Hispanic Heritage Month Looks At Past & Future Of Latinos

October is Hispanic Heritage Month, but a celebration Wednesday was as much about the future, as it was the past.

On Wednesday, Keesler Air Force Base's Hispanic Heritage Committee hosted a luncheon in Biloxi. Through music and dance, South Mississippians paid tribute to the rich diversity within Hispanic culture.

At the celebration, Keesler Air Force Base honored traditions and encouraged people to think about their futures.

Maria Ochoa wants to spread the word about jobs opportunities at Keesler and the seminars the base offers.

"Education to pursue your careers. We find out what is really out there that people need. And we believe in offering the opportunities to better yourself in accounting, or teachers, or care givers, or whatever you would like to do. We go around and we ask people, 'What would you like to do?' And then we pursue those workshops in education," Ochoa said.

Regina Catelano works for the Migration and Refugee Center, which is within the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi. She says in September, more than 300 people signed up for free classes in English, citizenship, GED, drivers education and more.

"This kind of education opportunities can better their lives because they can become more productive members of the community and learning the language, and learning work skills," said Catelano.

El Rancho Mexican Restaurant volunteered to host the event after the committee could not find space on base. The owners say they feel an obligation to inspire others.

Owner Enrique Vanegas said, "The level of life, it has to be equal for everyone. And we have to support each other, so everybody can grow up together and be on the same level for the education, for the community support. "

"Do your job, work hard and you can climb the ladder just like I did," said Ochoa.

According to the Gulf Coast Latin American Association, there are between 42,000 and 45,000 Hispanics living in Mississippi's six southernmost counties and in Jones County.