Nashville presidential visit draws protesters, supporters

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — About 200 protesters and supporters gathered outside a south Nashville community center on Tuesday while President Barack Obama spoke inside about his executive action on immigration.

Heath Young is a stay-at-home mom who grew up in the formerly white, working-class neighborhood of Woodbine, which is now the center of Nashville’s immigrant community and the home to Casa Azafran, where Obama was speaking. Young said some of the changes to the neighborhood have been good and others bad, but she loves the diversity of her son’s preschool, which is in the same complex as the community center.

“Children, they don’t see a difference” between people of different races and ethnicities, she said.

Young was there to see the president, not to protest, but when asked, she said she doesn’t agree with Obama’s action to protect about 4 million immigrants from deportation, at least temporarily, because she thinks immigration reform should be left to Congress.

Desert Storm veteran Karen Douglas drove about an hour from Clarksville to stand behind barricades across the street from Casa Azafran holding a handmade sign in the 40-degree weather. Douglas said she made the trip because she’s concerned that allowing people without proper documentation to stay in the country will make the U.S. less safe. And she called it “a slap in the face for those people who come over legally.”

Mayra Yu, a Mexican immigrant who is now a U.S. citizen living in Nashville, said she was there to thank Obama for taking executive action on immigration. But she began to tear up when she recalled friends who will likely not be eligible for the program.

“We’re happy at least that (Obama) did something,” she said. “But now we ask the Republicans, if they don’t agree with President Obama, they need to do something to fix the issue.”

Mexican immigrant Gabriela Arteaga, also of Nashville, didn’t bring a sign to wave. Instead, she brought certificates recognizing her children for being on the school honor roll and principal’s list at school and earning the president’s award for educational achievement.

Arteaga, who works cleaning cars, said she hopes she will be able to take advantage of the president’s program because her 6- and 8-year-old children are U.S. citizens.

“I’m proud to live here,” she said, “because there are more opportunities than in my country.”

Randy Reid, a businessman from the wealthy Nashville suburb of Brentwood, said he had been at the scene since 7 a.m., even though the president was not scheduled to speak until 2:45 p.m. He said he was optimistic when Obama was first elected that he would help improve race relations in the country. Instead, Reid said, he feels the president has done the opposite.

“He has the bully pulpit, and he ought to be able to bring the country together. But he and his administration are dividing it.”