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The people and neighborhoods of our region have fascinating stories to tell, and WVXU is committed to telling them. Round the Corner is our community storytelling initiative, shining a light on the people, businesses, history, and events that make Greater Cincinnati such a fascinating place to live, work, and raise a family. Stories will air on 91.7 WVXU and 88.5 WMUB, and stream on wvxu.org, the WVXU mobile app, and on your smart speaker.

Immigrants have always been integral to Camp Washington. This place wants them to feel welcome

Welcome's storefront on Colerain Avenue.
Nick Swartsell
/
WVXU
Welcome's storefront on Colerain Avenue.

WVXU's Round the Cornerhttps://www.wvxu.org/round-the-corner series takes you into the heart of Greater Cincinnati's communities. This time, we're getting to know Camp Washington. WVXU's Nick Swartsell looks into an organization empowering immigrants and refugees.

It's a chilly, damp Saturday evening in Camp Washington and people are crowded into a brightly colored building on Colerain Avenue to see art, enjoy tamales and to get to know their neighbors.

The art explores Indigenous Mexican and North American healing traditions surrounding food. It's a good summation of some of the work an organization called Welcome does.

Depending on the day, it's a gallery, a corner store, a neighborhood meeting space, the site of cooking or ceramics workshops, or a space to buy goods handmade by people who have come to the United States from other countries. It's a spinoff of art space Wave Pool but its mission is unique.

Olivia Nava is the manager there.

"We do a lot of different things," Nava says. "We center immigrant and refugee creatives here. We're also, I'd say, a community hub as well. We have a network of home chefs, artist — I like to use the word 'creatives' because it's pretty all encompassing. They know us, have a relationship with us and know that we can link them up with employment opportunities. The hub here is utilized most as a general-use space by Camp Washington residents."

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Nava's parents immigrated to Cincinnati from Mexico in the 1980s. She says she understands the tension people face when they come to a new country. There's a pressure and desire to assimilate, but also a need to hold on to your cultural identity and traditions. Welcome aims to help people coming to Cincinnati from other places navigate those needs.

Long-time participants like Madeline Ndambukwa say it helps them keep in touch with their roots.

"I do art because art was my first passion," she says. "In Zimbabwe, I worked as a textile designer before I came to the United States."

Ndambakuwa now teaches communication at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State. She's been coming to Welcome since it started in 2017. In addition to her textile work, she's performed poetry and been a featured chef, cooking her mother's recipes from Zimbabwe.

Camp Washington has a long history of immigration. German and Italian immigrants have been part of the neighborhood since its beginnings in the 19th century. Greek immigrants founded what is perhaps the neighborhood's most famous business — Camp Washington Chili.

Drip Coffee Lounge just across the street from Welcome is run by immigrants from various African nations.

And people from all over the world have worked in the neighborhood's factories. Former Camp Washington Community Board Chair Joe Gorman cites Queen City Sausage as one example.

"They've got 50 employees, let's say, and they're from all over the world," he says. "You walk through the plant and it's a whole international place to work."

Nearby neighborhoods like Millvale, North Fairmount and Price Hill are home to a number of immigrants, many of whom frequent Welcome.

LISTEN: A new podcast from WVXU: The future of the Crosley Building — and Camp Washington

Much of what Welcome does seems to come back to food. Camp Washington is a food desert. The closest grocery store is miles away. Welcome distributes fresh produce and other necessities weekly. It also hosts monthly dinners featuring chefs who are immigrants or refugees. The events include art and activities designed to engender discussion and exchange.

Ndambakuwa says the food is a big deal.

"To have a well-cooked meal from another country in Camp Washington — that's unique," she says. "That says we're breaking barriers. We're breaking the structures that used to limit us."

Welcome's manager Nava says she loves the way people from all walks of life interact at the space. She hopes in the future, people from immigrant and refugee communities can feel an even greater sense of ownership there.

"I would like these communities to just kind of take the wheel, and we offer support for that," she says.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.