On this Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded how one of the things I love so much about Southern Illinois is its diversity. We don’t all have to look alike, sound alike, or even prefer the same foods to be a community. We may share a common region, but not all being carbon copies of each other is a good thing. I am by no means a carpenter, but I have seen things made that have different shaped interlocking parts. Those different parts coming together make the object stronger than just straight boards and nails.

Yes, English is our primary language. However, many folks do know another language as part of their family heritage or tradition, and I love that. As someone who spent a portion of grad school as the only one in my apartment who was not from Costa Rica, it is comforting for me to hear families speaking in Spanish. (Of course, that does depend on the tone of voice and words used…)

I also love that we have been blessed with people from many backgrounds sharing their art and cuisine. For example, in Carbondale, you can have Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, and array of other food choices. Personally, I am fascinated by the choice of ingredients at Monah’s International Grocery Store and Tienda Paisano. As someone who loves to cook, I am like a kid in a toy store looking at all of the possibilities at both stores.

We are fortunate to be a region where our people are as beautifully diverse as our landscape. There are towns with a long history of heritage from other countries that share their traditions through community celebrations like Herrinfesta Italiana in Herrin and Fruehlingsfest in Maeystown. There are educational opportunities at places like the African American Museum of Southern Illinois in Carbondale and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

Southern Illinois is like a beautiful, colorful quilt made of many different types of fabric woven together. Each block is beautiful on its own, but together we become even stronger as we support each other.

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