When Latinos show up - they DEFINITELY show out.
Tuesday, April 19th was Pittsburgh's first Latino day at city council. By all accounts it was a total success. Latinos from all across the region came together to share their lived experiences, educate city leaders on the needs of the Pittsburgh Latino community and assert our value to the growth in the Pittsburgh region. The catalyst for this action were the multiple attacks on Las Palmas grocery store in Brookline, however that was by no means the only topic discussed.
The day began with a press conference in recognition of Latino Day. Local representatives and Latino leaders discussed the cultural and economic significance of Pittsburgh’s growing Latino population. The press conference was hosted by Councilman Dan Gilman, who acknowledged Councilwoman Rudiak's support (she was unable to attend due to illness). Pittsburgh Latino community leaders, Monica Mendez Executive Director of Dress for Success and Ron Alvarado Chairman of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, also spoke. Their comments highlighted the economic significance of Latinos to the growth of the Pittsburgh region. Click here to read WESA's coverage of the press conference.
After the press conference, over 50 Pittsburgh Latinos came through to testify during City Council the public comment portion of the agenda. Speakers included professionals, high school students, social service workers, business owners, academics, college students, community advocates and more - all had lived in Pittsburgh for various lengths of time, from one year to over 30 years to their whole lives. They shared their lived experiences of being a Pittsburgh Latino, educated city council on what it means to be a Latino, our needs and the strengths we bring to the Pittsburgh region.
Thank you to all the groups and individuals that came down to Pittsburgh City Council: Latin American Cultural Union (LACU), Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PMAHCC), New Voices Pittsburgh, Calle Pittsburgh, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LACLAA), Iglesia Cristiana Sion, Colombia en Pittsburgh, Casa San Jose, Barrio Latino-Pittsburgh, Coro Latinoamericano.
Top 10 Takeaways from Testmony at Latino Day at Pittsburgh's City Council
- Latinos are the fastest growing population segment in the United States. In order for Pittsburgh to grow, Latinos must be a part of that equation. Not only because of our numbers, but also because of our spending power, which tops $1.5 trillion. For more information about this you can read this blog.
- Latinos are not a homogenous group. We come from many countries, speak many languages (including Spanish, Portuguese, indigenous languages and more) and are represented across all USA census racial categories. Black lives matter to us because we are a part of the African Diaspora; we are indigenous, European, Asian and American.
- The youth is the future. A group of students from Brashear High School, who helped to paint the Las Palmas mural after the first racist attack last year, each spoke. They spoke about watching their parents work hard so they could have a good life, struggles with immigration, experiences with racism and police harassment. They spoke about the need for more ways to be connected to the region, pathways to education, employment and activities.
- Culturally + Linguistically Competent Resources. Latinos are disconnected and isolated in Pittsburgh. There are no materials and resources available in any other language other than English. Beyond language, the region does not centralize inclusion and equity as it pertains to diversity. It is difficult for populations who are considered to be "diverse" to lead, to be heard, to be considered in ways that are comfortable for us.
- Pittsburgh Latino Leaders. In the name of diversity, there are many initiatives that claim to connect with diverse communities. One thing that was loud and clear today is that these were the community leaders in the Latino community. These are the people to speak to when it comes to the issues pertaining to Latinos - there is no proxy. You want to serve Latinos, speak to Latinos.
- Education. This issue came up several times in two ways. On one hand we have a region that has never had a traditional Latino population, therefore there is a lot of ignorance about what is means to be Latino and who we are - it is important that the region be educated on Latino culture, history and people. The other way this came up was the importance of reaching out youth, ensuring that we support them and provide a quality education to them so that they are able to succeed.
- Immigration + Visas. There are a lot of Latinos who come to Pittsburgh, with a variety of skill sets, who want to settle in the city permanently. This becomes difficult as the USA immigration system is limiting, confusing and discriminatory. There is little flexibility and prevents people who really have so much to contribute to the region from being able to stay and realize their full potential. Immigration is sorely needed so that those who want to settle have a pathway to do so.
- Small Businesses. Latinos (especially Latinas) are starting businesses at some of the highest rates among all population segments. This entrepreneur spirit is alive and well in Pittsburgh as outlined by the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It would be great to see local business incubators and investors target Latino entrepreneurs in culturally and linguistically competent ways.
- Wage Theft. Wage theft is the denial of wages or employee benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. Wage theft can be conducted through various means such as: failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, employee misclassification, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock, or not being paid at all. This takes billions of dollars out the economy. And Latinos are adversely effected by this. Guillermo Perez from Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LACLAA) spoke about the importance of holding local restaurants accountable for wage theft. He pointed out that while it may be great to have such a thriving restaurant scene, if they are not paying their employees then they must be shut down.
- Telling History Right. The role of immigration is often romanticized when speaking about Pittsburgh's past, "it's a city built by immigrants". While that is not a lie, it is important that we tell the full history of how Pittsburgh (and America) was built - slavery and cheap labor from exploited people. Racist housing and development policies kept certain people out and others in. There is a reason why certain ethnic enclaves formed, segregated from others. As a city, if we really want to move forward we must acknowledge the history as to how neighborhoods developed and why we are where we are today.
- Is Pittsburgh Welcoming? Again and again the question of "a welcoming region" came up with regards to Pittsburgh. While the Pittsburgh Latino community is growing and contributing, are we welcome? And if we are welcome, what are the ways that we are being welcomed? Are there jobs we are being hired for? Are we being compensated for our work? Do people see us?
- Latino Political Representation. Throughout the morning several people mentioned the need for Latino political representation at a local, state and national level. Currently there are no Latinos in political office representing any office in Southwestern PA. Across the country Latinos have the numbers to impact politics in profound ways - the time is upon us to wield that power. In the Pittsburgh region, who do we want representing us? What political positions do we want Latinos to be in? As a community, how will we support Latino candidates?
Thank you to Calle Pittsburgh for the photos.
What people are saying
Mi gente, what do you think - what are the issues most important to us?