There are an estimated 12,000 Egyptians living in Nashville, both foreign born and of Egyptian descent. According to the 2016 U.S. Census there were 181,000 foreign-born Egyptians in the United States. While New York, DC and the Los Angeles area are home to the largest Egyptian communities in the US, Nashville, Tennessee has a surprisingly large Egyptian presence.
How did Egyptians end up in Nashville?
The 1960s were a time of political turmoil in Egypt. Many came to the United States in pursuit of an education, often from big cities like Cairo and Alexandria. While the community developed strong ties, it remained small until the Diversity Visa (DV) program, or Greencard Lottery, began in 1990. Countries like Egypt with low immigration and high education levels benefited heavily from the DV program.
The Opryland Connection
As immigration from Egypt grew, especially in the New York area, jobs were scarce. Meanwhile in Nashville there were not enough people to fill jobs in expanding hotels. An Egyptian working for Opryland came up with a plan. He called the Coptic priest in Jersey City, New Jersey to discuss moving struggling Egyptians to Nashville. With the priest’s blessing, in 1996, two buses of Egyptians moved to Nashville to work at Opryland. By 1998 there were nearly 300 Egyptian families in Nashville, nearly all working at Opryland.
While Egypt itself is 10% Christian, 90% muslim, the community in Nashville is reversed, over 90% Coptic Christian with some Muslims, other branches of Christianity, and even some Egyptian Jews.
What do Egyptians do in Nashville?
Many Egyptian immigrants continue to work in service jobs in the Nashville area. At times, this has been challenging for those who arrived through the lottery system. The DV program requires at least the equivalent of a high school education, but many have more advanced degrees in fields like medicine, engineering, and mathematics.
While the Green Card lottery creates a path for permanent residency it does not guarantee work in your field like an H-1 visa. Additionally, unlike refugee visas, there is no support from the US government once you arrive. As a result, it was not uncommon for mathematics professors to find themselves working as waiters.
Like many who immigrate to the US, Egyptians say everything they do is for their children. Their children are gaining a foothold in the US economy through advanced degrees and increased entrepreneurship.
Weathering the storm
In 2010 record flooding plagued Nashville. One of the areas hit hard was Millwood, a housing community many Egyptians call home. Making things worse, many lost their jobs as Opryland also suffered heavy damage. After the devastation, a public visit from the mayor drew attention to the community’s plight. With support from the greater Nashville community, Millwood was rebuilt. Under new management they even added outreach programs like English classes and support for the eldery. After nearly losing everything, Egyptians rebuilt and became true Nashvillians in the process.