On Thursday, February 11, Deep Iyer, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, returned to Nashville. This time to read sections from her new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, to a large and diverse group of students, immigrants, and allies at the Nashville Public Library. In We Too Sing America, Iyer explores the post-9/11 environment of racial hostility, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. She documents and places into perspective how South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities continue to face xenophobic violence and hatred, more than a decade after the September 11 attacks. The experiences of communities in Tennessee make up one chapter of the book and formed the basis for Iyer's talk and discussion in Nashville. 

Between 2000 and 2012, Nashville's foreign-born population grew 86% and by 2012, Nashville has the fastest-growing immigrant population of any city and Tennessee has the fastest growing immigrant population of any state. Aside from being home to the United States' largest Kurdish community, Nashville also boasts a sizable population of Burmese, Somali, and Sudanese immigrants and refugees. Amidst rapidly shifting demographics, many U.S. born Tennesseans have responded with fear and anxiety, fueled by misinformation and political opportunism on the part of talk radio hosts, national anti-immigrant organizations, and candidates for political office. 

For example, there were the 2008 firebombing of the Islamic Center in Columbia and the 2010 vandalism of the Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Nashville.

Based on her experience as a scholar and an activist, Iyer delves into Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Bible Belt, shedding new light on the American South's legacy of racism--going beyond the black-white binary. In her book, Iyer also reflects on how living in a post-9/11 climate has created complex identities for Muslims living in the South. In the book, Tennessean Drost Kokoye, originally from Kurdistan, referred to as being a 'double other', both as a Muslim and as a refugee. Drost explained, "It went from ... refugees getting free handouts to us now being a danger to the community. At this point, we became the threat. We became the ones that people run away from all of a sudden." 

A diverse group of more than 100 people gathered for the book reading, followed by panel of local leaders who explored some of the book's themes. Panelists were Kasar Abdulla, Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, and Sekou Franklin, and the panel was moderated by TIRRC Co-Executive Director Stephanie Teatro. Following the reading, panelists exchanged thoughts on a variety of related topics ranging from the meaning of diversity, to student-led protests on college campuses. Hassan spoke on the impact of post-9/11 violence on immigrant communities in Nashville, and Abdulla followed up on the important coalition-building work that must be done to overcome those challenges. Franklin shared his experiences of building solidarity across racial lines, specifically some of his practices to promote understanding between Black and immigrant communities. This thoughtful and powerful event provided an open space for much needed dialogue about race and place in the new South.  

Click here to see photos from the event.