MIAMI - Can you imagine this hurricane season, Max Mayfield and me tracking a storm through the "Gulf of America", not the Gulf of Mexico? Well for a while it looked like that could happen in Mississippi.
Democrat state Rep. Steve Holland proposed a bill this week that would rename the Gulf of Mexico to the "Gulf of America."
House Bill 150 states, "For all official purposes within the state of Mississippi, the body of water that is located directly south…shall be known as the ‘Gulf of America'." If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, it would go into effect July 1.
Even thought HB 150 was introduced it does not look like maps and textbooks will need to be re-written.
Holland, a populist Democrat known for over-the-top gestures, said Thursday the measure is meant to mock other bills that would crack down on illegal immigration. At least six such bills have already been assigned for committee consideration in the state's current legislative session.
Holland says it appears that the "people of Mississippi have elected a majority group to govern that wants to slam all minorities and especially Hispanic." He adds he thinks such legislation is un-Christian.
Such bills have died in a Democratic-controlled Mississippi House in previous years, but Republicans won control of the chamber last November.
Holland's current House Bill 150 manages to avoid even saying the word Mexico. It refers to "the body of water located directly south of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties," saying it will be renamed as the Gulf of America for "official purposes within the state of Mississippi."
The longtime legislator is known for his sense of humor. Holland is a funeral director, and his funeral home gives out insulated beverage sleeves that say "We'll be the last to let you down."
News of the bill spread across the Internet Wednesday after it was noticed by the website of the alternative weekly newspaper in New Orleans called the Gambit. Many websites and bloggers took the bill at face value, slamming Holland as a stereotypical Mississippi bigot.
Holland, from the north Mississippi town of Plantersville, said he was getting lots of calls from national news outlets about the proposal, but was limiting interviews to Mississippi reporters.
"Apparently you don't take your responsibilities seriously," wrote Bob Quasius, president of the GOP group. "Surely the State of Mississippi has more pressing matters to attend to than this. Did you stop to think of the expense of rewriting textbooks or changing maps?" Quasius said that even if the bill was meant as a joke, Holland should still withdraw it and apologize, saying Holland was wasting taxpayers' money. "It's in rather poor taste and we don't pay legislators to make jokes."
Quasius said race, immigration and ethnicity were issues too sensitive for satire.
"It's not the time and place for satire," Quasius said. "A leader should be sensitive and in tune with how a proposal they make will be taken."
Comedian and satirist Stephen Colbert joked on his show in 2010, during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, that the body of water should be renamed as the Gulf of America. "I don't think we can call it the Gulf of Mexico anymore," Colbert said in announcing a charitable fund to help people affected by the spill. "We broke it, we bought it."
So how did the Gulf of Mexico get its name in the first place?
According to the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, "Sebastián de Ocampo, a Spaniard who circumnavigated Cuba in 1508-1509, was credited with the first European discovery of the Gulf. The Gulf was unnamed until the early 1540s and was considered part of the Atlantic Ocean. The Spanish name most often applied to it was Seno Mexicano (seno='gulf" or 'bay'), although it was occasionally referred to as Golfo de Nueva España, or Golfo de México."
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