The Karen Students of Overton High School

Americans love their cars. And with good reason! In cities like Nashville, it’s difficult to get anywhere without driving. Having a license to drive is freedom. Unfortunately, for many immigrants who don’t speak English, that freedom is difficult to attain. How difficult? Key Do’s story might surprise you.

What is a nation without its heroes? Where would we be without the men and women whose acts of valor have become the core of our collective memory? Just as the name Washington resonates with America’s revolutionary past, so too does the name Saw Ba U Gyi resonate with the revolutionary struggles of Myanmar’s Karen minority. Stick around while Ta Thaw teams up with Gay Htoo to tell you about the Karen people’s first President and what his legacy means to them.

There’s nothing like food to bring people together. That’s probably why so many of our Storytellers participants get excited about sharing their favorite ethnic dishes with an American audience. So pull up a chair and get ready to break bread–or, perhaps, slurp noodles!

Cultural Explosion at Glencliff High School

Next Door Neighbors Storytellers partnered up with students from Glencliff High School’s model UN program to document Cultural Explosion. In this video, Kim captures a day bursting with color, dance, food and music as students and guests talk about how Cultural Explosion has impacted them.

With more than 42 nationalities and 26 languages represented by the student body, Glencliff knows diversity–not to mention hospitality. It’s one of the friendliest high schools I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Watch Mina’s video to find out what unity can really come to resemble in our increasingly diverse city. It’s an inspiration!

Cultural Explosion at Glencliff High school is a day when students gather to celebrate their diversity. Hosted by Glencliff’s model UN club, it really is like somebody cranked up the music at the United Nations and started a party. And they didn’t forget their party clothes, either! Join Faben as she investigates the importance fellow immigrants place on traditional dress in modern America.

According to Hussein, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a dance is worth a thousand emotions.” These are his thoughts after spending the day at Cultural Explosion, Glencliff High School’s daylong celebration of the 42 different cultures represented by its student body. The dancers really are inspiring, and this video does a great job of capturing both the mood and thoughts of those present at the event.

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NICE Afterschool Program at Glencliff High School

As a school age Somalian Immigrant, Abukar Ido has worked hard to learn English and make the transition to life as a student in the U.S. In this story, Abukar describes how he took his learning into his own hands and got a lift from some pretty animated characters along the way.

Mohamed Ibrahim is one of many Somalian immigrants who now call Nashville home. Having arrived in Nashville as a teenager, Mohamed faced an uphill challenge with respect to learning English and doing well in school. Nevertheless, Mohamed has taken on his challenges with a winning attitude, clearing his initial English language hurdles and striving to accomplish even more.


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The Entrepreneurs of Mesa Komal

Mesa Komal Kitchen

Located on Nolensville Road, the heart of Nashville’s flourishing immigrant community, is Casa Azafran. Marked by a beautiful, multi-colored, tile mosaic rising high above their front door, this hub of international and ethnic diversity serves as a community event center and is also home to nine non-profits who provide a range of services to Nashville’s immigrant population.

Unique to this facility is Mesa Komal, a shared, commercial kitchen that is a program of the non-profit organization, Conexion Americas. The kitchen serves those looking to open or grow their culinary businesses. Currently, there are 13 chefs that call Mesa Komal home, and Storytellers teamed up three of those entrepreneurs in hopes of learning more about their individual journeys.


Churro Queens–The Long Road to a Better Life

Brenda Menjivar has one of those rare stories that’s difficult to sum up in just a few, short minutes. That’s because her tale leaves you wanting to hear more. Fortunately, Brenda does a marvelous job of sharing her story and, in the process, revealing the tremendous sacrifice so many immigrants are forced to make in order to achieve better lives for their children and families. Stick around and find out how this one-time refugee has now become Nashville food truck royalty.


Carlos “Riffs” on the Business of Life

In this video, chef Carlos Davis takes us into the kitchen and reveals his recipe for entrepreneurial success. Like all immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of opportunities, Carlos has faced his share of challenges. However, much like his gift for turning ordinary dishes into unique, culinary delights, he manages to add a dash of optimism to some of life’s more unsavory experiences.


Hummus Chick–All Business and A Lot of Fun!

Java Hemmat loves serving up her all-natural and unmistakably delicious hummus to anyone who’s hungry for something slightly off the beaten path. This culinary trailblazer also has a knack for capturing the true flavor of her own unique story with eye-catching images and infectious energy. Get ready to dig in as this pioneering, Persian immigrant gives you the scoop on Nashville’s very own Hummus Chick!

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New Stories for the New Year!

This year, as you strive to make good on your New Year’s resolutions, look to your Next Door Neighbors for inspiration. The stories of U.S. immigrants, past and present, are a testimony to people’s ability to rise above hardships in order to achieve a better life.  Here are a couple stories to get the year started. They come from two young Egyptian women who attend Antioch High School. Happy New Year!


School age immigrants face a variety of unique challenges, but everything from making friends to making the grade weighs heavily on mastering the English language. In this story, Madonna questions her transition from top student in Egypt to one who is engaged in an uphill battle to make friends and do well in her new American environment.


The struggle to learn English is a theme that resonates strongly with teenage immigrants. It can be particularly frustrating for middle and high school students, many of whom may have been good students in their countries of origin but struggle to even understand the teachers in American schools. This is the case for Treveena, a bright and ambitious Egyptian immigrant who is doing her best to excel.

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Storytellers: ESL TO GO Gives Burmese Refugees a Lift


For this round of Storytellers we partnered with Tennessee Foreign Language Institute’s ESL TO GO program. TFLI has been integral in offering foreign language services in Nashville since 1986. In addition, they’ve played a key role in offering ESL classes to immigrants while training a generation of ESL teachers through their Teaching English As a Second Language (TESL) program. Their most recent form of outreach is a mobile ESL classroom. With this resource, ESL teachers are able to meet refugees where they live and offer English classes on location.

Eager to hear more stories from some of Nashville’s newest Next Door Neighbors, we climbed aboard ESL TO GO and got trucking! The group of students we worked with are refugees from the Burmese community, and their stories have been telling. How so? Well, for starters, they’re a lot like you and me. They’re passionate about their families, their education, their people and, yes, their delicious national cuisine.

Climb aboard as ESL TO GO gives Nashville’s Burmese community a lift!


Ja Ring on Education

Ja Ring just might be a journalist in the making. Her story chronicles the many obstacles she and fellow Burmese Kachin have faced in achieving a good education. It’s an exceptional tale of one woman’s journey from a Malaysian refugee camp where she served as a teacher to her life here in Nashville. Today, she continues her own learning in an effort to become a better English speaker while remaining committed to the cause of education in the refugee community.


Dim Cing on Family

Rocking out on guitar, eating Cheerios with friends, dancing, laughing, drawing and playing games on Mom’s phone–Yeah, that about sums up a good day for Dim Cing’s three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. But it’s not about to end there. Dim Cing has big plans for her little rock stars.


Mary on Music and Learning

Much has been said about the evolving character of today’s young people. Now forget everything you’ve heard and meet Mary. Having learned English in less than two years, this 5th grader is an A-student and multi-instrumentalist. Her story is a tribute to the character of Nashville’s Burmese community and their young people’s potential to do great things even when faced with difficult odds.


Deih Cing on Worship

For many of the Burmese refugees who now call Nashville home, freedom of religion hasn’t always been a guarantee. Having suffered religious persecution in Myanmar, ethnic minorities like the Kachin have embraced the ability to worship in freedom with a joy that literally pours over in this Storytellers video. Join Deih Cing as she leads her congregation in song at a Burmese church service.


Suan Lek on Cooking

If you haven’t tried Burmese cuisine, then there’s never been a better time. Suan Lek, pronounced (Swan Lake), is known as a fine chef in his community, but for this video he humbly offered to prepare a traditional tomato and egg dish that anybody can tackle. It’s a simple, inexpensive and delicious introduction to the taste of everyday Burmese cooking. Oh, and a special thanks to his ESL TO GO classmate, Dim Cing, for shooting this tasty video!

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Storytellers: Burmese Students from Overton High School Cook it Up and Break it Down

Ha’s Dance Video

Nothing draws young people together like the music and dance of their generation. On the other hand, few things divide parents and teens with equal force. In this video, Ha demonstrates her passion for Hip hop while her dad voices his concern that this type of dancing doesn’t represent their cultural values.  It’s a familiar story for many Americans but a new challenge for recent immigrants–many of whom come from very traditional cultures.


Wrestling with Change

Finding one’s place in life can be a challenge at any stage of the game. Every time we move schools or change jobs, it’s like starting over. For many refugees, the change is welcome but the challenges are steep. Just ask Choi. This soft spoken sophomore form Overton High had to grapple with bullying when he first moved to the U.S. a couple years ago. But don’t let his mild manor fool you. Through hard work and training, he’s become a winning wrestler, and along the way he’s learned some valuable life lessons.


Sing and Ha make Laphet Toh

A salad like no other, this traditional Burmese dish is unique for its use of pickled tea. In fact, Myanmar is one of the few countries where tea is eaten in addition to being drunk. Oh yes, and it’s DELICIOUS! Watch Sing and Ha throw this Burmese delicacy together. Then do yourself a favor, and try making it at home.


Ling’s Potato Chicken

Meet Ling, a junior at Overton High School. Not only does he cook, he cooks well! In this video, Ling whips up a braised chicken and potato dish that’s become a family favorite at his house. Like many of his peers in the refugee community, Ling helps take care of his siblings while his parents work long hours, often late at night. Fortunately, Ling’s a natural in the kitchen. Just check out his chopping skills.


Karen Pepper Dish

Warning! This video has some spicy content. We’re talking peppers–and lots of them. Bru, a Freshman at Overton High School, gets the scoop on how her mom makes this traditional pepper dish enjoyed by the Burmese Karen people and their Thai neighbors.


Esther’s Story

Many refugees come to Nashville hoping to establish a better life, a life free from the fear and persecution they endured in their countries of origin. Moving on, however, means leaving so much behind–things like homes, heirlooms, friends and even family. In this next video, Esther shares what it’s like to leave behind the thing that is dearest to her heart.




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Storytellers is Back with an Amazing Video by Tennessee Foreign Language Institute’s very own, Thuy Rocco!

Storytellers is kicking off a new series of videos produced by members of Nashville’s vibrant immigrant community! In the coming weeks, you can look forward to stories from Burmese refugees who are part of Tennessee Foreign Language Institute’s ESL TO GO program as well as stories from students at two of Metro’s most diverse high schools — Overton and Antioch.

The first story in this new series comes from Tennessee Foreign Language Institute’s, Thuy Rocco. Today, Thuy is the Assistant ESL Director at TFLI. Her journey, however, began in Vietnam more than 25 years ago. It’s the story of a mother’s hope, a child’s potential and a family’s perseverance. Thank you for sharing, Thuy!

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Storytellers: Ceremonial Food from Nepal

Storyteller Raju Dahal shares two of his favorite Nepali foods, Momo and Roti, traditionally served at ceremonial events.

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Storytellers: `Crossing the Border`: Mexican-American Shares His Childhood Story

“They say a smile will be ultimately tears; and it’s very true.”

So begins this touching personal story by Cesar, a Mexican immigrant who unsuccessfully attempted to cross the border with his mother as a child. After being sent back to Mexico to live with relatives, he shares what it was like to be separated from his parents and eventually rejoined as they all sought a better life in America.