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Conexión Américas builds a mosaic — figuratively and literally — to bring all of Nashville together at Casa Azafrán

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When director Renata Soto says, "We are a mosaic," she isn't referring to just Nashville's Latino community, which Conexión has ably served for a decade. And while Soto does see the new Casa Azafrán cultural center — a 28,800-square-foot, $5 million development just south of the fairgrounds — as a "symbolic marker for the growth of the immigrant community," she also sees it as something much bigger and more significant than that. Soto calls the center, still under construction at 2195 Nolensville Pike, a "connection between downtown and Nolensville" — a physical manifestation of the ties between Nashville's established centers of influence and some of its newest residents.

The new center is ambitious in scale and scope. Bringing United Neighborhood Health Services, Family and Children's Service, the YWCA, Justice for Our Neighbors of Tennessee and The Global Education Center under one expansive roof, Casa Azafrán will host a range of services for anyone in the community — Latino, Kurdish, Anglo, Somali, Nashvillian — including health care, financial advice, computer skills and entrepreneurial training.

In addition to the raft of service partners and Conexión's own administrative offices, Casa Azafrán will house gallery and event spaces. The first art exhibit is slated to feature the winning entries from a Conexión-sponsored photo contest aimed at showing off Nashville's cultural diversity. And the event space, which opens onto a stone-enclosed courtyard, sits adjacent to what is planned to be a 1,500-square-foot commercial-grade kitchen and cooking demonstration area, with four pantries available for rental. The double-wide kitchen and pantries are modeled after a similar cooperatively run space in San Francisco, and are aimed at helping small independent food businesses — the kind often started by women in their own homes — that might otherwise find it difficult to grow, while also adding on-site food options for event planners. "We are super excited," Soto says — not only for the space itself, but for the chance to bring together segments of the broader community that might not otherwise cross paths. "This will bring Nashville in," she says, and she means all of Nashville.

One big reason Soto uses the mosaic metaphor: A very real mosaic, composed of thousands of hand-laid pieces of tile and assembled by a multitude of Nashvillians under the watchful eye of artist Jairo Prado, will greet visitors to Casa Azafrán from atop the entranceway. At 30 feet wide and 12 feet high, the mosaic, titled "Migration," is expected to become a new reference point. "It's the newest landmark," Soto says proudly. "And it was built by Nashville."

Organizers expect Casa Azafrán to open to the public on Dec. 1, though there are some loose ends to tie up between now and then. (The kitchen, for instance, still needs equipment.) So to help fully realize the project, Conexión Américas is holding a red-carpet sneak peek at the new location at on Saturday, Oct. 15, with appearances by musician/producer Desmond Child and Nashville Symphony Orchestra maestro Giancarlo Guerrero. Tickets for the event will be $150 and on sale at

Don't miss

Sept. 14-16: African Street Festival
This annual celebration of diasporic African culture rings in its 30th year with a program of spoken word, dance and food, with music ranging from blues to reggae, jazz to neo-soul. A children's pavilion features arts, crafts and storytelling, and a block party opens the festivities on Friday night. Hadley Park, on 28th Avenue North

Sept. 14-15: Voter Registration Drive and Mini-Health Fair
Register to vote and find out what you need to know about the requirements of Tennessee's new voter ID law. Volunteers will also help provide rides for registered voters who need to get a free ID. The voter drive runs 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. Blood pressure screenings, limited diabetes screenings, and information from Vanderbilt University Medical Center on breast cancer and diabetes will be available 10 a.m.-2 p.m. both days. St. Ann's Episcopal Church, 419 Woodland St.; more information: 254-3534

Sept. 15: Hispanic Heritage Celebration

Kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month in style, Conexión Américas hosts its annual celebration, beginning with a ceremony to honor local high school students for their winning entries in the annual "My Hispanic Roots, My American Dream" contest. After that, there's a fiesta with live music, authentic Latin American food and more. Tickets are $40 in advance. 6 p.m. at the Cannery Ballroom

Sept. 22: Hands On Nashville Day
Last year's Hands On Nashville Day turned out more than 1,800 volunteers — a record number for the 20th anniversary — and this year's event looks to turn an even more formidable volunteer army loose on dozens of landscaping, painting, and cleaning projects at schools around Davidson County. A $25 donation is requested to help HON fund its year-round volunteer efforts, but is not required. The most important element is effort. For more information visit

Sept. 29: Circuit Benders' Ball
A gathering of electronic tinkerers, circuit freakers and instrumental hot-rodders featuring sessions on how to hack everything from keyboards to game consoles and transform them from utilitarian slabs into warped noisemaking toy machines. Workshops 10 a.m.-7 p.m., performances 8 p.m.-1 a.m at Brick Factory

Oct. 6: Nashville AIDS Walk
The yearly 5K walk and run — kid- and dog-friendly, and featuring a midday concert — helps fund Nashville CARES and their tireless and essential year-round work in care, counseling, education and advocacy for Nashvillians living with HIV/AIDS and their families. 10 a.m. at Riverfront Park; more info at

Oct. 6: Celebrate Nashville
With more than 50 musical performances on five stages — including reggae, tango, klezmer and rock, to name a few — and more than 60 food vendors serving up everything from falafel to fried chicken, paletas to pakora, Celebrate Nashville just might be the city's most diverse event. And if all that's not enough, head over to the "global village," world goods market and the designated kids/teen areas. 10 a.m at Centennial Park; more info at

Oct. 30: "Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race"
Northwestern University law professor Dorothy E. Roberts presents a talk based on her latest book Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the 21st Century. Examining contemporary issues in health, bioethics and social justice, Roberts connects these issues while zeroing in on how, in particular, they affect women, children and African-Americans. 5:30 p.m. at Sarratt Cinema —STEVE HARUCH

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