Bienvenidos a Pittsburgh: The growth of the city’s Latino community is contributing to the revitalization of the South Hills

Ryan Deto (Pittsburgh City Paper)
Original Article Here

For the past few decades, the South Hills neighborhood of Beechview has not really been considered a destination community. But on a recent Saturday, the streets were jammed with parked cars, and dozens of Pittsburghers took in Beechview’s second annual Cinco de Mayo festival.

Throughout the day-long celebration, more than 500 people filled the small parking lot next the Las Palmas-IGA grocery store on Broadway Avenue. Lines of revelers spilled onto the sidewalks; families chatted as a band belted out traditional Mexican folk songs; and young girls danced in flowing red, white and green dresses. It was hard to imagine that this fiesta didn’t happen every weekend.
Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, who represents the neighborhood, enjoyed a taco. And Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto made an appearance. 

“I just wanted to say thank you to all the people that organized this. This is what makes living in the city special,” said Peduto. “To be here today with everybody is a celebration of what makes the city so great.”

While the warm wishes were all around on this day, some Pittsburghers haven’t embraced the steady flow of Latinos into the Steel City. 

The neighborhoods with the highest concentration of Latinos — Brookline and Beechview — have seen at least three incidents of racism-fueled vandalism directed at Latino-owned businesses over the past six months. One of the most blatant involved the words “Go back to Mexico” spray-painted on Brookline’s Las Palmas grocery. The Brookline store recently closed, but according to posts on social media by co-owner Missy Berumen, the reasons were related to rental costs, not intimidation. (The Berumens could not be reached to comment for this story.)

In fact, some community members have been spreading baseless rumors that the city’s powers-that-be are providing secret funding to bring more Hispanic businesses to the area. City officials say the rumors are false and absurd.

And while a few dissenting voices have undoubtedly made Latinos feel unwelcome, a bigger group of Pittsburghers is trying to embrace one of the city’s fastest-growing demographics. In April, Peduto and Rudiak criticized the vandalism and issued statements in support of the targeted businesses. As City Paper reported in January, residents sent flowers and candles to the Berumen family, owners of Las Palmas.

“There are going to be some loud voices that are not ready to be inclusive,” says Rudiak. “But on the flip side, there are so many people in the community embracing the Latino community.”

And now, even more support is pouring into the community, especially in Beechview. Big plans are in the works: Developers, city officials and business leaders are working to ensure that the neighborhood’s potential growth benefits everyone. 

A quick stroll down Broadway Avenue in Beechview offers a snapshot of the community’s strengths and weaknesses. The northern end of the thoroughfare is marked by a dozen vacant structures, some of which appear unstable. What activity does occur in this sleepy business district revolves around the lunchtime taco stand outside the Las Palmas-IGA grocery.

“Latino development has bolstered our community; it’s a draw to our neighborhood,” says Rudiak. She defends the Latinos who live in her district and cites the positive contributions they have made to Beechview.

“We have Latino residents renting apartments, buying homes, frequenting all the businesses and sending their kids to Pittsburgh Public Schools,” she says. “They are Americans trying to live the American dream.”
The growth of this community has attracted some outside interest in Broadway Avenue. The Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation, which focuses on bolstering Latino businesses throughout the region, has set up shop in the heart of the neighborhood.

PHDC Executive Director Victor Diaz says the group is starting a business incubator that is actively targeting Latino entrepreneurs. The incubator, which occupies the second floor of the Brew on Broadway building, has already attracted a startup that builds prosthetics for people with disabilities, a company that exports products to Chile, and some businesses from Miami. 

“Attracting Hispanic business to that area is going to bring people to the neighborhood,” says Diaz. 
One of those businesses is a planned beer distributor. Owners Janey Taylor and her husband, Oscar Santiago, moved to Coraopolis a few years ago. Taylor says her husband works as a roofer and has made many Latino friends, who mostly live in Beechview. Because the neighborhood doesn’t have a place to buy beer other than the local bars, Taylor and Santiago, with some help from Rudiak’s office, found a space in the middle of the business district. “A bunch of people are working hard here all day. They want to be able to relax and have a beer,” says Taylor. She says they plan to carry a wide variety of brews, with an emphasis on imports.

PHDC’s work goes beyond attracting Latino entrepreneurs. The nonprofit is also forming an all-inclusive community group — the Beechview Revitalization Advisory Group — that aims to unite people who care about the area and want to see it grow.

Michael Sorg