A Colombian-born, D.C.-transplant who has recently returned to Nashville, Juliana Ospina Cano is Conexión Américas’ passionate new Executive Director. Earlier this year, Conexión Américas founder Renata Soto stepped down, proudly naming Juliana as her successor. An immigrant herself, she has an empathetic heart as well as firsthand experience moving to the United States, which makes her ideal for her new role. She is committed to social justice and authenticity with more than 10 years of experience empowering new Americans. Grateful for her new role and excited for what’s to come in Nashville, Juliana Ospina Cano is our newest FACE of Nashville!
How did you get connected with Conexión Américas?
It all started at Glencliff High School in 2010. I volunteered at one of Conexión Américas’ education programs, and since that day I found my home in Nashville. What started as a volunteer commitment became a full-time job with their family engagement program, and today I am beyond proud to be back.
What is the mission of Conexión Américas?
Our mission is to build a welcoming community and create opportunities where Latino families can belong, contribute and succeed.
As you enter this new role, do you have any big goals or dreams for the organization?
I’m starting at a time of immense growth for Conexión Américas. Over the past 17 years, Conexión Américas has grown from an organization of three co-founders in Nashville to a statewide staff of more than 50. We’ve evolved from a start-up with $150,000 in seed funding to a thriving institution with a $5 million annual operating budget. With that growth comes a great sense of awareness on expansion. We are not closed to the idea of growth.
On the contrary, just as the city itself, it is the right time to ask ourselves that question: We want to continue growing in a sensible way. I want to better understand if growing for us means going deeper into what we already do, or growing into new programs, or even new physical locations. Where do we go to continue serving and learning from other communities beyond Nashville? And more importantly, how do we get there while honoring our mission?
What do you think is the most pressing issue in the Latino community right now and why?
There is a multitude of issues that impact the Latino community. The beauty of our culture is its diversity, and with that comes challenges and opportunities related to equitable access to resources. This includes access to healthcare, economic opportunities, access to rigorous education and civic participation. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the negative rhetoric that permeates the national discourse regarding our community. The role of immigrants in our society is being called into question, and the negative lens through which some take the conversations is certainly an issue that is concerning to many in our community and the families we serve.
How can Nashvillians help or get involved with Conexión Américas?
The most wonderful thing about Conexión Américas is that there are opportunities for all. The best way to get involved is to come dance with us at our Latin Party at the Cannery Ballroom on September 28, or at Cafecito, our largest annual fundraiser at the Music City Center (mark your calendars for April 24, 2020). We also have year-round volunteer opportunities like providing childcare while parents take English classes, teaching an English class yourself, or supporting the local farmers’ market that comes to Azafrán Park every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. During early voting season, you can stop by our office at Casa Azafrán to exercise your civic duty and enjoy a complimentary cup of Conexión Américas’ own Coffee Cultura. For more information on how to volunteer, call us at (615) 320-5152.
What is something unique that you love about Nashville?
I’ve always loved its people, its friendly spirit, and quite honestly, its diversity. I always had a feeling that I would come back to Nashville, and it’s beautiful to actually be here in this capacity, as Conexión Américas’ Executive Director.
What book have you most recently read and loved?
La Oculta is written by a Colombian author who uses language in a way that reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s a story about culture, family, identity, traditions, and idiosyncrasies that are typically associated with Colombian families. [It’s about] three siblings — one moves to New York and the other two stay in Colombia to take care of their family estate, but even that takes all their lives in a different direction. I read it in three days. It was such a good read!
Where are your favorite restaurants in Nashville?
My first stop when I moved back to Nashville this summer was Star Bagel with Conexión Américas’ co-founder José Gonzalez, a place I loved when I lived here five years ago. Funny enough, I didn’t know what a bagel was until I moved to the U.S. at the age of 15. I’m excited to explore Nolensville Pike and try foods from all over the world. Tempo, for example, just next to Casa Azafrán, has delicious breakfast tacos you can pair with a Mexican Coke.
What is something someone might be surprised to learn about you?
Most people don’t know that I am finishing a doctorate in education at Johns Hopkins University. My research focuses on the academic and socio-emotional outcomes of immigrant adolescents.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
I don’t think it was advice given by one person, but a lesson that I’ve come to appreciate with time. Finding our own voice as new Americans, as immigrant women, is not easy. Too often we neglect our true authenticity to fit in, to belong, to succeed, but now more than ever I believe that we need to own our voice, our culture, what makes us, us. In my case, an immigrant Latina who is proud of her journey and the experiences that have shaped my identity.
What are three things you can’t live without, aside from faith, family, and friends?
My glasses, a toothbrush (plus toothpaste!) and water
Thanks for diving in and making a difference in Nashville, Juliana! And thank you to Leila Grossman for these beautiful photos.
Dr. Tracy Callister has dedicated his life’s work to caring for patients with heart disease. Get to know this revered local physician, our newest FACE of TriStar. Click HERE.