Investing in immigrants is vital to the future of Pittsburgh

Being an immigrant is part of my story — and it’s part of the story for more than 80,000 residents of metro Pittsburgh and their U.S.-born children.

In the 1970s, my parents moved from Cuba to the United States, fleeing Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime. They settled in Miami, where they found work as waiters and factory workers before opening a small Cuban cafeteria. Eventually, they had me.

In some ways, I grew up like any American teenager, but with a strong sense of my Cuban roots and an appreciation of my parents’ decision to leave their country so that their children could live freely.

I was the first in my family to graduate from college and, while there, I had the chance to work with immigrants and refugees in Erie, Pa., with AmeriCorps VISTA. This taught me the importance of all types of people being represented in public service.

So, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, I joined Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s team and spearheaded Welcoming Pittsburgh, a commitment to cultivate an immigrant-friendly environment.

In 2016, I launched a social enterprise, Change Agency, which has been leading the implementation of All for All, a community effort to advance economic opportunity, break down barriers and advance immigrant inclusion across the Pittsburgh region.

Pittsburgh’s recent efforts to support immigrants are recognized in the newly released Cities Index, an analysis by the bipartisan nonprofit New American Economy that measures how well immigrants are integrating into civic, economic and social life in the nation’s 100 largest cities. Pittsburgh scored 35th the country and earned high scores — four out of five — in government leadership and community. These scores show that, although we have work to do, our efforts are making a difference.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the collapse of the steel industry, Pittsburgh experienced severe economic decline. Pittsburgh residents increasingly chose to leave for other cities and, as an influx of immigrants contributed their talents and entrepreneurship to cities such as Minneapolis and St. Louis, where they also stabilized metro populations, this did not happen in Pittsburgh, where little was done to encourage or welcome newcomers. We were in trouble.


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