NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Programs promoting home ownership, bilingual skills and business leadership training within the Middle Tennessee Hispanic community will be recognized Dec. 6 during Conexión Américas‘ “Celebration of Achievements” at Vanderbilt University. The event, which is co-sponsored by the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant, will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the university’s Alumni Hall.
Conexión Américas, a Nashville nonprofit organization that promotes the integration of Hispanic families into the community, will recognize families who have bought houses through its Open Doors home ownership program, participated in its Spanish/English Language Exchange and taken part in the Prosperous Business leadership training program.
“Hispanic families value Home Ownership because it represents a solid commitment to their integration into the community,” said Jose Gonzalez, executive director of Conexión Américas. “Participants in the program are required to save toward their down payment and attend a home-buying class that gives them the tools to build their credit and become savvy about their future investments.”
The Language Exchange Program, which will be sponsored by Cracker Barrel in 2006, is an initiative that pairs two individuals—a Spanish speaker and an English speaker—so that they can help each other improve their foreign language skills. The program also fosters intercultural exchange between Tennesseans and Latino immigrants.
“There is a myth going around that Hispanics coming to our city don’t want to learn English. This is absolutely not true,” said María Clara Mejía, director of socio-cultural integration for Conexión Américas. “In working with the Latino immigrant community every day, we witness that one of their top priorities is to learn the language. They understand that this is of great importance to their success in building a life in this country.” Conversely, a growing number of Tennesseans who realize the competitive advantage of bilingual skills and the importance of becoming familiar with Hispanic American cultures are interested in learning Spanish. Mejía said that this helps build bridges between the non-Hispanic local communities and their Latino neighbors.
“Nashville today is, in many respects, a microcosm of the Americas,” said Vera Kutzinski, director of the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt. “Local organizations such as Conexión Américas have worked hard to make Nashville a place where cultural differences do not isolate and divide people.”
The Language Exchange Program is possible thanks to the collaboration of Vanderbilt students who are majoring in Spanish, attending classes about Latin America and working on service-learning projects; volunteers from the Center for Non Profit Management; and representatives from Bilingual Latinos, all of whom are committed to helping newcomers improve their language skills.
Prosperous Business is a basic four-month business course geared toward Hispanics who want to start their own businesses. Areas covered include registering a new business, hiring employees and marketing a start-up company.
“We feel very fortunate about the level of support and commitment that we have received from the Nashville community,” said Mejía. “People understand the importance of what we are doing; speaking the language is a crucial step in the integration of Hispanic families into Tennessee, while starting a business and owning a home is fulfilling their American dream.”
Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS