Port Arthur is destination for many to find opportunity; upcoming Cultural Heritage Showcase celebrates all

Published 12:30 am Friday, September 29, 2023

Port Arthur, with its access to the Gulf of Mexico, railway, industrial plants and more, has long called out to people from across the world to come here for work, home and opportunities.

For the Miskito people of Nicaragua, Port Arthur started out as a place of safety from a war between Sadinistas and Contras. Many started their immigration in the early 1980s, as they were persecuted by the Nicaraguan government, according to Steven Williams, City of Port Arthur library director.

The government began to bomb their villages, killing opposition and forcing them out of their homes and businesses.

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Williams was born in the U.S., but his parents and family emigrated from Nicaragua.

Miskitos, he said, are Central American Indians of the lowlands along the Caribbean coast in Northeast Nicaragua.

Williams and other Nicaraguans gathered outside Good Shepherd Moravian Church in Port Arthur for a photo recently.

“Port Arthur is the only city with a Miskito church in the United States,” Williams said of the church at 2910 34th St. “Furthermore, this is the only Miskito church outside of Nicaragua.”

Wanda Thompson, left, Nuong Tran, Rachel Scott and Carolyn Thibodeaux are part of the Port Arthur Public Library’s diverse cultural employees. (Mary Meaux/The News)

Williams plans to take part in the upcoming Cultural Heritage Showcase, set for 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 14 at Bob Bowers Civic Center. The event is part of the city’s 125th anniversary celebration.

He shares why he believes cultural education is important.

“Cultural education is important because it helps me understand the views of others,” Williams said “In my Miskito culture, we may have some practices and cuisines that may seem weird, which helps me relate to other, different cultures. It really gives me a sense of respect for other cultures. The Miskitos have so much diversity within its own culture, so this also helps us view other cultures with an open-mind.”

He sees humbleness in his culture that is part of Port Arthur.

The Miskito people come from very poor economical upbringings, most not having a high school education in Nicaragua.

“Both of my parents never made it past fifth grade, because education was not important in the villages they grew up in,” he said. “Miskitos grew up with hardly anything, so they are thankful in their new home they call “Port Arthur” today. Even with just a modest lifestyle in the United States, they feel rich given the lifestyle and circumstances they came from. Therefore, in my opinion, our humbleness is what I believe makes our culture special.”

Nuong Tran’s family came to Port Arthur to escape war in Vietnam in the late 1980s. She believes cultural education is important.

“I don’t think it’s important, I know it’s important for everyone to know your culture,” Tran said. “Not only for adults but for children too.”

Tran said we need to keep our cultural history and learn cultural history wherever we go.

As for what makes Greater Port Arthur’s cultural history special, it’s because we learn from each other.

“We have to take care of each other, the past and the present, and we want to move forward to a positive community,” she said.

Wanda Thompson is a Port Arthur native that believes it’s important to know where you come from and where you’re going in order to educate our children.

Thompson’s family has roots in Louisiana and came to Port Arthur for work opportunities. A grandfather worked for Kansas City Southern Railroad, her father worked construction and her mother was a domestic worker, according to an interview on The Portal to Texas History.

Thompson made a choice to stay in Port Arthur, she said.

She said Port Arthur has a variety of cultures that have their own offerings of foods and styles of dress — and that’s what makes the city culturally special.

Quasquincentennial Chairperson Verna Rutherford said the upcoming cultural event has attracted the interest of representatives of approximately 25 counties. She described the event as being somewhat of a trip around the world but under one roof.

Visitors to the cultural celebration will be able to learn about other cultures through entertainment, costumes, music and food.