In partnership with Welcoming Pittsburgh, NEXTpittsburgh will feature some of the diverse people who make up the region’s population. Titled 30 Neighbors, 30 Days, the project provides a snapshot of the day-to-day lives of people such as a minister from Burma, an engineer from Mexico, and a community organizer from Bhutan as well as Latinos, black Americans, newcomers and those here for generations.
Day 30: Commander Eric Holmes
I became a student trustee and I was at a reception at the governor’s mansion. I was sitting at a table and a gentleman asked me what I was going to do after graduation. I’m like: ‘get a job.’ And he said: ‘Well, what about an internship?’ He gives me his business card and tells me to give this person a call. I looked at it and it’s the White House. So I called two days later—I called the White House. You have to go through the application process and get cleared by the Secret Service. I ended up getting selected.
I did an internship for President Clinton in 1993 which was a great experience. Kind of like working in a museum, basically. And you know, receiving phone calls like that everyday—you pick it up and it’s the Vice President or it’s some other politician, political figure, or movie star. You’re putting them on hold and you’re like: ‘Oh my God!’ And, I was there to actually witness Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shake hands on the South Lawn.
We’re not going to arrest our way out of any problems that we have, and we will not be successful without the community’s help. We have to work with the community, for the community, by the community, through the community in everything that we do. Or, we will not succeed. Public safety is one of those things that no matter what the city does—in terms of a renaissance and a transformation—if people don’t feel comfortable, they are going to question whether or not they are going to live in the city or do business in the city or travel to the city.
One time, I was Downtown walking with protesters and they laid down on Liberty Avenue and Smithfield Street and, of course, blocked the street. And I was asked by individuals walking by and reporters: ‘you’re in charge, why are you letting them do this? They’re disrupting traffic.’ And I said: ‘that’s fine, we’ll block the street off. We’ll allow them to have their say.’ Because a perfect day for me is no one gets arrested, no one gets hurt.
We have re-engaged the community and recognize that we have to talk. We cannot do it in this building all by ourselves without engaging the community. I think that people just want a voice. Knowledge is power, information is knowledge, and people want information. They just want to know what’s going on.
Day 29: Aliya and Abu
My father came to the U.S. in 1975 to work for the United Nations Development Program. Because of that, we came as a family to settle in New York . . . The transition from New York and a community that diverse was rough. My friends, growing up, represented every religion. There was a real comfort in that. It was a culture shock . . . a big change from a city where everything was coming at you. When we moved here in 1990, [diversity] was there but, if you wanted that experience, you had to search. — Aliya
I would like to look out my window and see world flags flying from the flagpoles on the Convention Center. There are, what, about 10 flagpoles? You could rotate them, with different countries every week. I think that would would be great. It would show that Pittsburgh is a global city. So when people come here and see the flags, they know, they have arrived and they are welcome.
We have different last names—her last name is Khan. So, when she was working at CMU, many people knew her so well that when they met me, they called me Mr. Khan. They would say: ‘Hello, Mr. Khan. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Khan.’ I didn’t mind being Mr. Khan.” — Abu
Day 28: Kyshira
I’m a blogger . . . The blog is on career development and personal branding. It’s kind of like the millennial girls’ guide to surviving the workplace. I decided that if I can move to a new city by myself, then I can write a blog. I was just feeling fearless . . . Sometimes I challenge people to stop expecting life to be like a movie. This is not “Sex in the City.” Fun will not come knocking on your door. Friends aren’t just going to just show up when all you do is stay at home and watch Netflix. No shade. We all love Netflix, but there has to be some initiative on your part to find things.
Day 27: Roding
The first day was very, very different. It’s like we woke up from our dream. When I got to the United States, everything was different. When I look at the movies in Europe, America, Canada, the living standards and living style is connected and similar. But in Asia . . . I had to learn a lot of different traditional customs. Before I came to the United States, I had to read books on how I have to survive. You know, how can I get a job? How can I mingle with different people? There was also a culture and orientation class for weeks. I had to attend that class before I came to the United States. We had to learn a lot of American culture, learn how to take a bus, how to communicate with other people. But still, it’s different.
When I came to the United States, it was midnight. The caseworker picked me up and he brought me to my apartment . . . and told me: ‘Just go and sleep. You can have a banana and just sleep. Tomorrow I will teach you how to cook, how to shop . . . I will teach you everything.’ And then he left. After that, I was so exhausted. I tried to take a shower . . . I tried to switch on the faucet and I didn’t know there was cold and hot water. I just turned on cold water and took a shower . . . then I ate and slept. The next day, I asked to the caseworker: ‘What happened? I tried to take a shower but the water is so cold. How do American people take showers?’ He said: ‘You don’t know about hot and cold water? You have to adjust it.’ That was the first shocking thing. I will remember it until I die.
Day 26: Girish and Ketaki, from India
After we got married, we came back home just a few days before Christmas and our neighbors invited us over. They told us: ‘you just got back from an 18 hour flight. Why don’t you come over for dinner?’ We go there and it was a surprise wedding party. All of our neighbors were there. Someone baked a cake for us and they all had gifts for us. Especially for us, when our family is back in India and you don’t have anyone here, you build relationships from scratch and to get such warmth and love. I think that’s what Pittsburgh is. — Girish
The people here are very friendly. That’s a very simple statement, but you realize—when you actually travel and go other places—that this city has a very special light. I like to say that it envelops you in a hug, that’s how I feel. Maybe it’s because I live here and I love the people. They’re Pittsburghers. There’s so much kindness, you see it on their faces, and you feel that in so many ways.
In the winter, people carry shovels in their cars so that they can just help people. So I thought: ‘wow, I want to do that.’ So, I started carrying a shovel in my car to help random strangers . . . Everybody thinks of the Pittsburgh left—which seems very strange—but I think it’s very thoughtful. — Girish
When I came to the U . S . 13 and a half years ago, my family made less than a dollar a day. I didn’t even know what I was going to do and how I was going to do it while I was living in India. It is really difficult for someone coming from a low-income background and, especially being a woman in India, to have these large dreams. I think Pittsburgh kind of symbolizes the life that I’ve had because Pittsburgh has risen from a place where people probably didn’t expect it to get to where it is today 20 years ago.
I think that’s why I feel like the city defines me as a person because I didn’t know where I was going to be. I didn’t know I would own a house and have a nice car and be the executive director of an incubator before the age of 35. But, I think it is because of this city. You can have hope and you can have these large dreams and if you are resilient—if you have that in you—you will succeed, no matter what, just like Pittsburgh has. — Ketaki
Day 25: Bill
I remember when steel manufacturing was still doing well here. And I remember when there was a black middle class and when you had African American owned businesses. I remember when communities like Homewood were doing well. But I also remember when we lost 300,000 people. I remember friends were losing their jobs . . . that devastation. So, for me I was like: ‘I’m never coming back to Pittsburgh.’
It was probably 2000 when I was like: ‘wow, Pittsburgh is different. It’s on the upswing.’ So, moving back has been good, but it’s also been really tough. You know, the African American community, it’s a shell of what it was and it’s hard seeing that and trying to work to push the needle. It can be isolating because there’s not a big African American middle class, there’s not the diversity that I’m used to. I’m used to having friends of all races. And we’re still struggling with that here. So, it’s tough but what just gives me hope is that there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of great things.
It’s really important for all of us to really push ourselves and to learn the complexities of diversity. You know my first question when people are talking about Latinos: ‘who are you talking about? What country?’ And it’s the same thing with African Americans—with people that are black. I really think that we just have to push ourselves to understand and to not label and to not put things in catchy boxes and to really understand the complexity. Once you do, you realize how we can just have a full life and a full existence.
Day 24: Ouiam
The world is in such turmoil these days and there are vast inequalities in our own economy. In times like these, it is easy to blame ‘others’ for our problems and the problems across the globe. In the past, this type of scapegoating led to disasters like the Holocaust and the Japanese internment. It is scary to see signs of history repeating itself when the mantra has and should always be ‘never again!’ As a Muslim American woman that wears the hijab, I sense the increasing suspicion of Muslims firsthand.
The other day a woman on a PAT bus told me to move over, that she couldn’t stand looking at me, and that my kind were all lunatics. Discrimination is real, and it will not do an ounce of good for anyone except the real enemies that prey on our division. These times are a trial for us: will we show our humanity and compassion to our neighbors and those fleeing tragedies in their homes or will we let our irrational fear get the best of us? For me and my husband, the right way has become clear from the wrong. In a few days, we will be traveling and aiding refugees with food and winter essentials in Macedonia as they flee war, violence, and persecution. We are proud of the city of Pittsburgh for being vocal in support of refugee resettlement here, and the people that have supported our efforts.
Day 23: Juan
I played soccer through a big part of my life and one of the coaches at Waynesburg University found me online and helped me with financial aid so I could make it to college. From there, I went to school for two years. It was very difficult and chaotic with the situation right now in Venezuela, both politically and economically. So, at one point I had to stop going to college and, by that time, I had met my girlfriend—who is now my wife. We met playing soccer. So, I moved to Pittsburgh without a diploma and I worked to pay for the rest of the credits I needed. That’s what I did: I took classes online, graduated, and then found a job.
I think there are different cases for immigrants. I have a college degree and I have a good job right now, but I always wonder about other immigrants—who come to Pittsburgh and maybe they don’t speak English. I feel like, yes, I am an immigrant, but I have it easier than most because I can speak the language, I have a job, I have a U.S. college degree.
I always want to make people aware of the situation that is happening in Venezuela. They’re going through a rough time and maybe sometimes what people see in the news is not what’s really going on. I know some people have told me that they have an anti-American spirit there because of the past political history, and that’s some of the people, but that’s not everyone. They are human beings, just like in Pittsburgh—there are all kinds of people . . . I’ve also been surprised . . . I lived there and I [would] talk to some people who say: ‘oh no, I’ve heard it’s great there.’ I guess they read some article online and they think it’s great, but it is really not. It almost offends me because I came from there and it’s not easy. It’s really difficult.
I was a victim of crime, many times, everybody is. You always wonder that maybe, I don’t know, one day you can be just another victim, but instead of taking your wallet, they take that and they shoot you too. That always worried me. The crime . . . that actually shapes your culture too. My wife thinks I’m paranoid, but it’s because I grew up like that. Watching my back, always.
Day 22: Daniel
The future seems large to me. That doesn’t mean I will give up. I will swim. When we came to Pittsburgh . . . We didn’t know all these things. There was so much culture shock. We saw people sitting — that amazed me. Some people were kissing. I’m like: ‘what is this? This is strange for me.’ We have all different foods — foods with designs. We went to Giant Eagle where there was food on display. It was amazing. I thought: ‘wow, how can people eat food like this?’ Everything was crazy for me because I saw so many things I couldn’t understand. I had to adapt to a new life. And then, the snow! The most striking things were the snow and the food.
When I go outside with my son, I teach him, this is America. This is your home country. You were born in Sudan, but now you are an American citizen and these people are your brothers and sisters. You have to be a part of them. If you love America, you must care about America and all of its people.
Refugee life is a tough life. No one wants to move out of his country . . . Most of the people are desperate. When there is war in your country, you want to find a place where you can sit down and make it your home and live there. But you have so many obstacles . . . coming to a new life as a refugee, where most people don’t understand you, it’s a struggle and a frustration. When you resettle in a new land, you want to be a part of the land.
Day 21: Adnan
Say good morning. Be the first one to say good morning. Don’t wait for other people. I was employee of the year, I didn’t even speak English. I worked very hard. I know what I did. I didn’t ask for it. One gentleman didn’t talk to me for one year because he was there 15 years and didn’t get anything. I was there one year and I was employee of the year. Every day I told him: ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon.’ Nothing. He didn’t even speak with me.
I never gave up. I still came to the kitchen and said: ‘good morning,’ ‘good afternoon,’ and ‘good evening’ — all year. I shared [this] with my general manager. He asked for his name. I said: ‘no, I don’t want to tell you because either he will give up or I will give up.’ A year later, I come to the kitchen one day and I hear: ‘Adnan, good morning.’ I said: ‘Yesss!’ He knows I’m not the enemy.
Day 20: Ikuma
I was born in South Sudan, then we went to North Sudan [and] because of the war we went to Egypt . . . when I was 16 years old, my dad sent me to a wedding . . . when we went there they told me: ‘we’re going to America . . . ’ I cried for days. They said: ‘You can’t go back, the situation is not getting any better.’ I came with my cousin to San Diego before my parents . . . We came in pieces . . . My mother was in Lebanon with my siblings and then was resettled in Pittsburgh. Then I came to live with my mother and, in 2005, we filed the paperwork for my father to come here.
One of my mom’s neighbors died. He used to give her a ride to the bus to go Downtown. She didn’t see him for a long time and she asked his wife: ‘what happened to your husband?’ And she said: ‘oh he died.’ My mom told her she was going to her house. In Africa, if somebody dies you cry, you make all these noises. So, my mom went to this lady’s house and she was crying, uttering: ‘you’re husband is very nice, he used to give me a ride every day! May God take him to heaven!’ So everybody was consoling my mom like she’s the one who lost her husband.
My dad says: ‘when you go somewhere, you go with your tradition. There is some you adapt and there is some you don’t.’
Day 19 Indira and Raghunath, from Bhutan
Some people ask me: ‘Where are you from? What is your accent? It is different from us.’ They become curious about me. When I tell I am from Bhutan, they don’t know about it. I tell them it is a small country near China and India and it is a peaceful country . . . I am happy to tell people I am from this place because they will know me. Everybody in the United States is from somewhere else. Their ancestors were immigrants and I am also an immigrant, so I’m not afraid to tell that I’m from Bhutan. — Raghunath
When I was new here, I had a friend who came to my apartment to pick me up for work and she told me she will drop me at ‘Iggle.’ I was so afraid I will get lost because I didn’t know this place ‘Iggle.’ I only knew a few places because I had only been here 22 days. When she dropped me off, I saw Giant Eagle, which is near my apartment. So, I just walked a few minutes and reached my apartment. And then it clicked: ‘Oh, Giant Eagle means ‘Iggle.’ — Indira
We really want to preserve our culture. It’s important for future generations . . . I don’t want to be totally American and forget about all of my culture . . . I am also part of [America]. Everybody has the right to follow their own religions and cultures. I respect all the cultures – Muslims, Christians. We didn’t feel that in Bhutan, which was why we needed to leave . . . In Bhutan, there was no concept of multicultural. Here, I am surrounded by many cultures. I am in a multicultural society.” — Raghunath
Day 18: Moses
When I came here around 2004, I had a tax office in the front of the building. When tax season finished, I didn’t know what to do with my time. I went to buy some African food to cook — from a Chinese man in the Strip District. Then, I bought from a Chinese guy in Wilkinsburg. I started thinking: ‘why are Chinese people selling all the African food?’ So, I decided to start an African store where all Africans can come and buy African food, where I know what I’m selling. I moved in here and have been in this building since 2006.
Day 17: Nan, from Burma
In different countries, like in Burma, a lot of people cannot go to school because of insecurity — with the government and soldiers. A lot of people cannot read. In Burma, we had to speak Burmese in school, although we learned a different dialect at home. If people don’t have money, they cannot go to school . . . Poor children will have to start working at 6 or 7 years old, selling vegetables, farming, and to help their parents. It’s hard for us to come here with little education and little English.
When I came here, I thought to myself, I’m nothing now — zero. I have nothing. I don’t know the language. I don’t have money. I don’t have my family. I don’t have my parents here. I’m zero. How can I start my life over at zero?
We make just a little money for ourselves, but a lot of money for the boss. So, I thought: someday, I want to do this for myself — have my own business and make money for myself. But, I need the support of my husband and my friends, because the restaurant business is tiring, very tiring.
I like to do it. I like to work. I like to cook. When I cook, people eat. When I make curry and people like it, I feel good. I’m so happy. Some people just work but they don’t care how the customers and their friends are feeling or if they like it. When people eat my food and people say it’s so good, I am so happy and I want to cook again and again.
Day 16: Ibrahim
Obviously, that name [Ibrahim] comes with some baggage, people always want to know my background. I’m born and raised in New York, so the question some people ask is: ‘where are you from?’ and I say New York, and they say: ‘no, no where are you from, from?’ That’s code for: ‘where are you [ethnically] from’ so I say Mineola, New York because that’s where I was born and raised.
I took a long path to get to HR and the corporate world. My family owned a deli so I grew up in a deli from the time I was 12. My family would always say ‘we came to this country from the Middle East so you would have a better life: go to school, get your degree, get your education. You’re working 60 hours next week but go get your degree.’ So, it took me a long time to finish my degree because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Plus, when you make cash at the deli, you wonder if you need anything else when you can just stay and run the deli.
Day 15: Paul
The Pittsburgh of the past, as race relations go, is not the Pittsburgh of the present. We can see very clearly that since the civil rights movement–the civil rights era, the era of urban renewal–that the quality of life for African Americans in Pittsburgh has gotten significantly worse. I think that now, even more pronounced than the days of old, there are two Pittsburghs.
I think there’s a black Pittsburgh and a white Pittsburgh. I think that, as an African American . . . we need to look to the future as an era of reconciliation. There’s going to be a lot of pain, there’s going to be a lot of wounds that happened since the civil rights era, but even within our own tradition there is a lot that we can look to . . .
If we are going to be true to our legacy as African Americans–which is a legacy of triumph, also a legacy of suffering–we also need to understand how committed many of us were to reconciliation and the contribution that we can make to this region by paving the way for reconciliation in the future.
Understanding that black folks cannot build a new Pittsburgh without white folks and white folks cannot build a new Pittsburgh without black folks, but we can build it together and we can be better off for it.
I was in the Army. I was originally enlisted in the Army Reserve and, in 2002, we were mobilized, we were called to active duty. We ended up getting shipped overseas and we were attached to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. We crossed into Iraq the very first day of the ground war in 2003. So, we were the invasion of Iraq and then we stayed there for a year as part of the occupation . . . There was a lot of that experience that really informs the work that I do today because we got to see what it was like to experience complete regime collapse.
One of the other things that was really remarkable to me about that particular time, was to see the way in which a lot of people were trying to respond to these challenges — some more appropriately than others. Certainly, for the Iraqi people, there was a lot of courage and a lot of innovation needed to handle the circumstances.
I think there was a calling, to be quite honest with you, that is very inescapable. You know, I was raised in a family that took service very seriously. My grandfather was involved in a volunteer fire department and he was the commissioner for the township that I grew up in. My mother is a social worker. My aunts: one is a teacher, one is a nurse. My grandmother was a nurse. For all of us, serving people was something we were really raised to value, and not only make it our pastime but really make it our life’s work . . .
It’s important that we never forget where we came from . . . I think it’s important for people to know of the Hill District, that this is a community of people who care very deeply for one another . . . that’s one of the most beautiful characteristics of this community that is very often overlooked.
Day 14: Janera
I had someone say to me the other day: ‘You know, Janera, I just don’t understand the African American community.’ And I was just like, ‘I don’t know, there’s a million perspectives to understand. There is no such thing [as one community].’ But that way of thinking, it is 100 years old, and it’s comfortable for people here . . . Both for people within the cultural group, there’s still a lot of comfort to say: ‘I’m a part of this thing.’ And, for the outside people, it’s also very comfortable because they don’t have to deal with the complexity of all different kinds of people.
I’m still in meetings where people ask me to tell them what the African American community thinks, and I’m like: ‘I don’t know. I was not elected by them. I don’t even know who they are. What are we talking about?’ There’s a need to fast forward and catch up with the rest of the world in recognizing that people are complex and nuanced.
In terms of culture, I think it would be nice if we could say that Pittsburgh is the most tolerant and inclusive city in the world. I’d like to say that. I’d be able to tell people that.
Day 13: Brice, from Cameroon
Cameroon is considered ‘Africa in miniature.’ It’s one of the most diverse places on Earth. You have four major religions, 208 different ethnic groups, two official languages with more than 200 dialects. And, in that mix, we still get along. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of places in the world. It’s fascinating. The diversity is what I miss the most. And, of course my family too.
After this many years here, I feel both American and Cameroonian, which is why I wish I could have dual citizenship. I feel like part of my life is here, I feel like I’m part of this economy, I’m part of the culture . . . I face the same challenges—and I like it. It makes me feel American. But, part of me still has a past there. Not only a past, but a present day. I want to be able to call myself a Cameroonian-American or a ‘Cameroon-ican’ if there’s such a thing.
Day 12: Monica and Horacio
When I got here . . . I kind of thought: ‘oh wow, there’s not many of us here, so I’m sure there is a need for people like me.’ What I came to realize is that the problem is much bigger . . . So, I decided to get my masters degree in community organizing. I think that the community here obviously needs to organize, but it also needs to come together and to be more representative of what they are . . . My son is not white and I don’t ever want him to be pulled over because of the color of his skin or harassed because he’s eating a taco at the corner because of the color of his skin. And, in order for me to change that, I have to do something about it now because, if things continue to go the way that they’re going, those things are very likely to happen. — Monica
In Pittsburgh, someone from the Northside and someone from the South Hills, they don’t cross over to where they live. But, if they both will go to another country, and meet in another country, then they will be friends. Then it’s ‘oooh, we are from the same town, we are from the same country.’ If they live here, they don’t want to interact and they don’t want to cross those small borders.
I keep working, I keep doing my thing. I’ve got a family to feed, a wife to take care of. I keep going. It makes me want to cooperate more with what my wife is doing, to help her organize our people, to show the world here in Pittsburgh that we have a voice, that we can do things, we can get together and get big. — Horacio
Day 11: Anonymous, from Syria
In Syria, it’s hard to get diesel fuel to heat your home because it’s hard to supply it. The road is dangerous and it’s hard for trucks to bring it to small towns. Sometimes they’re shooting the trucks—and the diesel is flammable. People used to turn the heat on 10 to 12 hours per day and now they’re using it only two or three hours and sometimes it’s as cold as here.
It’s more dangerous now. But, not because of Syrian people—not because of Muslim Syrian people, because of others, extremists, who came to our country to kill off our country. They are dangerous for Christians and Muslims alike. If you don’t follow how they think about religion, they will kill you. If you follow them you are safe. If not, you are dead.
I’m Christian, and I have so many Muslim friends—brothers—that I consider family. My Muslim friend’s mother would sit with me and tell me that she considered me her son. I’d say 90 percent of Syrian people were peaceful, safe, and enjoyed a quiet life.
I don’t have big goals. I have everything here. I’m just hoping for my children. I hope they go to college, study, and graduate with whatever they like. And, they can have a good life here. The United States gives us a good life. Syria is my mother and the United States is my life. I love both! I can’t put anyone on the shelf. Maybe my children will think differently, because they will live their life here and didn’t spend much time in Syria. But, Syria is my mother.
I teach my children about Syria. My wife and I talk a lot about it. My children remember and they like what they remember, because they were little kids. They played with friends in the streets and went to school. We need to teach our kids about our history. We don’t have to have to teach them American history, because they learn everything in school—more than we know. Maybe then they have to teach us!
Day 10: Tara
My first event . . . called Herencia Africana, [which] means African heritage, was celebrating the African roots of Latino culture. I chose that event for two reasons . . . it was something that could bring together a lot of people, because the African diaspora is something that really connects the world in a lot of ways, whether it is culturally, genetically, linguistically—in so many ways we can relate to Africa. The other reason . . . is because for Latinos, ourselves, it is really difficult for people to admit that African culture—African people—is the bedrock for Latino culture.
Day 9: Sue and Yanm
The Strip District is a mix of cultures. We see all kinds of people all the time. And all kinds of races from everywhere: Africa, Asia, China, Egypt, Italy, everywhere. We love the Strip District. That’s why we chose to be on Penn Avenue and that’s why we stay here.
After the United States economy was crushed, as a retail store owner, I think Pittsburgh is one city that survived pretty well. I think one very big reason is immigrants in Pittsburgh. We have many exchange students and college students coming from China and other countries. They buy so many things. They go out to eat and they shop—a lot!
Day 8: Patricia and Erwin
Erwin: Diversity is powerful. So when you see someone around you who doesn’t look like you, you should give them a chance . . . he is going to say something or he or she is going to think of something that you are not thinking right now because it’s different and different is good.
I think people should be excited when they see that someone chose to live here, who has never even been here before [like us], instead of seeing that as an imposition or unusual or suspicious because we’ve gotten that as well: ‘why are you here?’ I think change is good, embrace that.
Patricia: What we’ve noticed about Pittsburgh is that it’s a little bit insular. Because people are typically from here . . . they still hang around with their friends and neighbors from childhood, and have these built in networks, and that’s not always easy to penetrate . . . The other cities we were considering were pretty predictable, already established, and I think it would have been very clear how our lives would have turned out. And here, it’s more unexpected, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
Day 7: Upendra, from Bhutan
I like this city, I’ve been here for over 7 years. I know the roads now, it is so familiar that now, to me it is like my own little village. Culturally, [Bhutanese] are very dynamic people, we accept change very quickly . . . we can adjust anywhere. People are very much motivated by change. Our kids, like any other kids here in America, they go out, they eat food—now they stop eating food that we eat. There’s so much change going on.
Day 6: Marina, from Ukraine
I think that sometimes it is easier to be poor in Ukraine than in America. Part of it is that there are just way more people and it’s accepted. There’s less stigma associated with it and there are community ties. I grew up poor. I was born when the Soviet Union was collapsing and it was a very difficult time. My dad was employed, but was not getting paid. But there was so much resilience in the community.
For example, my parents could leave me with my neighbors. My mom never had to worry about who to leave me with . . . there was free daycare. I think in the United States, if you are poor, there’s a lot of stigma that comes with it and isolation. It’s almost like you live in two different countries I think sometimes.
I realize, being with my mom when she visits, I realize that I am no longer Ukrainian. As hard as it is to say that . . . my worldview has changed. America is my second home. I always say second home . . . [because] I’m not American, as much as I try to fool myself. I do feel American and I do feel accepted but, at the same time, no matter how good my English is, I will never get cultural references. It’s an interesting life, I’m neither there nor here.
Day 5: Seifu, from Ethiopia
I didn’t open my business right away. I was employed and working for others until eight years ago. But, when the holidays came and we needed Ethiopian food, there was nothing here. We had to go to D.C.
People call me from Ethiopia and ask about Pittsburgh: What kind of businesses are available, about employment opportunities, and about the school. They would like to know if there is an Ethiopian community, a church, and Ethiopian shopping, because they really want to be able to settle in a livable area close to work, school and resources.
Day 4: Sorin, from Romania
I was born in Romania. I’m actually from a part of Romania called Transylvania. I like to joke that I might be related to Dracula. And I might be a Count but don’t count on it.
Romania has another culture. That’s the biggest thing I miss. On the other hand, here I have more opportunities and corruption is less, much less. In Romania, everyday you have to deal with red tape and corruption at any level. Here, you have a much easier life. I feel respected and people are polite. The day to day life is much better.
My goal is to do as much good as possible for kids around here. During the summer, I host one week of [robotics] camps in a different location in the Pittsburgh area. It fills up quickly. Kids are happy. I remember one kid, on Friday, at the end of a camp. He started crying and said he’s not going home.
Day 3: April and Omran
April: We complement each other well. His assets are things that help me be a better person. A lot of that, for me, is learning through his culture. People from the Middle East are some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. They would give you the shirt off their back, they invite you in, they make you tea . . . My whole experience in Jordan—when you say you are American, I think I got more free falafel than you would ever imagine. Every time they would say, ‘here’s a couple more.’
Omran: I just became a citizen last week . . . you feel really proud when the country gives you citizenship. It’s just, you know, really nice of them. I hope I’m a good citizen all the time . . . I think that I’m an ambassador here.
I took my culture back to Clarion . . . I actually worked with a company there, I was the first foreign guy to work there. That’s like breaking the rules after 35 years of having the company.
April: He broke the Middle Eastern glass ceiling.
Day 2: Tamare from Haiti
I view my life as a beautiful tapestry because every experience that I’ve had, some very painful with heavy stitches, but they’ve really created this beautiful piece of artwork in which I’m able to view the world and interact with others and try as much as possible to understand where someone is coming from . . . because I have been on the receiving end of being looked at differently and being judged.
I remember hating middle school. I detested it because I was a Haitian immigrant. I was very proud to let people know I was Haitian, but I was ridiculed for being Haitian. I was teased because at the time there was a huge influx of Haitians that were immigrating to the US, the ‘boat people.’ I recall one of the most horrific days that I can remember: I went to school, first day of middle school, dressed exactly like the teacher. Because my parents thought you dressed up. That’s part of the thing as a Haitian, you dress up wherever you go. We’re catching a flight to Haiti— we’re all in church outfits. We’re catching a flight to Fort Lauderdale—we’re all in church outfits. As a child you’re annoyed by it but, at the same time, you can point out other Haitians. You can say, ‘Oh, they’re Haitian. I can see ribbons in their hair.’ I know who they are.
Day 1: Patricio from Ecuador
I came from Ecuador to do music, Ecuadorian music with flutes and other instruments. I was traveling around the United States and playing in New York. We decided to buy a car to adventure and explore other places and we came to Pittsburgh . . . I feel at home here. In Pittsburgh, I have so many friends and people who know me. In the Strip District, they know me. They yell, ‘Hi, Patricio!’ You never know who is yelling at you! I just smile and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Even yesterday I was walking in the mall with my kids and someone said, ‘Hi, Patricio.’ My kids asked who he was, but I didn’t remember. But, it is nice.