St. Louis Mosaic Project

Anna Crosslin, A Leader for the St. Louis Immigrant Community

Anna Crosslin reflects on her journey and becoming one of the most prominent leaders in the STL immigrant community.

Festival of Nations performers annually delight audiences of all ages. This event is hosted annually by IISTL. (photo credit: Jerry Smith/International Institute)

Anna Crosslin, President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis recently announced her retirement from the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) after 42 years of service.

The IISTL, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last November, is St. Louis’s hub for immigrant services and community engagement. More than 6,000 foreign-born from 80 countries receive valuable integrative services, including English classes, job placement, career path services, counseling and small business development services including microloans. IISTL also produces the popular Festival of Nations each summer in Tower Grove Park.

Crosslin’s hooding ceremony at the 2006 Washington University graduation ceremony where she is awarded an honorary doctorate in humanities. Chancellor Mark Wrighton (center) and Trustee Stephen Brauer look on. (Photo credit: Wayne Crosslin/International Institute)

Crosslin joined IISTL in September 1978 after having worked for the Office of International Studies (OIS) at Washington University for five years under the tutelage of Professor Stanley Spector, a noted China scholar. “While working at OIS, I closely collaborated with the Japanese American and Japanese communities on a variety of events,” said Anna. “George Sakaguchi, a member of the Japanese American Citizens League, happened to join the Board of the International Institute. When a vacancy in the CEO position occurred, he encouraged me to apply.”

“I hesitated saying that I didn’t know anything about refugees. George told me I didn’t need to know anything about refugees, I just needed to know how to write grants,” said Crosslin. “After a bit of soul-searching, I applied and as they say the rest is history.”

The Beginning of Anna’s Journey

Anna Crosslin’s journey began in Japan where she was born. “My mom is a Japanese immigrant and my dad’s family can trace their roots back to the founding families of America,” said Crosslin. “He served as a language specialist in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.”

Anna moved to the United States when she was two and a half years old. “While I was born a US citizen, I spoke no English at first,” said Anna. “However, adjustment was much harder for my mom, who had to learn English as an adult.”

“When I was seven, my dad’s plane was lost at sea and my American-born paternal grandmother was our life boat, grieving yet helping us at the same time,” said Crosslin. “I don’t know how we would have survived without her and remain grateful for her open arms and life-long support.”

“I have spent my career doing what I do to honor my grandmother and those open arms,” said Anna. “I have made it my life’s work to help as many immigrant newcomers as possible to have the support they need to achieve their dreams like my family has.”

Working with the St. Louis Mosaic Project 

In addition to her work with the IISTL, Crosslin also helped co-found the St. Louis Mosaic Project. “In 2011, I had a conversation with Tim Nowak, Executive Director for the World Trade Center- St. Louis about attracting more refugees and immigrants to St. Louis,” said Anna. “We soon joined with Bob Fox, local philanthropist. Bob was spearheading an effort to re-establish Casa de Salud, a much-needed health navigation center for the under served foreign-born population.”

Crosslin receives the St. Louis Mosaic Award  presented by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership in 2014. (left to right) Tim Nowak, Executive Director of the World Trade Center, Anna Crosslin and Bob Fox. (Photo Credit: Wayne Crosslin/International Institute)

The three of them engaged local government, business and foundation leaders to establish the Immigration and Innovation Project in 2012. The project was renamed the St. Louis Mosaic Project soon after Betsy Cohen was hired as its Executive Director in 2013, and continues to serve as a city-county, public-private attraction mechanism to draw more immigrants to our region.

“Currently, Betsy and I regularly collaborate on local and national initiatives aimed at achieving both our missions,” said Anna. “The St. Louis Mosaic Project is about attracting more immigrants to St. Louis and IISTL is about retaining them and we have enjoyed working together to achieve these goals.”

Anna Crosslin’s Legacy and Hopes for Immigration in St. Louis

Petitioners are awarded U.S. Citizenship in a ceremony at the International Institute in 2018. (Photo credit: Wayne Crosslin/International Institute)

Anna hopes that after she retires next year, her legacy will be positive and never forgotten. “In a nutshell I want St. Louisans to stop asking the question, “Where did you go to high school?,” said Crosslin.” The question can still be asked, because so many St. Louis residents have always lived here, but hopefully it will fall out of favor as more transplants come to our region from around the U.S. and the world.”

“Although I consider my efforts to have been a success in helping attract and retain more immigrants to our region, the work must still go on after me,” said Anna. “We all need to better understand that foreign-born growth is an important part of the solutions to our community’s economic and social challenges in our region and work together to achieve IISTL’s vision of a diverse, inclusive and thriving community.”

More about Anna Crosslin 

Mark Hetfield, President of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), moderates a panel with White House Champion of Change awardees Anna Crosslin of IISTL (center) and Nadyia Kasvin, Director and Founder of US Together of Columbus, OH. (Photo credit: Betsy Cohen)

Anna Crosslin is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, including the Global Service Leadership Award from the Boeing Institute of International Business at St. Louis University, the St. Louis Award, established in 1931 by David P. Wohl, the St. Louis Mosaic Award from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, Global Ambassador Award of the World Trade Center-St. Louis and the FOCUS STL Board of Director’s Leadership Award.

Crosslin is also a Board member of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Board Chair of the National Asian Pacific Center for Aging in Seattle, and is a gubernatorial appointee to the MO Commission on Human Rights. She is a 1985-86 graduate of the Leadership STL Program. In June 2015, Crosslin was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugee Day.

To learn more about the International Institute of St. Louis visit their website here.