” Blanco said. “It means bringing all of these together into one.”
According to Blanco, Meredith impacted the multicultural community, not just one racial group. He said he feels Ole Miss should not see integration as a “bipolar issue of black and white” and more minorities should have been invited to participate in the commemoration.
Chancellor Dan Jones describes Meredith’s demeanor as one that would support Blanco’s opinion. Meredith sees the world in a different light. He does not like the term “civil rights” because it implies that there is a group of people who do not have the same opportunities as other people. “In his view, every American has the same exact rights regardless of skin color and where they’re born, and no one should feel like they are given a favor by (the government) giving them rights,” Jones said. Dr. Charles Ross, chairman of the Civil Rights Movement subcommittee, said the reason other minorities are not represented as much in the commemoration is because of its overall goal.
“This committee was made to memorize and commemo- rate what James Meredith achieved,” Ross said. “Our university is known more for that event than any other event.”
Lily Van, founder of the Vietnamese Students Association at Ole Miss, sees integration as a strong theme in Ole Miss’ history.
Van is from Honolulu, Hawaii, a place she considers very diverse. She finds it interesting how the South is trying to fight the stereotype of being unfriendly to other cultures.
“Whether it is good or bad, (integration) is part of Ole Miss’ history,” Van said. “I think there could be things that could be integrated more, but we’re on the right track.”
Van created the VSA to promote Vietnamese culture in a community that has a small population of Vietnamese students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Asians comprise 1 percent of Ole Miss’ population, while Hispanics compose 2 percent.
Lily said she believes it would be fair to see more ethnic groups represented in the integration celebration since the term “minority” has evolved over the years.
“It’s not just black versus whites – whites being the majority and black being the minority,” Van said. “Obviously, there is a lot more to it now.”
Many students are accustomed to learning and socializing with groups beyond their own culture. Ross understands the demographics currently shaping the Ole Miss society and thinks the conversation helps promote a better future on campus.
“The young generation has a responsibility to help the adults to be better,” Ross said. “In many situations, society has been changed not by adults, but by young people (who) think outside of the box.” Jones challenges students to see the commemoration for more than just education about the civil rights era.
“We all need be vigilant to not be passive about injustice in the world, and we need to actively look at ourselves and make sure we aren’t participating in injustice towards some person and to a group of people,” Jones said.
Black leaders such as Marian Wright Edelman and Nick Lott contributed their stories of civil rights issues to campus through lectures throughout the year. Jones said Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights activist, journalist and widow of well-known civil rights activist Medgar Evers, was the speaker who touched him the most.
“She expressed forgiveness and expressed no bitterness towards the university,” Jones said. “She offered her friendship, offered herself as a speaker, and that graciousness on her part from someone who has suffered so much was an inspiration to me.”
Blanco said she believes that all minorities share a common history when it comes to civil rights and that the commemoration should recognize other “culture firsts” during the integration celebration, like the first Asian student to graduate at Ole Miss.
“Hispanics, Asians, Europeans, Africans and Pacific Islanders all form part of the multicultural nation we live in,” Blanco said. “During the civil rights movement, while most of the protests and rallies were centered on African Americans, these other cul- tures were struggling for their rights also.”
Jones said the subcommittee did not intentionally exclude the multicultural community.
“There are a lot of firsts that don’t get the recognition,” Jones said. “Part of the reason that the university decided to commemorate the first African American is because it was associated with large social change in our country.”
Both Jones and Ross invite other cultures to participate in the commemoration events, such as the march from Baxter Hall to the Meredith monument on Oct 1. Harry Belafonte, social activist and singer who wrote the hits “Banana Boat” and “We are the World,” is also speaking later that night.