Engaging New Americans in Nashville
This article is the third in a series of mobile workshop spotlights, presented by the City of Nashville ahead of the 2015 Congress of Cities and Exposition. Join NLC in Nashville this November, and sign up for mobile workshops to go on an educational tour highlighting successful programs and ideas unfolding in and around Nashville.
Nashville was at a crossroads in early 2009; it needed to address its rising immigrant population.
In an effort to do so, a city councilman proposed an English-only amendment to the Metro Charter. If passed, the initiative would have limited most city government communications to English language only. The city was, by default, thrust into the national spotlight, and Nashville voters responded in a big way, with 57 percent voting to reject the proposal.
The English-only effort ultimately backfired on its supporters, and after a strong defeat of the measure, the city came together to find ways that we could become a welcoming place for immigrants.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean later created the Mayor's Office of New Americans, designed to bring together Nashville's immigrant communities with city government.
The Office of New Americans supports several programs, some of which Mayor Dean's administration created before the office was established by executive order:
- MyCity Academy, a free leadership-training program that empowers New Americans to understand and participate in Metro Government.
- Parent Ambassadors, which pairs New American parents whose children are newly enrolled in Metro Schools with trained volunteers who are from the same home country or speak the same language.
- Pathway for New Americans, a partnership between Metro Government and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that supports immigrants in Nashville who aspire to become U.S. citizens by providing information and resources at city libraries and some community centers.
- The mayor's New Americans Advisory Council, which ensures that New American leaders have a voice in Metro Government.
This past summer, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce partnered with Welcoming America, a national non-profit that helps governments and organizations with immigration matters, on a Welcoming Nashville report. The report states, "Nashville's efforts to welcome and incorporate a vibrant, growing immigrant population have helped create tangible economic gains across the city and across sectors."
What Nashville has realized, both anecdotally and through research data, is that immigrants play an important role in entrepreneurship in Nashville and across the nation. Nationwide, immigrants make up 28 percent of Main Street business owners, a level well beyond their share of the labor force or overall business ownership, which stand at 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
Other key findings of the Welcoming in Nashville study include:
- More than 80 percent of business and community leaders in Nashville feel that immigrants have helped businesses reach a more global audience.
- A large majority agree that a continued climate of welcome is important, including continued support from local Nashvillians and access to a variety of services and programs to improve immigrants' full participation.
- Seven out of 10 leaders believe immigrants help make Nashville a more innovative and productive economy.
In 2012, Nashville had the fastest-growing immigrant population of any American city. Today, 30 percent of students enrolled in Metro Schools speak a language other than English at home. We are also the proud home of the nation's largest Kurdish population, as well as growing enclaves of immigrants from Somalia and Burma.
In 2014, as President Barack Obama visited Nashville to tout his immigration reform initiative, an opinion editorial from Mayor Dean said this of Nashville: "We plan to keep welcoming people of all colors and nationalities into our community, because it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do."
To Mayor Dean, it is no coincidence that the increase in immigrants and refugees to Nashville occurs at a time when the city is at its most vibrant. "Cities of the future will look like the city Nashville is becoming," said the mayor. "Diverse communities are the ones that have the best chance to thrive in today's world, and Nashville is proud to be one."
The Engaging New Americans mobile workshop will take place Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information on the workshop and the full conference, click here.