The following reflection by Louisa Saratora was written a short time after President Barack Obama's visit to Nashville last month. Louisa is Assistant State Refugee Coordinator for the Tennessee Office for Refugees (a Catholic Charities of Tennessee department) and also serves as co-chair of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's New Americans Advisory Council.
Nashville has been lauded throughout 2014 as an "it" city. A star-studded prime time show showcases its vibrant music scene, historic neighborhoods, culinary hot spots, and southern charm. Now, Nashville can add presidential destination to its bragging rights.
Due in large part to the welcoming work of Mayor Karl Dean and local civic and community leaders, President Barack Obama visited Nashville on December 9th for a conversation about immigration reform. Seventy five people shared time and space at Casa Azafràn with President Obama as he hailed Nashville as an example of a city "work[ing] together to...make sure that immigration works for everybody".
According to the 2010 US Census, one in eight Nashville residents are foreign-born, one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country.
Welcoming refugees and immigrants to Nashville and supporting their integration has long been a focus of Catholic Charities of Tennessee; it is equally one of our entire city. The opportunity to be part of that audience was a great honor.
I have lived and worked in Nashville since 1996 when, as a participant of Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I worked as a refugee services caseworker at Catholic Charities of Tennessee - and never left. I fell in love with the work of welcoming refugees - those forced to flee their home countries due to persecution or the fear of persecution. Refugees arrive with few material goods but a wealth of character, resilience, and hope.
Welcoming refugees inspired a personal and professional passion. Though my current work as the Assistant State Refugee Coordinator in the Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR) department no longer brings me daily direct contact with refugees, my daily life does - not only because I have found a welcoming place in refugee communities, but because they have found one in Nashville, as well. Nashville has been changed in profound and dynamic ways by refugees and immigrants; our city is better for their contributions.
Though TOR does not serve those directly affected by President Obama's Executive Action, his visit exemplifies that welcome is not action limited to a particular role or task.
As the Co-Chair of Mayor Dean's New Americans Advisory Council, I collaborate with community leaders from refugee and immigrant communities, as well as native-born stakeholders, on issues of importance to all residents - civic engagement, education, and public safety.
As Mayor Dean often says, there is no higher compliment for our city than for refugees and immigrants to choose Nashville as their home.
Likewise, it is an honor for President Obama to choose Nashville to highlight creative and effective initiatives that recognize and include all new Americans, regardless of status, religion, ethnicity, or profession, as essential, contributing members of our community.
As exciting as President Obama's visit was, it is not a culmination of effort, but rather encouragement to continue to build on the energy it inspires - for Nashville and for the example we can be to cities across the country.