Thursday, May 21, 2009

NPT Focuses on Hispanic Population

Nashville Public Television Visits Our Hispanic Next Door Neighbors

Third Installment in NPT’s Original Documentary Series Explores
Nashville’s Growing Latin American populations

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

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

“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.”

The NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS series includes in-depth web content at, public forums and
panel discussions after each of the four programs.


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