Sessions at the All for All Summit on Sept. 13, 2018, explored all aspects of immigrant integration in Pittsburgh. Photo by Jodi Tandet.

“How excited are we about immigrant inclusion?”

More than 150 Pittsburghers applauded that question posed by Tiffany Chang Lawson, executive director of Governor Tom Wolf’s Advisory Commission of Asian Pacific American Affairs, in her opening remarks as emcee of the All for All Summit on Thursday.

During this daylong summit at the University Club in Oakland, panelists discussed a range of ideas on how we can make our region more welcoming to immigrants. Many of those who spoke are immigrants themselves. What’s their advice for Pittsburgh? 

1. Have direct conversations

Pamela Chomba, a DACA recipient who says she’s “saving the American Dream one story at a time” as the northeast organizing director of, implores employers to be honest with immigrant employees.

“They should have frank conversations about what happens when your work permit expires and you can’t renew,” she says. “What are the next steps then? That could mean a really good severance package or it can mean looking for other organizations that can help that person figure out what to do.”

2. Get active

“It is not enough to merely say you support immigrants,” says Gisele Fetterman, the First Lady of Braddock and the founder of Free Store 15104. “You are losing out if you are not actively recruiting, actively nurturing and actively listening to immigrants. Because we enrich your lives as much as you enrich ours.”

She would know. Fetterman, a cofounder of For Good PGH, a nonprofit that advocates for inclusion initiatives, says her work is only possible because of her own immigrant experience.

“My inspiration comes from my pain,” she says, “but also from gratitude that I get to live here.”

3. Explore your community’s unique challenges

The Internet doesn’t have all the answers nor does your TV.

“Don’t live off of Twitter,” says Dan Gilman, the chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto. “Don’t live off of CNN or Fox News or MSNBC. Go out into your community and listen to what the challenges are. Because we know they are vast, they are enormous and they are difficult to think about.”

Gilman acknowledges that the successes of other cities can be alluring yet cautions against assuming they will work just as well in Pittsburgh.

“It’s easy to take something off Twitter and say, ‘Hey, Portland did it. Hey, Louisville did it. Seattle did it. Let’s do it here’,” says Gilman.

But the immigrants of Pittsburgh have their own unique issues and needs. So, rather than leaping to replicate an existing program, he advises asking, “What does Pittsburgh need?”

4. Educate yourself and others

Creating global competency and global fluency, I think, is incredibly important,” says Bryan Warren.

Warren is the director of the Office for Globalization in Louisville, Ky., a division of Louisville Forward. He says it’s vital for all people, no matter their jobs or spheres of influence, to understand the needs of their local immigrant community.

He, along with many other All for All speakers, encourages naturalborn citizens to educate themselves on immigrant experiences through actively listening to any and all immigrants they know. Don’t know many? Change that by attending community events, seeking out immigrant businesses to support and volunteering with nonprofits.

5. Speak up

Ketaki Desai, who leads FortyX80, the nonprofit arm of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, wants people to challenge what they hear.

“Every time you hear someone stereotype an immigrant, try to go ahead and remove that stereotype,” she says. “I think that’s something every person could do in every single conversation they have. Sometimes it can get difficult but it’s very important that you don’t just go with the flow.”

Changing the course of an intimate conversation may not make headlines in the way that a government project or a global startup could. But speaking up, she says, “can have a ripple effect across a lot of people.”

Jodi Tandet

Jodi Tandet is a writer who's penned stories in Miami, Israel, Atlanta, and upstate New York. She lives in Highland Park with her roommate, a calico cat, and is on a mission to hike every trail and try every smoothie shop in Pittsburgh.