At one time, finding a Hispanic person in Pittsburgh was almost as rare as finding a Cleveland Browns fan in the city. But that has begun to change. “Hispanic” is an all-encompassing term for those with roots in Mexico, Spain, areas of the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were slightly more than 11,000 Hispanics living in Allegheny County, making them less than 1 percent of the total population. However, the census also revealed an increase of Hispanic residents living here by 8,000 persons, representing 1.56 percent of the total population. While not a flood of immigrants, it is nevertheless a 71 percent increase.

People are the lifeblood of a city. During the decades of the 80s and 90s, the region lost population, and while that trend has slowed during the last decade, civic leaders know that a growing population base is vital to the health of Pittsburgh. Hispanics are one group who are jump-starting the city’s expansion.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

To encourage this, The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was formed to provide business opportunities that foster economic growth and aid Hispanic entrepreneurs and professionals. In addition, the PMAHCC maintains a scholarship fund to support Hispanic students in their educational endeavors.

As new blood revitalizes a city’s economy, it also enhances its culture. One of the ways is with food. Pittsburgh has seen a proliferation of new restaurants that cater to the palate of native Hispanics as well as those who are not of Hispanic descent yet love the cuisine. The food varies from Brazilian to Peruvian. However, Mexican food seems to be the most plentiful. No longer must residents satisfy their desire for sopapillas and salsa at chain Mexican restaurants. Now Pittsburghers can dine on authentic cuisine created by Mexican chefs. For those who like to try their hand at concocting their own dishes, there is a grocery store that specializes in Latino products. Established in 1987, Reyna Foods in the Strip District offers Latin American and Caribbean items. It also manufactures its own tortilla chips, corn and flour tortillas, and tamales.

To accommodate Spanish language speakers, several parishes throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh have established Spanish-language Masses.

Latin American Studies

Since 1980, the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh has hosted its annual Latin American and Caribbean Festival. The festival features music, food, dance, arts and crafts, and children’s activities. La Jornada Latina is an online Spanish newspaper that keeps the city’s Spanish-speaking residents informed.

In Pittsburgh, an ethnic group or nationality knows it has “arrived” when it has its own room at the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus. In 2003, a Planning Committee was formed to raise funds to establish The Latin American & Caribbean Heritage Room.

As more Hispanics take up residence in the area, expect them to make an even greater impact on the economic and cultural life of Pittsburgh.