Forum on Latin American experiences in ET planned at MC

In observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Center for Strong Communities at Maryville College will host a forum on Latin American experiences in East Tennessee on Sept. 22.

“New Neighbors in Appalachia: Listening to the Experiences of Latin Americans in East Tennessee” is free and open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Gymnasium.

A panel of Latino leaders in business, nonprofits and community affairs is expected to discuss perspectives on how Latin Americans are being received as new neighbors in our communities. Information booths will be open before and after the panel presentations.

According to Dr. Billy Newton, director of the Center for Strong Communities, the program is intended to build greater understanding of how people from Mexico and many other Latin American countries are experiencing this region and the support or obstacles they are facing.

Newton, refers to the growing Hispanic population in East Tennessee as “new neighbors.”

“Anytime new neighbors arrive, it can be a challenge for the long-time residents as well as the newcomers. We need opportunities to get to know each other and discover new gifts, talents and leadership that can be shared,” he said. “I think it’s people like me - residents who want this population shift to be a positive and enriching experience for our communities - who can benefit from this forum.”

Moderating the panel is Dr. Loida Valazquez, recently honored for human services by the YWCA Knoxville’s Tribute to Women. Now retired from the University of Tennessee, Valazquez has been active for many years with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee, the Race Relations Center, Latino Task Force, the Red Cross, Knoxville Museum of Art and United Way.

Panelists are Patricia Robledo, a local business owner and chair of the 2008 HOLA! Festival in Knoxville; Lourdes Garza, director of Hispanic Ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville; Tomas Mares, resident and former business owner in Blount County and member of Blount County Anti-Racism Task Force; and Lisa Barba of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and former chair of the Latino Task Force.

Also scheduled for September 22 is an afternoon mini-conference for church leaders interested in Hispanic ministries. Co-sponsored by the Coalition for Appalachian Ministries, 35 church leaders from five states will explore perspectives on Hispanic ministries, the context of Latin American history and the experiences of children in the public school ESL program. The afternoon sessions will close with a discussion of needs and opportunities for Hispanic ministries in Appalachia. Registration for the afternoon sessions is online at the Center for Strong Communities website, or call 865-273-8894.

To make these events possible, the following organizations have partnered with the Center for Strong Communities: Coalition for Appalachian Ministries, League of Women Voters of Blount County, Leadership Blount, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee, Hispanic Ministry Office of the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville and Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

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