In 1989 at age 25, I crossed over the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to Laredo, Texas. My risk-free crossing ended a year of travel in Latin America during which I was changed forever.
I first saw Latin America when I spent six weeks studying Spanish in Quito, Ecuador at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador (PUCE) in the summer of 1986. A year later after finishing my studies at Georgetown, I returned to see Latin America for as long as I could afford with about $600. I wanted to see more of our southern neighbors' culture, language, and peoples. That decision commenced my Latin American trip via the Rio Grande.
Just a few hundred miles away Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua were in the midst of civil wars, which had gone on for years but had waned for the moment. A few hours drive from beautiful Belize I witnessed the consequences of these wars. Nicaragua was struggling with severe poverty and deprivation. In El Salvador, fear was palpable as dead bodies had laid in the streets just the year before.
That's what driving from Belize to El Salvador meant in 1987.
During my year, I also spent time in amazing cities like Lima and Cuzco, Peru, Cartagena, Colombia and La Paz, Bolivia, and I spent almost 6 months in Quito, Ecuador teaching English. The beauty and cultural richness of these places was always tempered by the knowledge of poverty and unused potential all around.
After that year, I spoke Spanish pretty well, had fallen in love with Latin American culture, and had a greater appreciation of what a privilege it is to be a citizen of the United States.
My experience in Latin America is second only to family in my heart. Every day, I try to remember the hospitality that I received on my trip – especially from the family that fed me on the train from Mexico City to Laredo after I ran out of money. I also try to remember the vast differences of opportunity that still exist between the United States and some places in Latin America.
More and more people coming from Latin America, Somalia, Kurdistan, South Africa, and everywhere else in the world call Nashville home. They all made their own crossing – some fleeing economic hardship and persecution – others recruited here because of their incredible talents. Many made their crossing exposed to great personal risk I have never experienced.
Today, we're lucky to have places like Conexión Américas and TIRRC helping us find our way as we grow as a City. For sure, we’ll struggle and all make mistakes as we build the next Nashville together, but I am convinced that the energy, desires, and hospitality of Nashville’s newest will make us an even greater place to call home. I find it especially exciting to think about all of the young men and women graduating from our high schools this year and what they will do for Nashville.
Check out this video which tells this story better than I ever could:
As Nashville's Vice Mayor, to make the most of these opportunities, I will ask Nashville's Human Relations Commission to:
(i) review the policies and programs of all departments and agencies to ensure they are responsive to the needs of new Nashvillians and identify ways in which such programs can be used to increase meaningful engagement between new Nashvillians and the City;
(ii) identify and disseminate best practices in this regard;
(iii) conduct outreach to representatives of nonprofit organizations, elected officials, and other interested persons that can assist with the development of recommendations;
(iv) measure and strengthen equitable access to services and programs for new Nashvillians;
(v) share information with and communicate to the City regarding the benefits that result from integrating new Nashvillians into communities; and
(vi) annually assess and report our City's progress on integrating our newest Nashvillians and to make recommendations to the Council on how we can improve. (HT to BO)
The memories of my year in Latin America will always be with me as I represent Nashville as its Vice Mayor. If you'd share your story of coming to Nashville, I'd love to hear it as we make the next Nashville together.