Heritage is much of what makes us whole. Whether it is where we were born, or where and how we grew up, our history - our heritage - is part of our personal fabric.
As we celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month in June across the nation and in Nashville, I would like to share my story and the opportunities I have been given in the United States, and in Music City's booming fashion industry.
I was afforded tremendous opportunity when I moved to California in the early 1950s - I met people who helped shape my career and had experiences that put me on a path toward the success that I have experienced throughout my life.I spent nearly 40 years working in California, building my skills and reputation. Through people I worked for and became acquainted with - like Viola Grae and Nudie Cohn - I met and designed clothing for people like Salvador Dali and Elvis Presley.
The success I experienced drew me to designing for the entertainment industry, and I had the incredible opportunity to create costumes and clothing for more than 100 movies and television shows while in Hollywood.
When I needed a safer and prosperous place for my family, I looked to Nashville. This city was a great place to raise a family and presented an incredible opportunity to grow my tradecraft and leave a lasting legacy. I saw the potential for Nashville's fashion industry where others did not, and today we have evidence of its success.
With the fashion industry so vibrant here, it is no wonder that those with fashion experience come here. A lot of those talented people get a hand up from Catholic Charities and its Sewing Training Academy. The academy is where immigrants who may have been tailors or seamstresses, designers or cutters in the land of their birth can adapt their skills to meet the needs of fashion companies here.
Catholic Charities works with the Nashville Fashion Alliance, an organization for local fashion-related businesses, to bring together the companies that need workers and skilled immigrants who need work.This represents much more than a niche in our local economy. Nashville has the largest per capita concentration of independent fashion companies outside of New York and Los Angeles.
In 2015, the Nashville fashion industry generated more than $5.9 billion and employed more than 16,500 people. The fashion industry here is projected to have a $9.5 billion impact on our local economy by 2025.
In Nashville, as in cities across the nation, fashion businesses need immigrant workers to meet the demands of consumers. The way must be smoothed for employers to hire these skilled workers. We must find a better way for immigrants to bring their talent to the American fashion scene - and particularly to Nashville, where we have a heritage of welcoming the talented and creative.Open arms are our heritage in Nashville, and we celebrate the many kinds of heritage that immigrants bring to our city - and especially to our fashion industry.
It's been a hell of a ride. I've worked with legendary artists and historic public figures and built a legacy I can be proud of.
But my story could only be possible in this beautiful country - where you are presented the opportunities and you take them.
Manuel Cuevas, of Nashville, is an iconic designer of fashion who has dressed celebrities across the nation, from Hollywood to Music City. He was born in Mexico. The National Endowment for the Arts announced on June 21 that Cuevas has received the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship, which honors 10 folk artists each year.