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VOL. 40 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 10, 2016

International corridor continues to develop

By Sam Stockard | Correspondent

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Many businesses, some owned by immigrants, on Nolensville Pike are supported by Renata Soto can Casa Azafran.   

-- Michelle Morrowtthe Ledger

When Renata Soto talks about the evolution surrounding Casa Azafrán, she can’t help but mention the variety of cuisine in South Nashville.

“I don’t know who started this, but there’s a saying here on Nolensville Road that people come here for the cars or the tires and they stay for the food,” Soto says.

Area businesses aline Nolensville Pike in the Woodbine area.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

And while some Nashvillians may be uncomfortable with foreign languages going up on business signs along the increasingly international corridor, they won’t argue with the mixture of authentic, ethnic restaurants along the road, from Latin to Oriental and Thai to Indian, just to name a few.

Soto and other longtime residents of South Nashville hope some of the car lots and payday lenders will be replaced someday, and they say they are hoping Casa Azafrán can continue to be a catalyst for positive change in the burgeoning area.

Nashville leaders are looking in that direction.

Mayor Megan Barry recently announced she wants to inject $12 million into the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway off Nolensville Road for renovations as part of her $475 million spending plan.

Soto says Metro Planning Department already is recognizing Casa Azafrán’s significance in the international corridor, and she hopes more emphasis will be placed on improving pedestrian traffic and access to Coleman Park, one of the focal points for activity in the area.

Casa Arafran

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Soto acknowledges some South Nashvillians may yearn for the old times. But she believes many others are embracing the community’s “changing face and diversity.”

Through oral history interviews Conexión Américas has done with Glencliff High School students talking to longtime area residents, the agency is finding more people are recognizing change is inevitable and is even benefiting the area economically.

Tire companies are popular along Nolensville Pike like this one, Amigo Tires, that is across the street from Casa Arafran.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I think Woodbine is a great neighborhood that is a great story that people don’t tell a lot about being the place where Nashville changed quickly and where neighbors, new ones and older ones, had to grasp what that meant, went through tough times,” Soto explains.

“But I think that in the end I’m optimistic that there’s more embracing of that new diversity than there is pushback.”

Longtime resident Debbie Young, 61, a Glencliff High School graduate, says the area was a great place to grow up back when Harding Mall and 100 Oaks were in their hey-day and people could walk the streets safely. Those two elements kept people in the neighborhoods. But other malls came along, economics changed and the area began to lose its identity.

A resurgence is taking place, though, with new homes replacing dilapidated houses and other residential construction as well as retail projects in the works, she says.

“I see it as a great place to live, a wonderful place to raise kids,” says Young, one of those being interviewed for Conexión Américas’ story-telling project.

Longtime residents are growing more accustomed to the ethnic mix of new neighbors, Young says, and Glencliff High uses the mantra: “Diversity is our strength.”

Hands Together In Flatrock Art and Music Festival brings together people from a variety of countries to mesh with families who go back generations in the community.

“It was amazing,” Young says, describing an event full of smiles and handshaking.

With homes dating back to the late 1700s and 1800s, South Nashville has a rich history. Newer Hispanic neighbors and places such as Little Kurdistan add to the neighborhood’s uniqueness, Young adds.

Echoing Soto’s comments about cuisine, Young says the Nolensville Road area rivals New York City or Los Angeles for excellence in ethnic food.

Metro Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston, who grew up in a neighborhood off Nolensville Road, says it’s difficult to quantify the impact Casa Azafrán is having on the area, but he sees the change taking place.

“I think what’s most interesting is how these two eras of South Nashville have blended together so uniquely,” Pinkston says. “You’ve got old South Nashville, which is largely white neighborhoods and neighbors who are interacting in really profoundly positive ways with the New American community, and there’s this incredibly peaceful co-existence happening that is really rare in America right now.

“And Conexión Américas and Casa Azafrán are the focal point of that. As a South Nashvillian, it’s hard to put into words how all of it works, but it’s something special.”

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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