Q&A: Pablo Davis, Executive Director, Latino Memphis
Founded in 1995, Latino Memphis (LM) assists the Latino community in a variety of capacities, from helping new arrivals get settled to promoting cross-cultural understanding throughout the city. Jose Velazquez led the organization from 2001 until this year, when Pablo Davis became executive director August 1st. For more information on LM, visit www.latinomemphis.org. — By Preston Lauterbach
Flyer: What's the basic function of Latino Memphis?
Davis: LM has a four-part mission: educating Latinos about Memphis, [educating] Memphis about Latinos, to be an advocate for people who may not have a voice, and to help people develop their own voice and use it. There are a lot of us — about 100,000 Latinos in the metro area. Latinos are a new phenomenon in Memphis on this scale. On the other hand, Latino culture is an old influence in America.
In what professions are Latinos working in Memphis?
All levels. People come in at high-responsibility management positions, doctors, nurses, and teachers. The numbers aren't as high here as they need to be, but that will happen. Our work is to help accelerate that. There are plenty of people doing restaurant work. We're interested in encouraging people to get into business. There's an illusion that Latinos are stuck in certain professions and aren't learning English. It's an illusion because those are only the newest arrivals that people can readily identify as Latinos.
How do you help illegals?
It may seem like semantics, but to change that word from an adverb, describing someone who is here illegally, to an adjective, "illegal" immigrant, and finally a noun, calling someone an "illegal," is a brutal dehumanization of someone.
It's not that undocumented residents are one community. It's very common for a family to have legal residents and a member who is undocumented. The thing that has terrible consequences for living, breathing human beings is that immigration is collapsed into just Latinos, which is usually collapsed into just Mexicans, and from there into "illegals."
Do you encourage assimilation as a strategy?
If one person from Bulgaria comes to Memphis, that person will learn Memphis ways over time. If a hundred Bulgarians come, it would be different. The language would last a little longer. If a thousand Bulgarians come over, that would be enough to support a Bulgarian grocery, and who knows, maybe a Bulgarian food item would become popular among natives and be part of Memphis culture. The process can go two ways.