Jackson. A town nestled in West Tennessee with a population of approximately 65,211*. Upon first glance, Jackson seems like an average urban area of the South, but visitors and locals alike are often surprised at the number of different people groups residing here: Arab, Japanese, Hispanic, Brazilian, and Ethiopian to name a few. Why is Jackson so diverse? Who are the people that make up our city?
Greetings! My name is Kimberly. (And my name is Melissa.) We are two college students currently living in Jackson. For quite some time, Mel and I have been drawn to cultures: the different ways of living, the beautiful languages, and the diverse societies. (I am a Intercultural Studies major and she is a Linguistics major—so yeah, we’re nerds.) But what we care about the most is people. Which lead us to why we are writing this column.
When I, Kimberly, first moved here I was taken aback by Jackson—it is so full of diversity! It has a vibrant international community as well as many subcultures. While Mel and I are passionate about culture, we also love telling stories. Hence, the purpose of this column is to share people’s stories—to build Jackson’s awareness of its community and the people in it. Therefore (Melissa speaking) we will be reporting on anything from Nationalization events, to international families running businesses, to Mennonite communities that have been here for decades. We plan to put out an article at the end of each month, so be looking for us then, and please send us your input and your ideas of what you would like to see covered in the column. However, before we get too far in, you should know a little bit us, the authors.
Melissa: I am from Chicago, although my family spent a few years in South America as well as areas of the midwestern United States. I inherited my love of languages from my parents, but I don’t think they planned on having a daughter who regularly writes in morse code and takes notes using Arabic script and Ancient Runes. After graduating this coming spring I hope to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) for a few years in the states as I work towards a Masters in Intercultural Studies. Kim wants me to write more about myself, but I can’t think of anything else terribly interesting at the moment. . . . One thing I will say is that my story has been irrevocably influenced by my time in Jackson. Along with a regular dose of culture shock and Southern hospitality, Jackson provides a never-ending supply of interconnecting, intercultural stories. Kim and I are so grateful for this opportunity, and we look forward to learning with you all. (Although, as you can see, I have yet to fully embraced the southern manner of addressing two or more persons. . . .)
Kimberly: I grew up all over the South, spending time in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Yet I still claim Alabama as my home. (If you ever hear me open my mouth there will be no doubt about my state of origin.) As a kid, I grew up at a children’s home in Memphis (my biological parents worked there), giving me a unique perspective of the world, and in many ways forcing me to grow up fast. But I am not complaining about my childhood, which involved unfinished forts in the wood, horseback riding, ultimate snowball fights, cookie dough in the deep freezer of the campus’ commissary (which we kids would sneak into on occasion), and llamas (I trained llamas as a middle schooler). All that to say, I’ve always been fascinated by the world and the people in it. Being in college has allowed me to learn even more about the vast people groups on Earth, furthering my love of culture. One group in particular has captured me: the Arabs. Currently, I am studying Arabic and intend to pursue a career in the Middle East, either doing cultural research or teaching English as a foreign language. One of my passions/life goals is to build bridges of understanding between cultures and/or people. Hence I am thrilled about writing this column!
How did this all get started?
This summer, I (Mel) came over to Kimberly’s apartment for a spaghetti picnic with cucumbers as a side (yes, we are college students). Together we pondered the question both of us had been contemplating separately, “What will our involvement in the international community of Jackson look like this year?” Our ideas came together when we talked more with Katie Howerton, who had traveled to Turkey with us in the summer of 2014 and is now Communications Manager for Our Jackson Home. Long story short, we find our ourselves here with you, which is more than we anticipated, but also everything we hoped. The purpose of this column is simple: we seek to deepen the cultural understanding of our community by sharing people’s stories. We will attempt to do this by researching Jackson and its population, by interviewing students and workers and businessmen of varying ethnicities and languages, by reviewing events which celebrate the complexities of Jacksonians, and by reflecting and adapting our work to what we learn along the way. We would invite you to journey along with us.
Here are just a few stories we have encountered this week.
Our photographer extraordinaire, Sol Bee Park, graciously gave us a glimpse into her time in Jackson. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, but has lived in South Korea, New Zealand, China, Thailand, and the United States. She came to Jackson for college and, although her transition to our Jackson home has included the ache of missing family and friends, she says that it has also given her the opportunity to “establish great relationships here in Jackson with some of the most caring, wonderful, and genuine people . . . who desire to make a positive impact to those around them.”
Sol Bee’s above comment resounded with Felipe Rocha, a Brazilian from Santa Cruz do Sul, who also commented about the people of Jackson, “They are very friendly around here, and they want to see you happy and to succeed; they care about each other.” Felipe has lived in Jackson for about two years but has also spent time in Spain and New Jersey. He was drawn here primarily because of the opportunities offered to him by Union University’s basketball program and has become fond of his new residence: “I like Jackson. It’s not small, it’s not big. It’s not hard to move around, and there is everything a big city has. Therefore it is a big city. I think Jackson is a really good place to live. . . . I’m glad I came here.”
We want to know who is here in Jackson. Where have we come from? What are the variety of struggles and joys and opportunities we share because of our location? Each of us has to ask these questions at some point during our stay in Jackson, whether we have been here a week or a lifetime. Sometimes it is hard to believe the reality of Jackson’s interrelating subcultures and people, but we are who we are. It is our hope that by seeking to understand the history and humans of Jackson, there will be weight and worth to our words whenever we speak of our Jackson home to the world.
Kimberly Chavers is originally from Alabama but has lived all across the Southeast. Currently she is a student at Union University studying Intercultural Studies and Teaching English as a Second Language.
Originally from the Chicago area, Melissa Hardman came to Jackson to study Linguistics at Union University and plans to graduate in spring of 2016. She hopes to teach English or work with humanitarian aid organizations one day.
Header image by Sol Bee Park.