The campaign for a new Nashville mayor is in full swing, with public forums being held on a virtually daily basis preceding the August election.
The candidates are often addressing packed houses, touching on a variety of themes, among them diversity in the workplace. Thus far, few have specifically focused on the immigrant and minority demographic.
To address this issue the Tennessee Immigrant and Minority Business Group (TIMBG) is hosting a forum of mayoral candidates at the Global Mall in Antioch on Tuesday. It is appropriate for such an event to be held at the Mall, which is becoming the epicenter of economic and cultural diversity in the Nashville area, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the former Hickory Hollow Mall.
Nashville was anointed as an "It City" in January 2013 by no less an authority than the New York Times. Yes, the nation has discovered Music City, based on its reputation as a music industry hub. But the city's image no longer depends on its country music heritage. A growing restaurant scene is enhancing its reputation as a food city as well. And Nashville is also coming into its own as a tech powerhouse.
Oddly enough, missing from the "It City" list is the fact that Nashville is becoming known for its welcoming environment for New Americans. Nashville has gained a reputation as a new "Ellis Island," a magnet for immigrants from around the world. The number of foreign-born residents in the area has grown from 2 percent to almost 12 percent.
Some 30 percent of students in Metro schools live in homes in which English is not the primary language. In 2012 Nashville had the fastest-growing immigrant population of any American city. It is the home of the nation's largest Kurdish population, as well as sizable numbers from other countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Eretria and Bhutan. Nashville has traditionally had a sizable and prominent African-American community, which accounts for nearly 16 percent of its population.
These demographic trends have not escaped the notice of the Nashville mayor. In 2014 Karl Dean created a Mayor's Office for New Americans (MONA) to address the needs of the immigrant community. According to Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, a member of the mayor's New Americans Advisory Council and a prominent member of the Somali community, the new office is Nashville's way of saying, "Let's come to reality with our demographics."
Metro government has also partnered with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to create Pathways for New Americans, a program supporting immigrants who aspire to become U.S. citizens. Through this partnership, the third of its kind in the nation, New Americans Corners are located in five Nashville libraries and community centers. MyCity Connect is a new MONA initiative that provides an opportunity for new Americans to network and get to know each other.
We will be asking the panelists to assess the mayoral initiatives thus far undertaken regarding the immigrant population as well as to provide their personal perspectives on the future. Questions would include:
Are you familiar with any of these mayoral initiatives?
Nashville has numerous ethnic and community organizations reflecting its diverse demographic. Are you involved with any of them?
The Tennessee General Assembly has debated legislation that would allow non-citizen students to pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges and universities. What is your view on this?
In your view what steps might be taken to create pathways to citizenship for the sizable undocumented population in the U.S.?
Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Charleston: What measures could Nashville take to assure that our city will not become the next focus of racial tension?
Dr. Galen Spencer Hull is co-founder of the Tennessee Immigrant and Minority Business Group.
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