Memphis is a phenomenal city, and it’s no wonder that people from all over the world have chosen to call it home. The international community in Memphis is constantly growing, but is often doing so in small pockets and islands isolated throughout the city. As a result, many Memphians haven’t gotten to appreciate the wealth of global culture abounding in the 901. International Memphis is seeking to change that.
We got to talk with Yasmine Omari, International Memphis’ founder and director, to learn more about who they are and what they do (and why you should care) in the week leading up to their big website launch party. Check out her interview to hear more about the group, and to get more details on their upcoming shindig.
Choose901: Could you tell me more about what International Memphis is?
Yasmine Omari: International Memphis is a community group with a website. The community group consists of international Memphians along with those that have an interest in learning about other cultures and connecting with internationals. The website functions to connect and activate the local international community and also to connect Memphis to them. It’s a resource to find out about all things international in the city, such as cultural groups, musicians, festivals, events and more!
International Memphis started as a Facebook group a few years ago with just a few members. Now we have over 800 members. The group is a forum for locals to share information about things happening within their communities and to connect with others. Some things that people have shared have included the openings of new international restaurants, discounts to international performances around town, where to buy certain products, where to help refugees and info on upcoming cultural events.
C901: Who’s behind this organization?
YO: I am the founder and director. I’m originally from Palestine and have been living in Memphis for about 16 years. I’ve been working and volunteering in arts & culture for the past few years, most recently with the Germantown International Festival, Palestine Festival, TN Arts Commission and the Germantown Performing Arts Center.
PLUS a carefully assembled and diverse advisory board of active and bright Memphians that will help drive it forward: Suzy Mahjoub, Andrea Suels, Shahab Sadeghi, Olivia Haslop, Queen Titile Keskessa, David Quarles, Dan Price, Eddie Roe, Simanti Chatterjee, Yancy Villa-Calvo, Sabine Langer, Daniel Baastardo, Vijay Surpuriya and April Steele.
C901: What inspired you to found International Memphis?
YO: Over years of extensive involvement with the Germantown International Festival (where local internationals showcase their culture), I would see many diverse ethnic groups in one room generously sharing their culture with others. The rest of the year, however, these groups were scattered and rarely found in one place in Memphis. During the festival there was such a true sense of community and cross-cultural exchange that I don’t see so often in Memphis. So I thought… wouldn’t it be great to connect and activate this community throughout the year!? There is a necessity for our diverse international community to be more connected, and in turn, this will help their needs to be met by the broader Memphis community.
After discovering the Germantown International Festival in Memphis, I was intrigued and wanted to explore further and see what else I could find. So I did a lot of research to find existing cultural organizations and started attended their events. All the events were open to the public, but only had people within their community attending. Some of these events were underfunded and could really use grant money from institutions such as TN Arts Commission and Arts Memphis (which most didn’t know about). My next step was to help get the word out about these cultural groups and their events, so I created a Facebook group to have a place to share all of this. After returning from the Salzburg Global Seminar for Young Cultural Innovators last October, I received a mini-grant through the program to develop a website for International Memphis. And now the information I have collected throughout the years will have a home on the web, where organizations and individuals can benefit from it.
C901: What difference do you hope to make in the community?
YO: We hope to help connect the different cultural groups here throughout the year and to have Memphis recognize that we have a vibrant and active local international community with a lot to offer.
The US is a nation of immigrants, and people sometimes forget that. It’s more urgent than ever that we meet our international neighbors, not just to learn about their cultures, but to get to know them as people. Most people will discover that not only are there many interesting things to learn from each other but also that we aren’t that different and those negative stereotypes and misconceptions we’ve developed will melt away.
If this all sounds super cool to you (which it should) and you’re ready to get to know some incredible people, take in some world class performances, and communicate through the universal language of boogie, check out the details for the website launch party below:
- When: Tuesday, July 31; 6:00-9:30pm
- Where: 430 North Cleveland (Crosstown Arts)
- Who: Internationals! Non-internationals! Really anyone who’s excited to learn about and experience different people and cultures!
- What: This community event is free and features cultural music, dance and local arts. International food bites and drinks will be available while supplies last. Entertainment includes:
- The Vaziri Brothers – Flamenco guitar
- Alejandro Paredes – Spanish rock & roll
- Borhan Samei – Persian setar
- DanceVersify Academy – Bollywood dance
- DJ Sika – Spinning international beats (be ready to dance!)
- AND admire the work of visual artists Nahid Aziz, Juan Rojo, Shokoufeh Shahrabi, Suzy Mahjoub, Bienvenido Howard, Yancy Villa-Calvo, and Andrea Morales