On a rainy afternoon, I visited Casa Azafrán (and Nolensville itself) for the first time. Greeted by signs in English, Spanish, and Arabic, I was pleasantly surprised by how the community center’s muted exterior gave way to a lively interior. With an assortment of toys stationed in one corner and a collection of informative pamphlets in another, I tried to picture the then-quiet lobby bustling with families and friends.
Soon after, Sofia, my contact at Casa Azafrán, walked in and introduced herself as a part of Conexión Américas, just one of the many organizations housed within Casa Azafrán. She was incredibly warm and bubbly, and one of the first things she said while giving me a quick run-down of her work was along the lines of: “It is a blessing to be entrusted with people’s stories here, to hold their secrets in our hands.”
You may ask: what kinds of “secrets”? Long, difficult journeys to the United States, moments of fear and weakness, old and new dreams… From the food trucks parked outside to the gatherings of weekly English classes, Casa Azafrán supports Nashville’s newcomers in all sorts of personal and professional endeavors. With the goal of providing social services that help make integration into their new community as seamless as possible (even providing free therapy and counseling), Casa Azafráns list of ways to serve as a rock for the immigrants and refugees in Nashville blew me away.
As we walked around the building (an impressive 28,000-ish square feet), Sofia emphasized the need for more team members and resources in order to meet the growing demand for Casa Azafrán’s services. For example, a workshop to assist people with filing taxes had just filled up almost instantly, and another particularly popular program, an early education center, has to be filled by lottery every year. While it’s absolutely fantastic that the high interest levels indicate that these programs are consistently meeting families’ needs, they also are a reminder that Casa Azafrán itself needs more support in order to best serve its community. That can only occur with increased public awareness of immigrants’ and refugees’ experiences and needs; during my time in Nashville, I’ve now met many locals who had little to no idea about the important work being done at centers like Casa Azafrán. Sofia emphasized the crucial role that local volunteers can also play in helping to expand the reach of Casa Azafrán’s initiatives, so with that in mind, I encourage anyone reading this post to take a few minutes to look into nearby community-oriented organizations and find ways to promote their mission in your own social circles.
After talking about the various volunteer roles I could take on for future visits to Casa Azafrán, I also had the chance to meet Mateo, another Conexión Américas team member who works on the organization’s communications and policy front. As we munched on handmade empanadas (from one of the budding entrepreneurs that Casa Azafran’s “Mesa Komal” kitchen supports), he shared with me some of the hard situations that the community center and the people they serve frequently face. Fear of ICE raids is a constant worry, and Conexión Américas assists families with creating action plans (a bit like a “fire safety” plan) in the event that a loved one is deported. Mateo was also involved in ensuring that individuals have the right to a translator in court, and he helped prevent the passage of the 2009 “English-only” ordinance in Nashville, rallying the public against the discriminatory initiative. This conversation was particularly eye-opening, and like Sofia, Mateo emphasized the need for more people to be involved in this kind of work. Having witnessed just some of what Casa Azafrán has built and achieved, it’s impossible to deny its value and importance to ensuring that our communities are as inclusive as possible.
As a final note, I want to briefly highlight the beautiful art in Casa Azafrán. After deliberating throughout this semester about how art can provide key insight into social issues, I found this idea to hold especially true in Casa Azafrán’s permanent and rotating art galleries. As I looked at all the frames facing one another in the hallway, one image that particularly stood out to me was a child’s photograph of “the path home”: a short, straight-shot gravel path to a metal trailer. A pink bicycle sat on one side of the path, and chatting family members stood in the background. It was such a simple but telling image, and Sofia commented that after a tough day, it was always reinvigorating to walk by these artworks and remember people’s stories as further inspiration to keep pushing on and changing people’s lives for the better. The exhibits certainly encapsulated what words cannot, highlighting the unique power of artistic expression.
It is indeed a gift for us to be entrusted with these glimpses into people’s unique life experiences, or “secrets” in the words of Sofia. I am grateful to have been welcomed into Casa Azafrán with such open arms, and in the following posts, I hope to highlight not only some of the other organizations that serve Nashville’s diverse community but also reflect more on the learning experiences to be had as a volunteer.
All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.