Carrie Ferguson Weir is one of those people who represents the best of Nashville: a huge supporter of the Latino community, the deputy director of communications for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, a mother, writer, blogger and so much more. Find out about this fabulous Nashville gal, what brought her here, why she decided to stay and her newest project, “Listen to Your Mother,” which graces the stage of TPAC’s Polk Theater on Saturday, May 2. Welcome, Carrie!
What originally brought you to Nashville?
I came to Nashville from New Jersey in 1991 to work as a reporter for The Tennessean. I was teased by my northern contemporaries that I was coming to cover Elvis sightings and the rhinestone beat. But whatever. I was game for a southern adventure and had planned to eventually work my way back to Miami, where I was raised. I stayed because I got hooked by a great quality of life and the unending supply of good stories and good people.
Much of your work has been focused on being Latino in the United States, both personally and helping to connect others. How have the challenges and opportunities changed in the last decade?
It was rare to be Latino in Nashville in 1991, and I had a lot of healthy conversations with friends and co-workers about race and ethnicity and stereotype and what it truly means to be American. I realized, as Nashville’s Hispanic population grew in the mid-90s, that I had a platform and opportunity to share the stories of other new Nashvillians—immigrants, refugees, the undocumented—who were more newly arrived than my own family.
I launched a little Spanish T-shirt business, Los Pollitos Dicen, in 2005 and a bilingual blog called Tiki Tiki (which stands for chitchat), because a lot of first-generation Americans of Hispanic descent don’t want to forget the colorful crazy we grew up with, but it is very easy to let part of your identity slip away, or morph, when you live far from your family and in a place where your people don’t have a history.
That said, it blows up my heart to see so many Latinos of all backgrounds in Nashville now, offering their own truths and flavor to the Nashville spirit. Not to mention that nationally there are so many wonderful culture and food websites directed at my little slice of demographic. The prevalence makes the conversation richer for us all.
Is there any Latino stereotype that particularly drives you crazy, as it’s simply untrue?
I often hear: “You don’t look Cuban.” Well, I am a carbon copy of my Cuban mom, and my closest relatives range from stunning blondes with blue eyes to olive-skinned, black-haired beauties. So despite the cocoa-colored, hot cha-cha mama stereotype, there really is no one look. Really. (It is here where I confess I also am of Swedish and Scottish descent on the Ferguson side of my DNA, but no one accuses me of looking Swedish, either.) That said, these days, when I am told I don’t look Latin, I just point to my butt. People believe me then.
In Nashville, what can those of us who are non-Latino be aware of, or help with, that can help us all connect to our community as a whole?
The prosperity this city has experienced is due in large part to the skilled Mexican and Central and South American workers who truly built the fancy subdivisions and landmarks we so enjoy here today. They also have opened businesses and offer services that benefit us in ways we may or may not see directly. Latinos have dug deep roots here, and it makes total sense—they cherish the same affordability, family values and beauty that make Middle Tennessee attractive to everyone. My suggestion to anyone and everyone—beyond hanging out on my beloved Nolensville Road–is to discover the opportunity for community at Casa Azafran, the nonprofit center where anyone can take an international cooking class, a Zumba class, see art made by local artists or volunteer with any of the center’s 10 nonprofits that serve international Nashville.
Casa Azafran—where I used to work for Conexion Americas—really is a glimpse at what Nashville will look like one day, and it is stunning. Truly stunning.
As a reporter for The Tennessean, your reporting on the state’s foster care system won an advocacy award. Did this experience start you on the road to your current position as deputy director of communications for Tennessee DCS?
This is one of those “never say never” things. Back in the late ’90s when I covered DCS for The Tennessean, I never, ever would have imagined going to work for the agency, which has experienced a troubled, public history on and off. However, the job offer came with the opportunity to tell the department’s stories from the inside, to share with the public what we can of the children, families and staff and the soul-shaking and inspiring hard work that quietly goes on in public child welfare every day. So we have been doing that through a blog and social media, and we are working on doing so much more in the coming months.
It truly is an honor to support the staff and tell their stories, and being at DCS is a daily reminder that grace exists and redemption is possible for us all. And I won’t ever say never again.
Tell us about the upcoming “Listen to Your Mother” event and your involvement.
“Listen to Your Mother” is one evening of local writers sharing stories on motherhood, from the funny to the ironic to the heartrending to the inspiring. It’s coming back for the second year at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at TPAC. There are 12 stellar readers this year, selected from nearly 80 who auditioned. My friends Brigid Day, Anne McGraw and I were insane enough to rent the Polk Theater last year and hope people would come. They did. We had the largest show in the nation, with nearly 600 people in attendance who laughed and cried and hooted and howled and clapped and cheered each of the performers with us. It was magic. And this year promises to be, too. You can find the 2015 cast’s bios and the link for tickets on our local site, and you can watch last year’s crazy-good readings on YouTube. [Readers: See the video at the end of today’s interview.]
The show, by the way, was started by Ann Imig in Madison, WI, and will be held in 39 other cities in April and May, each featuring their own local writers. So tell your friends to check out their city on the “Listen to Your Mother” website.
What is a piece of advice that you have leaned on throughout the years?
“Let go, let God” … it saves me from myself.
Do you have a mentor?
Lucky me, I have a lot of generous mentors to whom I turn, depending on what I need. But one of my most cherished mentors was the late Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr. Gail knew how to talk me down from the roof, and if I am feeling overwhelmed, even now, I remember what she used to say when she was my editor: “We’re going to get through this. It may suck and we may hate it, but we’ll do it, and it will all be OK. OK?” Gail taught me we always get through the tough stuff. And we can do it with grace.
The other thing I have recently learned from a genius DCS assistant commissioner: She who keeps an open door and good chocolate on her desk knows all.
Name your last best meal.
The City House pork belly pizza, which I just had last weekend, is directly from heaven, and it brings me everlasting joy to introduce it to friends who never have had it and watch them inhale it–especially those who cringe at the words “pork belly.”
I also just had the Garance Vert Clair green ice cream and the Persian orange buttermilk frozen yogurt combo at Jeni’s, and, truly, I think angels sang in my ear.
What is exciting you about Nashville these days?
I walk around this city completely astonished by the growth, and I think I may be boring my friends talking about it, honestly. I used to park in the empty Gulch when I worked at the paper, and now, I get lost trying to figure it out. I also take a regular walk downtown, and the number of tourists and packed restaurants and shops is a thrill—way better than when it was peep shows down there. I just hope the tourists don’t discover my free, secret parking spot.
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
The pollen. It has got to go.
Are you reading any great books you could recommend?
I have been rereading When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodrun, which should be read regularly by anyone who breathes.
What are three things you can’t live without, besides faith, friends and family?