We’re extremely excited to bring you a new episode of our informative and educational Next Door Neighbor series next week! In the past, we’ve brought you together with Nashville’s Kurdish, Somali, Hispanic and Bhutanese communities (now available for viewing online), and this time we’ll introduce you to Nashville’s burgeoning Sudanese neighbors. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, and the Sudanese in Nashville reflect the diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds of Sudan. NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: SUDANESE premieres Thursday, June 23 at 8:00 p.m. on NPT. Following the premiere, we will also broadcast past installments in the NEXT DOORS NEIGHBORS series including “Little Kurdistan, USA,” “Somali,” and “Bhutanese,” in recognition of World Refugee Day (June 20).
Refugee resettlement to the United States is often the last option displaced people have for a permanent home. The opportunity is available to less than one percent of the world’s refugees. Once in the U.S., in cities like Nashville, refugees are expected to build new lives. But what if a chance to go back to their homeland finally arrives? Which home will they choose? In January 2011, a referendum was held that would divide Sudan. The turnout in Nashville to vote on this referendum was the third highest in the country, more than in Chicago, Boston or Seattle. With the potential division of their former home, NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: SUDANESE explores what happens next for the refugees when there is a chance to return home.
“Most of the time refugees never have a chance to return home,” says Will Pedigo, the program’s writer and producer. “The Sudanese have established families, raised children in Nashville, many are U.S. citizens now. Going back to Sudan is a tough decision. I think their story is a great example of how we all as Nashvillians are connected to global issues in a much more direct way than most people imagine.”
Sudan has known conflict for much of its history as an independent country. But the first Sudanese to arrive in Nashville came during a period of peace, almost 30 years ago. At that time, there were only a handful of Sudanese in Nashville, mostly from the Northern city of Khartoum, the capitol of Sudan. In 1983, civil war returned to Sudan. That war would ultimately claim more than two million lives, chase nearly 600,000 Sudanese to neighboring countries, and displace more than four million people within Sudan’s borders. By 1994, Sudanese refugees were arriving in large numbers to Nashville. Southern Sudanese quickly outnumbered those that had arrived from the North.
In 2001, a new group of Sudanese refugees – the Lost Boys of Sudan – began arriving in Nashville. The Lost boys of Sudan are a group of children that fled their homes and villages amidst the spreading civil war. From 1987 until 1992 the Lost Boys walked a thousand miles, from Sudan to Ethiopia and finally Kenya. When the Lost Boys arrived in Nashville, they were greeted with unprecedented support from local churches and individuals. In 2004, The Lost Boys Foundation was created in Nashville to support local Lost Boys in finding jobs, selling art for income, and sharing their story.
“The Lost Boys tell a remarkable and tragic story, but their resettlement experience here has been successful,” says Pedigo. “The support that the Lost Boys received from local Nashvillians made a difference in their lives. They also demonstrated a determination to better themselves. It makes you wonder what would happen if all refugees had the same level of support.”
The future stability of Sudan remains uncertain. But in Nashville, many Sudanese will remain and continue their journey as Sudanese Americans. The next generation will walk an every blurrier line between two cultures.
The NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS series looks at Nashville’s status as a new destination city for refugees and immigrants, and explores the rich diversity of people now calling Nashville home. Across the United States, mid-sized cities like Nashville are experiencing unprecedented growth in their international populations. Together these communities are redefining the traditional international city on a smaller local scale.
The NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS series includes in-depth web content, public forums and a panel discussion after the premiere of each program.
NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS: SUDANESE is made possible by the financial support of The Nissan Foundation, The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals and a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A partnership with the Vanderbilt University Center for Nashville Studies provided valuable research and community outreach.