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Last week, Tennessee Latino political leaders announced the creation of a PAC with the sole purpose of getting Latinos elected across the state.


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That there are only two immigrant elected officials, and just one Latino. They are changing the face of our region, which long looked at race and ethnic group relations as black and white.

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They wrote of borders, crossings, funerals missed, hard work in the family business, the Great Flood ofteen angst, traffic stops and deportations. Inin counties in Middle Tennessee as well as Shelby, Knox, Madison and Hamilton, Hispanics were about 1 percent of the population.

While I was gone, Nashville was changing. This makes me wonder what we could do better to integrate minorities into civic life. David Plazas is The Tennessean's opinion engagement editor. At the same, Hispanics in the Volunteer State are poorer and less prone to have medical coverage than other groups.

I hope you will too. In addition, newer immigrants and their families may not be proficient in English. It may be in need of many things. Raul Lopez is the executive director for Latinos for Tennessee, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting faith, family, liberty and fiscal responsibility to the Latino community in Tennessee.

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The city has changed, it has evolved, and the knowledge of how diverse we are is a topic of conversation in every corner of our city. Still there was something missing. I am Latino by heritage and an immigrant from Argentina.

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Running for office and getting elected as the first Latino official was just a consequence of my commitment. Montgomery County had 2 percent. Our roots are deep. There is a difference between being tolerant and welcoming. Embracing diversity is a great opportunity for our city. Nashville is a growing city. This diversity also extends to our politics, which is why I am proud to lead Latinos for Tennessee, a local non-profit that is committed to taking the conservative message, grounded in the free enterprise system, to Latinos living in our state.

A box called Hispanics. Growing up bilingual and bicultural was my world.

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The Hispanic population in Tennessee has grown exponentially from 34, in toin statewide — or an percent increase. And then our visibility as a community improved and with it, perception.

Hispanic heritage month: south new frontier for hispanic community

This was a stark difference from the world my family and I fled from in communist Cuba. There was also this vibrancy and optimism that was contagious. A quick look at the websites of leading Nashville companies or organizations shows a stunning lack of diversity in leadership which, in turn, creates a lack of opportunities.

Call him athim at dplazas tennessean.

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A Pew Hispanic Center report released on Sept. More celebrations are to come.

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That moment changed the destiny of an entire family for many generations to come. Nashville business institutions unknowingly make it hard for small or minority business to access contracts and financing.

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We made the long drives to visit family in Miami, and shorter pilgrimages to an international grocery on Charlotte with a small Latin section — Goya products, plantains, pasta de guayaba, mangoes. As an immigrant from Cuba, I had bounced around from city to city. In order for many to understand how to relate to me, I had to be placed in a box.

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For years, Hispanics suffered from circumstantial invisibility until U. Certain s changed the conversation. The son of an immigrant created Apple. Appreciation — cultural appreciation, political appreciation. That would conceivably take Hispanics from 66, to , which would match the Hispanic populations of Portland, Ore.

Hispanic Heritage Month officially commenced on Sept. As such I have a unique point of view and drive that has shaped my desire to make all aspects of our community welcoming and just.

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These pose challenges to cities, school systems and social service networks. I grew up in a Nashville with few Latinos, and those we knew were professionals, associated with universities and medical centers. And it is true. Nashville is finally latinas decisive steps toward representing inclusiveness in our city. People come here to dream and think of the world not as it is, but as it should be. An immigrant created Google.

My consciousness deepened as a high school teacher in Seattle. As the only Latino teacher in my school, students and staff saw me as an interpreter and bridge between the school and the community. Middle Tennessee has celebrated the occasion through empanada tastings at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and a kickoff event at Belmont University. But perhaps their most notable gift is their testimony about the power of the American dream to inspire miracles. This can only helps us grow as a community, unifying us at the root of the human experience. I think our city could do much better to welcome and integrate people.

My identity was based on my family, my ancestors, my names, not my nationality or the language I spoke, or the color of my skin or my accent. As soon as Free stepped foot in Nashville, I knew that I was in a special place. Often too I questioned if this was the right reason why a particular Nashville should be respected. On visits home in the mids, I was struck by the landscaping crews and construction sites full of Latino laborers, a visual representation of the emergence of the New South. One of the best things about our community is its diversity.

Providing opportunities to make such visions a reality in Nashville will make our city amazing; immigrant empowerment will create more wealth and opportunities for all. I took the responsibility seriously and learned a lot about my students and my own heritage in the process: traveling to Cuba and teaching Spanish and History to students from all over the world.

Being inclusive is another story. I was born in Colombia not ColumbiaSouth America, but was Tennessee between my native country and the United States, choosing in to move to Nashville. For instance, according to the Minority Business Development Agency, Hispanic-owned firms in Tennessee grew by percent — the fourth highest growth rate in the country.

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Immediately, I was hired by the oldest architecture firm in town and worked there for 13 years. While people and institutions work at removing roadblocks to integration, focus on empowerment and inclusion for Latinos and other immigrants is lacking. We may share the same language, but we may disagree on our taste of food — or our favorite soccer team. We have folks from virtually every corner of Latin America. Nashville, a city I did not know existed until I began to research for jobs in the Christian publishing industry, the area where my career in advertising had began.

I was the project deer for Nashville landmarks like the Howard Office Building and the Fire Department headquarters. More than calling Music City home, Hispanics are opening businesses, ing churches and slowly making our voices heard in the political process. I arrived Aug. As time went by, I began to experience something I had not experienced before. As long as God wills, I will continue to do this work because I love this country tremendously and wish to give back to a place that opened its doors to my family and I many years ago.

The population, known as Hispanic and Latino sometimes, but not always, interchangeablyhas grown in the U. These are their observations about their experiences in Nashville. I returned for good inand I taught hundreds of Latino students at Overton High School to read and write in Spanish, their first but fading language.

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Nashville is the area that expects the largest growth in the future. I've spent half of my life here growing with it, almost continuously since my first visit in Despite seasonal storms, floods and economic downturns and even more catastrophic episodes of local immigrant-phobia, our Hispanic community has always remained vibrant. Not in the South, where the growth rate dipped only slightly from 44 percent to 43 percent, respectively.

Tennessee, for example, experienced triple-digit growth in its Hispanic population between and The prospect of a younger-than-average population that can fill jobs across Tennessee benefits the state.

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But inevitably, our community was often portrayed as a community in need. Despite socio-economic growth, prominence, and continuously changing political circumstances surrounding Hispanics in America, Nashville still had a lot to do to catch up with the rest of the country in appreciating what is now the largest ethnic minority at 17 percent of the nation's total population. I am not sure if they hear the same questions and affirmations I did when I first arrived. As the years have passed, it is evident that more and more people from Latin America are also calling Nashville home.

A welcoming, inclusive city — crucial to job creation and successful businesses. It is very liberating to come to the U. I wanted to contribute when I saw such respect for community involvement. Through the years I've been tasked with highlighting the contributions of those who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries, to show proof with s of how vital or valuable our buying power is. Go Barcelona!

Latino men and women of middle tennessee share their stories about their perceptions of nashville.

In the 22 years since I moved to Nashville, many others with skin color and accents like mine have chosen to move here. In his Sept. President Lyndon Johnson first declared a Hispanic Heritage Week in to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans and the independence days of Mexico and five Central American nations, according to the Library of Congress.