New Blog Stories -Community Engagement in the Immigrant Nonprofit Sector

Since the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 in April 2010, national attention has focused on the introduction of copy-cat immigration enforcement legislation at the state-level.  However, such a focus misses the wider range of cultural and political initiatives taking place throughout the country that welcome immigrant presence and advance immigrant integration and immigrant rights.

CGAP is initiating a new series of blog stories about issues affecting grassroots and community organizations in the nonprofit sector. This month we hope to inspire dialogue around the theme of “Community Engagement in the Immigrant Nonprofit Sector.” The purpose of this month’s blog is to create a conversation between practitioners and scholars about the role that nonprofit organizations are playing in addressing the many challenges facing immigrant communities, families, and individuals in the United States.

The Tamejavi Festival:

A cultural gathering place for immigrants and refugees

by Erica Kohl-Arenas

In response to growing anti-immigrant sentiments in the wake of 9/11, a group of immigrant and refugee nonprofit organizational leaders came together to found the first ever festival in California’s Central Valley to honor, celebrate, showcase, and discuss the rich cultural traditions, contributions, and struggles of Valley immigrants. With organizational leadership from the Pan Valley Institute (a project of the American Friends Service Committee) and the Central Valley Partnership for Citizenship, and support from the James Irvine Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and local supporters in Fresno, California, “The Tamejavi Festival” is now in its tenth year. Named after a mixing of words from different languages that signify an ethnic marketplace, Tamejavi was created from: “Ta” from the Hmong taj laj tshav puam, “me” from the Spanish mercado, and “javi” from the Mixtec (an indigenous Mexican group) nunjavi, all of which translate as “market” or “plaza.” In a region defined by great agricultural wealth yet home to the poorest, mostly immigrant, Americans The Tamejavi Festival quickly became an eagerly awaited annual gathering place for the regions diverse yet often isolated immigrant communities.

This year the National Endowment for the Arts captured the unique model and achievements of The Tamejavi Festival (see link below). While there is much to celebrate after 10 years of The Tamejavi Festival, the deepening poverty and insecurity, stalemate on immigration reform, and shrinking philanthropic giving raise questions and concerns for many immigrant serving nonprofit organizations. Tamejavi organizers hope to figure out how they can move beyond festival organizing to support greater civic and political inclusion and rights for Valley immigrant and refugees. One answer for the Pan Valley Institute’s Tamejavi project is to build capacity across the region by training immigrant leaders through a new ‘Cultural Organizer Fellowship’ program .

How have other organizations supported, trained, or organized immigrant leaders involved in cultural preservation, cross cultural exchange, and public dialogue through the arts?

  • How can the leaders of projects like Tamejavi deepen community engagement beyond immigrants and immigrant allies?
  • How can cultural work inspire greater civic and political participation and rights for immigrants?
  • What are alternate funding strategies that organizations can adopt to survive budget cuts that are so often experienced by the arts/culture nonprofit sector during economic downturns?

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