LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One email, just the other day, after 30 years on the job, did it to him.
“I’d like to extend my heartfelt gratitude in your invested in a confused young man who now inspires to affect change for marginalized communities in our world.”
It was written by a young man whose life, like man, was changed for the better by Edgardo Mansilla.
“This is my life,” he said.
He’s the patron saint of Louisville’s international community and their success. As Mansilla walks the halls of the former Catholic school that became Americana.
The decades flash by for the young man who thought his time at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary would be a short one.
“When I come to Louisville, I thought I was coming to study and go back to Argentina,” Mansilla explained.
Now he can tour a sprawling campus where Americana students have an average GPA of 3.82.
Norma Porras is one of the many success stories.
“[It has] given me the opportunity to learn English. It’s like my city now, I love Louisville,” she said.
Mansilla founded Americana World Community Center in 1990. It started inside the Americana apartments where the landlord allowed them to tear out walls for bigger classrooms. The old name of the apartments stuck with the mission.
“What we want is the people to be integrated into the society without losing their own identity,” Mansilla said. “We want them to become American without losing who they are.”
He didn’t have a business plan and the early years weren’t so easy.
“I was getting lack of support from other people in other agencies [that said] we don’t need a community center.
Americana eventually came through the struggle and got moving after then Mayor Jerry Abramson embraced its need. Pictures of Abramson line his office wall.
“Never easier, Doug. Never. Never. You have to keep working, you have to come here to service people, open the doors,” he said.
Mansilla is a past who is not afraid to join the protests and he says he keeps a wary eye on the federal agency ICE. The constant worry of deportation looms, even though he long ago became an American citizen.
He carries his passport with him all the time to show he became an American citizen in 2000.
One year after protests for racial justice, I wondered how Mansilla views his adopted hometown.
“Is Louisville a welcoming city?” Doug Proffitt asked.
Mansilla responded, “No question. Louisville is a great place for internationals. I think we are [a welcoming city]. The protests were about injustice – something that I was happy to happen in one way. The protests connect people of color. I saw in the protests not just African Americans – I saw LatinX [and] I saw people from different backgrounds.”
He can retire knowing Americana became a hum during COVID, handing out financial aid plus giving COVID tests and the vaccines. The international community knew where to turn.
“People are coming to the center because they want to, they don’t have to – they choose to come. That is the force that made Americana strong and keep growing,” he said.
With four grandkids and a fifth one on the way, there really is a chance this dynamo for Louisville will be busy in retirement – or will he?
“Are you really going to be able to walk away from it?” Proffitt asked.
He replied, “No, there’s no way.”