Inside the Massey Business Center, convocation hour was got Hispanic flare as Jose Gonzalez, an instructor of entrepreneurship and management, spoke about his co-founding of a nonprofit called Conexión Américas.
As a part of the Hispanic Student Association’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Gonzalez told students how Conexión Américas was created and how Nashville continues to be a hub for immigrants from all countries Wednesday morning.
“To tell the story of Conexión Américas is to tell the stories of thousands of immigrants,” Gonzalez said.
Conexión Américas was just the starting point – eventually, Gonzalez and his partners launched Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, which means “my home is your home” in Spanish, and Casa Azafrán– a local event space and non-profit organization collective– in order to help the Nashville refugee and immigrant community.
Gonzalez first moved to Nashville 21 years ago from Mexico City. After graduating from Belmont with a master’s degree from the Massey School of Business, he said he would have been able to go back home. However, he decided to stay.
“It is the people that kept me here,” said Gonzalez. “I proudly call myself a Nashvillian.”
In 2002, Gonzalez left his job as an accountant to start a nonprofit organization to help the growing population of immigrants that was coming to Nashville.
“No other group had the cultural competence to work with our new neighbors from Latin America,” he said. “The community resources could not keep up with the growth.”
When Casa Azafrán and Mi Casa Es Tu Casa were launched in 2007, the founders knew that they needed more people involved than they currently had.
“One group of people could not do it alone. We needed collaborative effort,” Gonzalez said. “We began planting seeds for what we called the ‘Nonprofit Collaboration.’”
Reaching out to organizations such as Neighborhood Health and the Bank of America, Conexión Américas began creating a web of contacts.
“We reached out to a lot of mentors, a lot of friends,” Gonzalez said. “We got a lot of advice based on their experiences.”
It wasn’t smooth-sailing for the nonprofit.
In 2008, the Latino population in Nashville was affected severely by the economic crisis, said Gonzalez. In 2009, the “English First” proposal attempted to make English the only language spoken at local government meetings. In 2010, Conexión Américas was put on hold to help with recovery efforts with the flood in Nashville. In 2012, the doors were able to re-open with 10 non-profits under one roof in the form of Casa Azafrán.
“Every day at Casa Azafrán we see the new faces of Nashville,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a very energy-filled place.”
Casa Azafrán offers many different services for immigrants, ranging from student mentoring and teaching English to child care and health care. Belmont students can get involved as well, working with high school students, helping with entrepreneurship mentoring and working as an intern for the legal aspect of the organization.
“You will know why what we do at Casa Azafrán is important to every Nashvillian,” Gonzalez said.
If any students are interested in working with Casa Azafrán, email Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected to the rest of the nonprofits involved in Casa Azafrán.