In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), MP&F Vice President Javier Solano and Hispanic Marketing Group’s Marcela Gomez co-wrote an Op-Ed that ran in the September 16 issue of The Tennessean, focusing on informing the new mayor of Nashville about the Latino community. Read the full article below.
The next mayor of Nashville has a difficult act to follow, especially when it comes to Latino outreach and building bridges with the local immigrant community. Thanks for that, Karl Dean.
We bid you welcome, Megan Barry, and sincere congratulations. We look forward to working with you. To show you we’re serious about that, here’s a quick primer: 13 things the next mayor of Nashville should know about Latinos in Middle Tennessee.
1. We don’t speak in one voice. This will come as a disappointment to anyone who’s looking to attach this community to their campaign or widget and expects it to be easy or quick, something you can throw money at. Here in Nashville, we have about 65,000 Latinos, representing more than 20 countries, five ways of saying the word “orange” in Spanish depending on where they’re from, two chambers, and many probably wondering who we are and what entitles us to speak on their behalf.
2. But sometimes we do. English-only, for example. That was a big moment in 2009, a defining moment for Nashville in that it decided which city it wanted to be. It was also a defining moment for Nashville’s Latino population, which found its voice and a generation of leaders. Ten thousand immigrants went to the polls that day, many of them voting for the first time in their U.S. lives. Tuition equality is next.
3. Education matters. It’s why tuition equality is next. In other parts of the country where the Latino population is more entrenched, education may trail behind the economy and immigration reform in importance. Not here. Not where you find lots of first-generation U.S. citizens. It’s a special thing to see a young man or woman in Nashville become the first high school graduate in his or her family. It’s a sad thing when we have to see them leave for another state to go to college.
4. We just got here. This is what makes the Latino population here different from what you might find in Miami, Los Angeles or New York City. Among the states that have experienced the most Latino growth since 2000, Tennessee ranks No. 3. Draw a big circle around Tennessee and you’ll find the rest of the top 10. They’re in the South and Midsouth, mostly.
5. Migrants. Latinos accounted for half of the growth in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012, but most of that growth came from U.S.-born Latinos, not immigrants. The Latino community in Nashville includes many immigrants, yes, but it also includes many U.S.-born Latinos who came here for the same reasons everyone else did — opportunity, community, education, music and anything else that makes Nashville Nashville.
6. We’re young. Latinos are 10 years younger than the U.S. median across the country and even more where you see a strong first-generation presence. The journey isn’t for the old. It’s about the future. Latinos may be 10 percent of the total population in Nashville, but they’re 20 percent of the enrollment in Metro Nashville Public Schools. By the year 2040, 1 in 3 Nashville residents will be Latino. From a political and legislative standpoint, it’s easy to ignore this population now. It won’t be then.
7. Tech-savvy and social. Would you be surprised to learn that Latinos are more tech-forward than the general population? You haven’t met my mom. She’s on the phone all the time. Only now, the phone can do more things. Latinos have a higher rate of ownership of smartphones (77 percent) and tablets than other groups, which enables the following: They consume more digital video. They shop more online. They’re more likely to be early adopters of technology.
8. Language learners. Language preference, not surprisingly, is a function of where you were born and where you grew up. New arrivals to the U.S. will speak their native language. Their children, however, will speak English. It has always been that way, with every U.S. immigrant wave. The difference in a place like Nashville is that, until recently, we’re not used to seeing a lot of immigrant waves. Our English Language Learner resources weren’t ready to meet that demand and probably still aren’t.
9. Hispanic vs. Latino. Neither, really. Mexican, Colombian, Cuban, American — any of these will work. Don’t hyphenate. That confuses us. And if you must use Hispanic or Latino, as we’re doing here, we think Latino is better because it’s more of a self-selected term. Don’t lose any sleep over it, though. Not a big deal.
10. Assimilation. We don’t like this word. Its meaning is not exactly “to make the same,” but it’s often applied that way, which makes it a better fit for China or the Borg than the U.S. Assimilation comes with a price, and the cost is one’s cultural identity. What you have in Nashville is acculturation, which is a slower roll to conformity, jibes better with the concept of diversity and is a nicer word in general.
11. We love this country. So very much. You need to understand that. In this generation or the previous, we sacrificed a lot to get here. It’s the tie that binds all Americans, really. We’re all children of the immigrant experience, no strangers to change. You may not believe that diversity is our greatest strength, but we can perhaps agree that it is what makes the U.S. experiment unique among nations.
12. We love the country we came from. Why do we clap when the plane lands in Bogotá and not Miami? Because we’re home. Our other home. We have two homes, this one with our small family and that one with our big family. We have one foot here and one foot there. If you can understand that dynamic and all that comes with it, you understand us.
13. The kissing thing (besitos). Between men/women and women as greeting. Not flirting. It’s just nicer than a handshake. Couple of pointers: No direct skin contact with the lips. Think of it as kissing the air while touching cheeks. Go right cheek so you don’t bump into each other. And if this freaks you out, a handshake is fine.
Marcela Gomez is the president of TN Latin American Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Hispanic Marketing Group in Nashville. Javier Solano is the co-vice president of TN Latin American Chamber of Commerce and vice president at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations.