A little while back Cafe Con Leche asked Pittsburgh to nominate Latin@s they feel are making a difference in the city. We were overwhelmed by the response of the community. The Pittsburgh Latin@ community has many amazing people working across a variety of sectors, from non-profit to corporate, from artists to students. We are a community that is rich in talent and dedication to making this city the most livable for all who call it home.
Our hope in celebrating these amazing people, everyone will feel the SABOR y FUERZA that the Latino community brings to Pittsburgh.
We hope you will join us to celebrate at FUERZA on Saturday, August 15th. The event will be at The Hardware Store in Allentown and catered by La Palapa on E. Carson St. You can purchase your tickets here - it will be the event of the summer!
Currently lives in Ross Township but grew up in NJ. Dominican. Engineer / Actress / TV & Radio personality. Ansaldo STS / La Rumba Productions ( Self Employed). Board member for Women & Girls Foundation. Also for Manchester Academy Charter School. Associate board member for Sarah Heinz House.
Engineer by training. Entertainer by passion. I believe we can do whatever we set our minds to as long as we adapt without losing what makes us who we are. Moving to Pittsburgh was a challenge as I felt I was leaving behind a huge part of me. However when I realized that not only can I bring my culture here but also get to share it with others, helped me help others feel welcome and make Pittsburgh their home.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mount Washington's view.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To continue to grow, diversify and enrich the current culture in Pittsburgh.
Hometown Santiago, Chile. Nationalities USA and Chile. Media Artist, Filmmaker, and Performer. Robert Morris University; Associate Professor of Media Arts.
Carolina Loyola-Garcia is a multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and performer. She works primarily in media arts, including single-channel video art, video installations, video design for theater, digital printmaking, documentary, and as a performer has worked in theater and dance. She received her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University and is Associate Professor of Media Arts at Robert Morris University.
Through her work she has explored topics related to social justice, the dislocated identity that results from colonialism and migration, and questionings around issues related to aspects of human existence such as relationships, the transient nature of the postmodern experience, memory, and the tense interaction between economy and the environment.
She has been on stage with Quantum Theatre on the productions of The Red Shoes, Ainadamar, Maria de Buenos Aires, and Mnemonic; and is the founder of the Pittsburgh-based flamenco ensemble Alba Flamenca.
A Few Favorite places in Pittsburgh: There are several places I love in Pittsburgh, including Biddles Escape to meet up with friends or hide and get work done; Highland Park, where I go for runs when the weather is nice; the shops on Bryant St; and the Gallery Crawl event four times a year. I have been enjoying the variety of the restaurants that have been opening in Pittsburgh in the past ten years, always something new and exciting to try.
Hope for the Latino Community in Pittsburgh: As the Latino community continues to grow its presence in Pittsburgh, I hope that more organizations will recognize all that we can contribute to the cultural diversity of the region and will grow their support of activities and events around Latino and Hispanic heritage and interests.
Keyla Cristina Nogueira Cook
Hometown: Juquitiba, São Paulo - Brasil. Brasileira. Owner and Operator at Feijoada To Go. Creator of Projeto Madre Latina (A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh). Administrative Coordination at Carnegie Mellon University.
Keyla has been living in the Pittsburgh area for the last 3 years. Always involved with Latino community either by serving as volunteer at COESA (Brazilian Association) or sharing a little bit of Brazil through food by cooking Brazilian food for private parties and/or Latin@ events such as Cafe con Leche. Keyla's last project, Projeto Madre Latina ( A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh) came to life with the help of the Brazilian photographer Lila Rodrigues.
Favorite place: West End Overlook
What are your hopes for the Latino community in Pittsubrgh? I hope the Latino community in Pittsburgh can feel welcome and find valuable resources to live here. Find ways to preseve their heritage and consequently pass it along to future generations. I hope in the future Pittsburgh can be more diverse and good for all Latinos, by providing various types of support for latinos of all ages through culture, health and education and much more.
"Latinos independently of nationality should work together to strength our ties and keep building a strong Latino community!"
Hometown: Alajuela, Costa Rica. Nationalities: Costa Rica, United States. Executive Director, Dress for Success Pittsburgh.
Mónica Méndez, PhD, began her tenure as the Executive Director of Dress for Success Pittsburgh after her move from Orlando, Florida, where she was the Executive Director of the House of Mentoring and Empowerment (HOME), a human trafficking organization for youth and young adults. Dr. Méndez has served as a gender-consultant to corporations, non-profits, and government organizations. She has published and presented her work in both national and international forums and in front of a wide variety of audiences. Recently, Dr. Méndez was named a Forté Fellow, which is a prestigious and competitive fellowship awarded to business women with diverse backgrounds who are in business school and who exhibit exemplary leadership and demonstrate a commitment to advancing women in business. She was also named an Echoing Green Global Fellowship Semifinalist for her work with HOME and for showing that she understands the needs of her community and strives to provide the possible solutions for the challenges it faces. Her work, passion and understanding of the issues affecting women and their families was also recognized in 2011 when Gloria Steinem presented her with a medal on behalf of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) honoring feminists in Florida who made extraordinary contributions to the empowerment of women. Her goal is to make Pittsburgh a stronger, healthier community by promoting the financial and social empowerment that women need in order to break the cycle of poverty. She is the wife of her wonderful husband and enjoys spending her "free time" with him and her dogs.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mt. Washington
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? We come together as one voice for the well-being our communities and future generations.
Marisol Wandiga Valentin
Hometown: Ross Township. Nationalities: Kenyan, Puerto Rican. Humanitarian Aid Program Officer, Global Links
Marisol Wandiga Valentin is the Program Officer for the Caribbean Region for Global Links, a medical relief and development organization dedicated to supporting health improvement initiatives in resource-poor communities and promoting environmental stewardship in the US healthcare system. In addition to her role at Global Links, Marisol serves on the Boards of Directors of the Society of Contemporary Craft and North Hills Ebony Women, and sits on the Advisory Boards of the Latin American Cultural Union and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education & Community Engagement Department. Marisol is half Kenyan and half Puerto Rican. She holds a B.S. in International Business from Duquesne University and is certified as a Humanitarian Aid and Development professional by La Roche College and RedR. Marisol enjoys spending time with her best friend and husband, Oscar Valentin, and her family and friends. Her passions are predictive marketing, social justice, non-traditional career pathways, cultural exchanges and folkloric dancing.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? St. Benedict the Moor Church
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? Latinos have added so much to Pittsburgh's history and achievements -from names internationally recognized like Roberto Clemente and Christina Aguilera to those more locally known like Eduardo Lozano and Salome Gutierrez. In the past our contributions have been narratted as a semi-colon in Pittsburgh's history. I believe the new Latino community is making its mark, and soon we will be a full blown exclamation mark.
“We need to [...] cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community - and this nation.” — Cesar Chavez
Hometown: Miami and New York City. Nationality: Cuban American and Puerto Rican. Papercutting Sculptor, Self Employed.
Originally from a blend of New York and Miami, Gianna Paniagua is a papercutting sculptor based in Pittsburgh who creates work about her experiences living with a heart transplant. Her upbringing was rich in culture, coming from Cuban and Puerto Rican families, and her mother made an extra effort by teaching her spanish as a first language. Living with a transplant, her reactions and emotions towards certain situations found a way into her artwork. Now, Gianna creates largescale installations that spark a discussion concerning the fragility of the human body and promotes the success of organ transplantation. She has exhibited in Wood St Galleries, 707 Gallery, the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and at the Scope Art Fair: New York. Recently she received the grand prize for the Emerging Young Artist Program at the Kennedy Center who honored artists with disabilities. She continues to spread her story through her work, and future plans include a residency at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and an installation for admitted children in New York Presbyterian Babies Hospital.
Favorite place in Pittsburgh: Children's and Rivers Casino. You can thank my dad for this. I am still followed by the transplant team at Children's Hospital, and go there for small procedures each year. My dad and I started a tradition that after each procedure, we would celebrate by going to the all you can eat buffet at River's Casino. Anyone who knows me knows that I base all my social activities around food, and this place gives me an unlimited supply. My mom, dad, and I all go to the casino after a long day at the hospital and then play a few slots.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino Community? My hope is that it grows and introduces to Pittsburgh to the numerous amazing cultures and vibrancy that exist under the umbrella term of "Latino." I moved here 10 years ago, and I was the only one in my high school who came from a Latino background. Coming from cites like New York and Miami, that was extremely disorienting for me. Now, thanks to all that the city has to offer, we are seeing more Latinos coming to Pittsburgh. We all come from two backgrounds that we have to blend, and now it's time to introduce Pittsburgh to that blend.
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro - RJ, Brazil. Nationality: Brazilian. Profession: Psychologist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. COESA’s Executive Director and Trilingual Program Director.
Giselle was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2004, she immigrated to the USA. Giselle has a degree in Psychology from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ (1999) and she is a specialist in Mental Health (2001) through School of Public Health of Foundation and Institute Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Giselle is a licensed Psychology teacher graduated in UFRJ (2002). She has worked as school psychologist, psychiatric counselor, school-based therapist and clinical psychologist since 2000. Giselle has a master in Social Work from University of Pittsburgh and she is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania, USA. She is currently a field advisor for master students of School of Social Work of University of Pittsburgh in combination of holding a position of school-based therapist and program coordinator for WPIC of UPMC. Giselle served as teacher assistant for the Portuguese Department of University of Pittsburgh in the past. She also is an ex-student of the Doctoral Program of Applied Developmental Psychology of School of Psychology of Education at University of Pittsburgh. Giselle has articles published about Street Children as well as disparities related to ethnicity and mental health diagnosis on incarcerated youth. Giselle is a published poet. She published her first poetry book named “Saudade” in 2010, Editora Senac-RJ, Brazil. Giselle is a co-founder and current executive director of COESA – Cultural Organization for Educational and Social Actions; a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania since 2012. Giselle is a competent and passionate community leader who has been contributing for the development of educational, health and social projects in Pittsburgh, Pain the USA as well as in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She recently pledged with COESA to promote Welcoming Pittsburgh Program and she is the creator of the Trilingual Program in Pittsburgh supported by the city of Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Schenley Park
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To become visible, united and well supported.
Is there anything else you would like to share? I love poetry.
Jose Miguel Juarez
Hometown: Paterson, NJ. Nationality: Guatemalan American. Medical Student and Paramedic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Jose Miguel Juarez completed his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is very passionate about living, learning, and working among underserved and vulnerable populations. In Houston, TX, Mr. Juarez served in a low-income Latino community as a middle school teacher for Teach For America. In Florida, he worked in a medically underserved community as a coordinator of medical services for Crescent Community Free Clinic. Today, he volunteers as a paramedic for Operation Safety Net, providing medical services to the homeless of our Latino community. He is also a coordinator and medical translator for SALUD Clinic, a free clinic committed to helping all uninsured and indigent Latinos in Pittsburgh. Mr. Juarez is determined to help reduce health disparities in our community. As a doctor, he will continue volunteering and advocating for all Latinos who do not have access to health care.
Where is your favorite place in Pittsburgh? As a resident of Oakland, Pittsburgh, my favorite place to go for a delicious lunch is the taco stand outside of Las Palmas on Atwood Street.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? My greatest hope is for every Latino individual and family to have access to all resources in our community necessary to ensure a good quality of life. My personal goal is to become an effective advocate of the movement to ensure that health care reaches every Latino in our community, especially the underserved.
Mr. Juarez is a 2015 recipient of the American Medical Association Minority Scholars Award. The AMA Minority Scholars program not only encourages diversity in medicine and alleviates debt, but also rewards commitment to the elimination of health care disparities, outstanding academic achievements, leadership activities, and community involvement.
Hometown: Medellin, Colombia. Nationality(s): Colombia, United States. Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon University.
Originally from Medellin-Colombia, I am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. I first came to the U.S. in 1998 to a language school at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. While there, my family moved to Miami, so instead of going back to Colombia, I went to Miami where I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at Florida International University. After graduation, I moved to Pittsburgh to pursue an MS at Carnegie Mellon University. That was in 2003 and 12 years later, I am still in Pittsburgh and at CMU. As an Assistant Professor at CMU I am involved in multi-disciplinary research projects to better understand the social, economic, and environmental implications of policy-driven change in the operation of the energy system. More recently, I have also started working on issues related to energy and environmental sustainability in developing countries, including Colombia and Brazil.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? I really like the Carnegie Mellon Campus. Obviously, I spend a lot of time there. I think it is a beautiful campus and I love walking around it in the spring and summer when it is sunny. I also really like the Blue Slide Playground, where my kids spend a lot of time.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? When I first moved to Pittsburgh from Miami, I thought I would not have a chance to speak much Spanish, but I quickly found out I was mistaken. After 12 years here, I continue to be impressed by how vibrant the Latino community is in Pittsburgh. I hope this continues. I see that Latinos in the area are very involved in civil society and I would like to see Latinos become more involved in local government. Since I work at a university, I hope we can continue to attract talented students from Latin America. I hope we can establish connections with universities in Latin America so that their students can come spend time here in Pittsburgh and our students can go there. I think this kind of education exchanges would be valuable for Pittsburgh as well as for the countries in Latin America.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population? The one other thing I hope for the Pittsburgh Latino community is that as the restaurant scene in Pittsburgh continues to grow, we can see more Latin American restaurants. As in most U.S. cities, Pittsburgh has some really good Mexican restaurants and there are also some good Peruvian eateries. It would be great to also have, for example, Colombian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Argentinian food.
María Eugenia Nieves Escoriaza a.k.a Geña
Hometown: Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.
Musical director of Pittsburgh band Machete Kisumontao; Educator
I have played music all my life in Puerto Rico, NYC, and now in Pittsburgh, my home for the last 11 years. I'm raising my lovely daughter in this wonderful town. I'm always happy to contribute to the arts and culture of the Latino community and the Pittsburgh community. I'm happy and proud to call Pittsburgh my home. My daughter and I have had so many beautiful adventures and experiences here. We've met best friends, and it's been the perfect environment for me to attain personal achievements; grow as an artist and individual, and hit life's major milestones.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh?
My favorite place in Pittsburgh is the Strip District in the daytime with all the shops from different parts of the world. There's so much variety and you can find pretty much anything you want there. I also love the South Side, the North Shore, Oakland... and all the bike trails. You know what?! I love all of Pittsburgh!
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population?
I hope that businesses and institutions are proactive in their support of artists, the cultural ambassadors of the Latino community. I hope that the Latino community can unite and work together to bring more music, art, food, and all things culture to Pittsburgh.