NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — From a young age, attorney Mario Ramos knew his calling in life, in part, thanks to his own experience as a first-generation American to Colombian parents.
"Immigration is not for the faint of heart, so to speak," he said jokingly during a sit-down interview at his Green Hills office. "My mother spoke no English so of course, we had to speak Spanish at home, learn English in school."
Ramos was one of four siblings, all raised in Knoxville. "We were like Martians, we were just so out of the ordinary," he said.
He would eventually chase a career in law all the way to California, but it wouldn’t be long before returning to Tennessee.
"When I first came to Nashville [there was a] very small Hispanic community and sometimes I would do criminal cases, I would go to court, and my clients would plead guilty for no driver’s license," he said. "So I started a Hispanic group at that time called 'Let’s Unite' - 'Unámonos.'"
The group’s first project was to make the state’s driver’s license test and manual available in Spanish.
"We gave out like 10,000 copies throughout the state and this model was copied by other states like Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, California," said Ramos. "A whole host of states copied what we did."
At the start of his career, Ramos says he and his brother helped hundreds find citizenship. "When I first began my practice, at that point the great immigration reform occurred from '86 through '88 and you could help a tremendous amount of people acquire status," he said. "At that time my brother and I, Fred, we did like 500 cases at that time and we helped legalize an entire group of people who a lot of went on to sort of become the founders of Nashville."
But with each passing year came new challenges.
"Every year has gotten tougher and tougher and they’ve changed the laws more and more to eliminate the ability for people to acquire status," Ramos said.
He said the last four years have been the hardest of his career. Even so, Nashville’s Hispanic population continues to grow.
"They want to come here to work and earn a good living, hopefully, provide for their family," said Ramos. "Nashville was the fastest-growing metropolitan city in the country last year. To grow you need people - that’s the reality, you need people and the most mobile, fastest-growing segment of the entire population of the United States of course is Latino, Hispanic."
Ramos said he will continue to help those who need it, as they chase their own American dream.
"It’s people working together, people working together to make it a good place to live, and then trying to understand that the United States has always been a mixture of people."