Community

Edgardo Mansilla has led the Americana Community Center, a grassroots organization that serves Louisville’s immigrant and refugee communities, for nearly three decades. Come December 31, he’s stepping down as its executive director.

The center was created in 1990 in response to Louisville’s still-growing international population. Mansilla said this country presents itself as the land of opportunity, but that’s not always the case for international residents who either immigrate to or seek refuge in the U.S. — and for low-income residents who’ve been here all their lives. 

“It’s like, ‘Oh, you can pick yourself up from the floor and go because this is the land of opportunity.’ The land of opportunity when you have some benefits, like access to good public schools…good food,” Mansilla said. 

The Americana Community Center tries to fill systemic gaps through resources, like helping residents navigate government processes and offering services like family education, workforce development opportunities and housing counseling. It also aims to help residents get accustomed to their new environments while still embracing their multicultural backgrounds. 

Mansilla said the organization works to foster a sense of belonging through family events, extracurricular activities and a 130-plot community garden behind the center. There, residents from across the world grow all kinds of produce — including some from their native countries. 

wide angle photo of a garden with corn stalks and squash plantsYasmine Jumaa | wfpl.org

Mansilla said three principles have guided the way he’s led the Americana Community Center over the 28 years he’s been there: “human dignity, social justice and holistic services.”

He added that the organization’s long-term success has come from prioritizing those it serves and shaping decision making processes around their needs.

“The moment that Americana stops [listening] to its participants, is the moment that we must close the doors of the center. Because we are no longer a grassroots organization, we have become an institution,” Mansilla said. 

Americana Community Center’s leadership is expected to announce its new executive director in 2022. Mansilla said he plans to stick around and help his successor transition into the new role. 

Disclosure: Edgardo Mansilla is a member of the Louisville Public Media Community Advisory Board (CAB), which provides feedback on our stations’ services. The CAB does not approve any administrative or editorial decisions.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.