NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Located in South Nashville, Conexión Américas is a one-stop-shop that helps Latino families achieve their dreams.
Executive director and co-founder Renata Soto gave News 2 a tour of the facility, starting with an area called the culinary incubator. The shared commercial kitchen is the first of its kind in Nashville.
“Our culinary incubator is called Mesa Komal. Mesa is the word in Spanish for table and Komal is the word for Kurdish for community,” said Soto.
There are 33 distinct food entrepreneurs who run their businesses out of the space, and there is room for 50.
Inside Conexión Américas, you’ll also find the community center Casa Azafrán.
“By no coincidence, five years ago we created this community center, Casa Azafrán, which houses now nine nonprofit groups, plus Conexión Américas, and this is an example of the kinds of investments that we want to see in this community to make it an even better place for people to live, work and have a business,” said Soto.
Conexión Américas also partnered with Metro schools to expand the number of early learning classes serving the diverse community. Ninety-six children attend pre-K classes at the facility five days per week.
The journey to where Conexión Américas is today has been years in the making.
Soto moved to the United States when she was 21 years old to finish college as a visiting student but love kept her here.
“I married my husband, who is from the U.S., and that is why I ended up staying. I now have been in Nashville for a little more than 20 years, so more than half of my life and certainly Nashville is now home,” she told News 2.
Originally from San Jose, Costa Rica, Soto is the youngest of three sisters. She credits her mother and grandmother as the inspiration for her work.
Soto says her grandmother had a fourth grade education, but with the support and love of their community, her mother became the first in her family to graduate from college. She became a college professor and a published writer.
Soto says her grandmother made a lot of sacrifices to make sure future generations had a bright future.
“All the support that she gave to my mother, to also be able to become all that she wanted to be, is why I am here. I know that it’s my grandmother and my mom and, but I also know–I didn’t want to cry–but I also understand that it’s more than just an individual effort, that it took for them to be able to get to where we are. It took teachers, it took other people in their church, in their community, in their neighborhood, so that is what we are trying to build here,” she explained.
“Before even before Conexión Américas started, there was really no support, no one-stop-shop for people who identify with the immigrant community to find support. And so I think just the beauty that is here and has been created is all because of what she has been able to bring to the table,” said Leslie Lemus, the College Success Coach at Conexión Américas.
Soto told News 2 she knew the program was an ambitious mission since she and her partners were dreaming big. She said 15 years later, she had no idea Conexión Américas would become what it is today.