Eight years ago, Brooklynite Tara Sherry-Torres arrived in Pittsburgh to attend grad school at the University of Pittsburgh. She promptly fell in love with the city and after graduating stayed to work in community development.
“I love the city and what you’re able to do here—there is a lot you can make happen here that you can’t do in New York,” says Sherry-Torres who is hosting an event celebrating Latinos making a difference in Pittsburgh.
“But for a long time, I missed Latin culture,” she says.
When she lived in New York, Sherry-Torres hosted house parties that began with great food and “the most interesting people that crossed many social circles. That’s what I missed most—the diversity. Pittsburgh tends to be segregated,” she says.
Her longing for more diversity was the impetus for what she calls Cafe con Leche, now an event series that connects Latinos and different cultures around food.
It started by cooking “a pot of rice, a pot of beans” and inviting friends from all over the city to her house for food, company and conversation, she said. In no time, the house parties became a hit.
Then in 2014 Most Wanted Fine Art, a gallery in Garfield owned by Nina and Jason Sauer, offered Sherry-Torres an artist residency and she began to host events she called Café Con Leche at the gallery.
“I knew the number one thing that brings people together is food but I was shocked at how many people came to the events,” shares Sherry-Torres. Each Café Con Leche event centered on specific Latin themes to catalyze conversation, the first one being “Herentia Africana”–an exploration of the African heritage of Latin culture.
She then took over the old Quiet Storm space in Garfield for Latino Heritage Month and received a Sprout Fund grant to hold 15 more events that raised awareness for Pittsburgh’s Latin community–including the first Latino Pride march in June. In addition, she started offering media, marketing and consulting services to businesses and nonprofits. And more is on the way.
“I wanted to dispel the myth that here is no Latino population Pittsburgh. True, we have the smallest Latino population of any major metropolitan area in the U.S. but it is growing—and Latinos are making a mark in our city,” Sherry-Torres says.
On August 15, Café con Leche will hold its first fundraising event called FUERZA! honoring Latinos in Pittsburgh. FUERZA! which means “force” in Spanish, will recognize the leadership of 10 individuals, nine of them women: Giselle Fernandes, psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh; Jose Miguel Juarez, paramedic and medical student; Carolina Loyola Garcia, artist; Geña Nieves, artist; Paulina Jaramillo, assistant professor, Carnegie Mellon University; Giana Paniagua, artist; Monica Mendez, executive director of Dress for Success Pittsburgh; Marisol Wandiga Valentin, humanitarian; Keyla Nogueira cook and founder of Feijoada To Go; and Cindy Fernandez, entrepreneur and advocate.
The event will be held at The Hardware Store in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. “The Hilltop Alliance is doing wonderful work in revitalizing Allentown and I’m excited to highlight exceptional individuals in this neighborhood,” Sherry-Torres notes.