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Delta Magazine: Delta as Destination

The Yazoo River in Greenwood, Mississippi

Mississippi in general and the Delta in particular have from the beginning experienced extreme shifts and surges in population. Rivers, railroads, markets, mechanization and, of course, the Interstate have all conspired to attract and repel hordes of Scots Irish, French, Italian, English and Africans with a smattering from the Middle East and Asia to say nothing of the Chickasaw and Choctaw who hunted and fished here long before the first duck blind was built.

These days we have a new wave of interloper. They came first as a trickle, an inquisitive and nosey lot who have become so persistent they are now a demographically measurable phenomenon. The Cultural Tourist is upon us!

You know it’s so and must be true when the State of Mississippi anoints a Tourist Czar (in the person of the inimitable Malcolm White) whose job is to direct traffic, supply first aid and the occasional bail bond. I have witnessed these pilgrimages up close and from afar and have on occasion aided and abetted, and I am not alone.

In my experience it often begins at a dinner party–up north, out west or even further south in Miami, Florida. When discovered as a native Mississippian, and I don’t have to do much more than open my mouth, the usual questions arise:

“Who, what, where and when?” And the most persistent, “Why?”

It would appear no one is without an opinion on Mississippi whether or not he or she has been here. The cultural tourist is intellectually curious and genuinely wants to know, so I say, “Go! And I will help you.”

Sometimes I accompany them, which is always a joy, or I suggest points of interest: places to see, compelling accommodations, unique restaurants, blues festivals, grave sites and general questions of itinerary. I always put them in touch with a myriad of friends who invariably take them in like long-lost kin.

The Cultural Tourist comes for our food, music, literature, art and language. Our weather, believe it or not, and gentle if burdened landscape are added pluses. They want to know about the past, present and like nothing better than to speculate on our future, some even become a part of it. From them, collectively and individually I have never heard a discouraging word.

Things to do and see year around are too numerous to list, but a single example should suffice. The Delta has no more vociferous advocate than Julia Reed, who is a big part of the most outrageously conceived and wonderfully executed functions I have witnessed lately, the Annual Hot Tamale Festival and Literary Mash-up from the self-described Hot Tamale Capital of the world, Greenville, Mississippi.

On a blisteringly beautiful third Saturday in October, I watched thousands of people descend on downtown Greenville. They ate hot tamales and drank a bit, if truth be told. This multicultural crowd listened to and played music, laughed with and lied to anyone who would listen all in the name of the sacred hot tamale whose origin in the Delta remains a mystery.

It was a vision of heaven on earth. A couple of Delta virgins—and by ‘Delta virgins’ I mean folks visiting the Delta for the first time—confided to me, “By God, there’s nothing virtual about the Mississippi Delta, it’s all real!”

Yes indeed, it’s real all right, so watch out!

Written by William Dunlap/Story Courtesy Delta Magazine March/April 2015
William Dunlap is an artist who maintains studios in Webster County, Mississippi; McLean, Virginia; and Coral Gables, Florida. His ancestors swarmed down from the Carolinas and Virginia into the Mississippi territory in the early 19th century just in time for statehood, secession, war and Reconstruction. Succeeding generations have forgotten nothing and are still trying to sort it all out.

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