VU Center for the Americas hosts Conexion Americas’ Celebration of Achievements; Program highlights accomplishments of local Hispanic community

Programs promoting home ownership, business development and bilingual skills within the Middle Tennessee Hispanic community will be recognized Dec. 10 during Conexión Américas’ “Celebration of Achievements” at Vanderbilt University. The Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt will sponsor and host the event, which will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the university’s Buttrick Hall.

The Center for the Americas and 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 Puertas Abiertas/Open Doors home ownership program as well as individuals enrolled in Conversemos – a Spanish/English language exchange program.

“Hispanic families value home ownership because it represents a solid commitment to their integration into the community,” said Renata Soto, 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,” Soto said.

The Spanish/English Language Exchange Program pairs two individuals – one who speaks Spanish and the other English – so that they can help each other improve their foreign language skills. The program also fosters intercultural exchange between Tennesseans and Hispanic immigrants. “There is a myth going around that Hispanics coming to our city don’t want to learn English. This is absolutely not true,” Soto said.

“In working with the Latino immigrant community every day, we witness that one of its 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.” Soto also said that 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. This helps build bridges between the non-Hispanic local communities and their Hispanic neighbors.

“The Language Exchange Program, in particular, has forged close links between Nashville’s growing Hispanic-American community and Vanderbilt’s students and faculty,” said Vera M. Kutzinski, the Martha Rivers Ingram Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of the Center for the Americas. This program is possible thanks to Vanderbilt student and Nashville professional volunteers who are interested in improving their ability to speak Spanish and are committed to helping newcomers improve their language skills.

Soto emphasized that speaking the language is a crucial step in the integration of Hispanic families into Tennessee, while starting a business and owning a home are crucial to fulfilling their goals. “We are thankful to have recipients of numerous grants and awards, including the 2007 Bank of America Community Award, and sponsorship of our programs and events,” she said. “The Nashville community and corporations that support us have been very generous with us, and this event is recognition of where their support is going – helping these families take one more step toward their integration and building their American dream.”

The Center for the Americas is an institute devoted to collaborative, interdisciplinary research for the benefit of the Americas. It brings together a variety of scholars and innovators to investigate the cultural, economic and political interactions among the countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere and between the region and other parts of the world. Using its research, the center develops and helps sustain lasting partnerships that solve problems of importance to the Americas. In the process, the center reshapes ways in which the academy conducts research, evaluates research results and trains future generations of scholars. For more information on the Center for the Americas, visit or call 615-343-2818.

Media Contacts: Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS

Maitane Z. Tidwell, (615) 545-2474

Editor’s note: The “Celebration of Achievements” is by invitation only, but media are welcome to attend. Please email to RSVP.

Explore Story Topics