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Quotes from the new boomers: Pittsburgh's 'invisible' Latinos

Sunday, October 03, 1999

"I came here in 1966, and everyone assumed you were a war bride. People asked, 'Do you eat chili?' People said, 'You don't look Latino.' They expected me to have dark eyes. They had this idea that you were in awe of everything."

-- Isabel Porterfield of Murrysville, a Colombian native and medical technologist

"My mom used to sell food on the street in San Luis, Mexico. I crossed illegal, and when there was an amnesty period, I got my papers. Friends showed me their friends and they showed me their friends. Now, there's not time to socialize because I am working every day."

-- Vicente Valdez of Oakland, a native of Mexico and co-owner of La Fiesta restaurant in Oakland

"It took about two months for me to feel confident in English. Kids said, 'Oh you're from another land' and wouldn't play with me. At the end of the school year, a few kids said, 'Can you teach me a little Spanish?' "

-- Ylena Zamora Vargas of Greenfield, 8-year-old daughter of Cuban natives Anely Vargas and Ruben Zamora

"I sent resumes all over the U.S. I was comparing costs of living, and Pittsburgh seemed reasonable to start with. I said, 'If I like it, I'll stay.' I studied English at Point Park College, to be an accountant eventually. People would see me dancing and ask, 'Do you teach that?' I'd say, 'No, in Latin America, dancing is part of your life.' Now I know I'll never work as an accountant."

-- Marlon Silva of the South Side, Venezuelan native and full-time salsa and merengue dance instructor

"Growing up in a Latino culture as a child of European parents, more than one culture at once, has given me a step up and informed my eventual involvement with art. Art is a language. The more you study it, the more it will give back to you."

-- Madeleine Grynsztejn of Squirrel Hill, Peruvian-born, Venezuelan-raised curator of the Carnegie International 1999-2000

"I don't expect to 'find' but to make. I make my own world, and my world is international and warm. I see a perfect life here. There is so much potential."

-- Brent Rondon of Shadyside, a native of Peru and president of Pittsburgh's Latin American Cultural Union

"There are so many reasons why Latino people arrive and stay in Pittsburgh. I was married here, divorced here and could have left, but I wasn't ready and didn't want to take these roots away from my children. And I wanted to spread my wings. I wanted to do something with music. Now, every time I get on a stage and look out, I see new [Latino] faces."

-- Jackie Rodríguez of Carnegie, Puerto Rican native and lead singer with Latin Impulse, the band that played for the Roberto Clemente Bridge dedication in April

"At first, it was lonely hearing no Spanish, but I had to learn English. I told myself that when I understood Johnny Carson, when I understood his humor, because he was very American, then I would be capable enough with English to begin seeking out other Spanish speakers. If I met one a month it was impressive, but I was in Gabriel's one day recently and I met a Colombian woman, a Mexican woman and her son and eight young guys in their 20s from Mexico."

-- Lupita Telep of Mt. Lebanon, native of Mexico and US Airways flight attendant

"When I came here, I came for something. I wanted to grow. In '94, my husband and I were in L.A. He was selling vegetables. My brother called us from Pittsburgh. He said, 'This is a very nice place. You can have more chance. You can grow here.' My husband got a job in a Japanese restaurant. They paid $25 for two weeks. I said, 'Oh, my God, this is America?' Now he's a restaurant manager."

-- Rubí Cortes of the South Side, a native of Mexico who operates her own house-cleaning business

"When I came here, terrorism in my country was so bad. People were being kidnapped and many friends of my kids were killed. I didn't want to be a good citizen with my kids dead. Now, all my family is here. I sold in my country every business I owned and started here from scratch."

-- Nelson Cano Sr. of Forest Hills, a Peruvian native who, with his son, owns and operates ADM Solutions, a North Side company that manages corporate documents through specialty imaging

"My daughter came home from second grade one day and said, 'I will never speak Spanish again.' I said, 'Why?' and she said, 'Because the kids call me "Spanish girl." ' And I said, 'Did you say thank you?' "

-- Florencia Mediate of Greensburg, native of El Salvador and founder of the Latin-American Children's Fund

"I am amazed at how the Latino population has grown here. In all areas. I always wondered who was listening to our show and assumed it was students and professionals. But we offer tickets to give away, and most of our callers work in restaurants, in construction. As soon as Iknew that, I decided to change things to interest them more.

-- Martha Mantilla of Squirrel Hill, a native of Colombia, Pitt doctoral student and voice of WRCT-FM 88.3's Latin radio hour.



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