From the Official NPT News Department:
Third Installment in NPT’s Original Documentary Series Explores Nashville’s Growing Latin American populations
For Immediate Release
NASHVILLE, Tennessee – May 20, 2009 – For as long as it has existed, people have been drawn to America as a place of rebirth, where they can exchange hard work for a new life, prosperity and hope. Traditionally, immigrants have relocated to large cities, with an abundance of jobs and a long history of immigration. But in the last few decades, a shifting economy has meant smaller, mid-sized cities like Nashville have seen unprecedented growth in their foreign-born populations.
In Nashville, the Latin American, or Hispanic, community has grown 800% in the last 15 years. NPT offers viewers a chance to see the city through this community’s eyes with NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: HABLAMOS ESPAÑOL, premiering on Friday, May 29, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. on NPT-Channel 8. The documentary is the third installment in NPT’s four-part NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS series.
“The big difference with this documentary and previous ones in our series,” said producer Will Pedigo, “is that the experience of Latin American immigrants in Nashville is extremely diverse, coming from many countries, for different reasons and through different paths. What they found in Nashville in the late nineties was a welcoming city, with ample jobs associated with the commercial and residential boom and in Nashville’s growing service economy.”
“Before I came here, I didn’t think of myself as anything but just myself, but then you get here, and all of a sudden you’re thrown together with a bunch of people that you share some things with,” says Fabian Bedne in the documentary. “So, I never thought of myself as a Hispanic before I came to the U.S. I thought of myself as Latin American (or) South American.”
“When you are such a complex culture and continent like we are in Latin America,” adds Bedne, “it’s hard for people to understand. What ends up happening is they need to put you in a box and that box has the label Hispanic or Latino.”
In addition to exploring the diversity of Nashville Latin American populations, NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: HABLAMOS ESPAÑOL briefly summarizes the history of Hispanic immigration, first to the United States, and then to Nashville, especially in the mid-1990s, when the city’s central location provided a gateway to the commercial growth in the southeast.
As Hispanic immigrants arrived and started working, they needed housing and places to spend their money. Much money was sent to families struggling back home. By the early 2000s, the southeast area of Nashville began to mirror the changing populations of the city with new businesses owned, operated and catering to the needs of the new populations. Churches such as Iglesia De Dios Hispana were established and Spanish-language radio stations popped up on the dial.
For the most part, new Latin Americans felt welcomed to the city. That changed after September 11, 2001, when a focus on national security led Americans to take a closer look at immigration, visa and border-crossing policies.
In a vacuum of federal legislation, state and local law created a patchwork of legislation to deal locally with a federal issue. Many in the city’s Hispanic community found themselves in the middle of a heated political debate; the objects of scorn and negative caricature. The situation became more tenuous in 2007 with Nashville’s participation in the 287(g) federal program, which extended immigration enforcement capabilities to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department. The implementation of 287 (g) in Nashville has divided both natives and the immigrant community.
“I started noticing the change after September 11, 2001,” says David Morales. “People became very wary, people got scared. You noticed …it was palpable. From the moment the attacks occurred, the mood in the country changed and it just started getting worse and worse progressively.”
“I would say four or five years ago, the pressure of having to have…legal status was not as big as it is now,” says Marlen Perez. “So you have these families that have children that were born here (together) with children that do not have legal status, and you have parents from other generations that were able to fix their status. Our system has created different social classes even in the same family, because some people in the family can drive (and others can not). That creates conflicts. I am legal and you are not. I can do things that you cannot do, even if we are from the same background. We are from the same ethnicity. We speak the same language. We have the same job (but) we are different.”
The unresolved conflicts of immigration are felt in Nashville as they are in other cities and states across the country. While immigration issues have divided some in the Hispanic community, most agree that while cities and states wrestle with questions related to immigration and legal status, a solution ultimately must be made on the federal level.
“Year after year…we looked the other way and then all of a sudden people went…’what happened, where did all these people come from’,” adds Bedne. “So we ended up having huge problems, and every time we have tried to solve them at the federal level, people on both sides of the aisle don’t like it enough.”
“I think it’s a very scary time” says Raul Lopez. “In a sense, “I think we need to bridge (the Hispanic immigrants and native Nashville communities) because both communities think alike. Hispanic culture and Southern culture are very similar; that’s a funny thing about it. It’s hard-working, loving people who would go out of their way to help each other.”
NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: HABLAMOS ESPAÑOL is made possible through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s My Source initiative and is supported by the Nissan Foundation and The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals. A partnership with the Vanderbilt University Center for Nashville Studies provided valuable research and community outreach.