Nashville ethnic media on the frontlines of immigration battle

By Anthony Advincula, New America Media

NASHVILLE - On a Friday morning, in a small house outside downtown Nashville, La Sabrosita, a Spanish-language AM radio station, was airing its shows in full swing. Immigration was the most pressing topic.

castro.jpg"Everyday we got calls from our listeners, asking about immigration reform. 'When is it going to happen?'" said Jose Castro, producer and host of the show Puntos de Interes. "People are waiting for a better answer."

As the number of immigration-related arrests continues to escalate in Nashville, the ethnic media -- like La Sabrosita -- have moved to the forefront of the immigration battleground.

"We have an obligation to our community," Castro added. "If they [lawmakers] can't hear us from here, we will go there [White House]."

Castro and two colleagues from the radio station are planning to participate in an immigration conference in Washington, D.C., later this month.

Since December 2008, more than 5,000 undocumented immigrants in the Nashville area have been placed under removal proceedings, about a 5.2 percent increase from 2007. Most of the immigrants were arrested and detained after being stopped for minor traffic violations.

Last year, the case of a pregnant Mexican woman, Juana Villegas, made national headlines when she was reportedly pulled over by a police officer in a Nashville suburb for a routine traffic violation. She was detained, and gave birth in a hospital with one of her feet cuffed to the bed. Villegas is now suing the county sheriff department for abuse.

"Many are unaware of what immigrants are facing here," said Ramón Cisneros, whose Franklin City-based publication, La Campaña, includes a section for immigrants to share their experiences and information with one another. "Outside Tennessee, people seemed to think that we have no immigration problem."

Now the economic meltdown is threatening the existence of some of the 20 ethnic media in Nashville, making it harder for them to inform their communities.

farah.jpgAbdul Farah, social adjustment director of Nashville's Somali Community Center, lamented a local Somali television producer who gave up running a syndicated network due to budget constraints. Now he's driving a truck for a living .

"Sometimes you have to make a tough decision," said Farah.

Without a television show aired in Somali, Farah says, the Somali, Kenyan and other African communities have no choice but to watch mainstream English-language television channels.

Not only do Somali immigrants, especially the elderly, find it difficult to understand English-language television news; many issues important to their community tend to be left out.

When the Somali television show disappeared, Farah says, the Somali Community Center attempted to pick up some of the slack. But without a television show in their language, it has been more difficult to disseminate information to the community.

"On a regular day, about eight to 11 people would come to the center and talk about their problems," said Farah. "Most of them are wondering how to file for a green card or why their immigration applications are not making any progress, despite many years of waiting. They just don't know what to do. I'm sure a Somali television or publication could have helped more to inform our community."

Considered to be one of the economically booming cities in the country, the promising employment opportunities in the predominantly white Nashville has attracted many immigrant workers from neighboring states.

Between 1990 and 2000, according to a Carnegie Corporation report, Tennessee's foreign-born population grew by 169 percent. It's now the nation's fourth fastest-growing state in Latino population.

But it's not only Latino immigrants who flock to Nashville in droves.

In Davidson County alone, the foreign-born population has grown by 203 percent since 1990. The city has significant concentrations of Middle Easterners, Europeans and Africans. And Nashville has one of the nation's largest populations of Kurdish refugees, approximately 7,000.

The rapid growth in Nashville's immigrant population led to an increase in ethnic media to cover immigration issues. Some faith-based publications now cater to immigrant communities, including the United Methodist Church's Spanish-language magazine, El Intérprete, which published a series of investigative stories on immigration raids, and the Korean-language magazine United Methodist Family.

Amelia Post, organizer for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), said that the ethnic media have played a significant role in her organization's immigration campaigns. "Not only do we fight for immigrants, but we also inform them what to do, who to call, and what their rights are if they get arrested. The ethnic media can help us send this information."

(Photos from top to bottom: Jose Castro of La Sabrosita AM RadioJose Castro of La Sabrosita AM Radio and Abdul Farah of Somali Community Center.)

This story is copyright © New America Media.