Immigrants make Pittsburgh vibrant city

By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor 

They say that variety is the spice of life. No one likes boring, no one likes bland. We all like to change life up.

The same can be said about diversity. After all, different cultures offer different perspectives on life that, theoretically, we should embrace. But that’s not always the case.

Brookline’s Las Palmas, a Mexican grocery store and taqueria run by immigrants that is a staple in the neighborhood’s daily life, was vandalized on April 7. Angry phrases such as “American Haters,” “Illegal Trespassers” and “Liars” were spray painted in bold black letters over a colorful mural designed by Brashear High School students.

This mural – which reads “Welcome to Brookline” in Spanish and depicts vivid flowers beneath a large heart – was created last December to cover up a separate defacement. Those damages were even more vicious, reading “Go back to Mexico NOW.”

On both occasions, Pittsburgh city officials made the right moves to denounce the cowardly acts cloaked by anonymity. Mayor Bill Peduto called on the city in a statement to “show we are a welcoming city … and [that] these acts will not be tolerated.”

But the fact that these vandalisms keep happening to one of Brookline’s most beloved businesses proves that there is a disconnect between acting like a welcoming city and being one.

The fact is, we need businesses and people like those at Las Palmas for Pittsburgh to be, well, Pittsburgh.

Perhaps people forget that Pittsburgh is a town born and bred on its vibrant immigrant communities. This city couldn’t have its rich and eclectic mixture of Polish, German, Italian and Irish heritage if every person was met with constant hatred.

Pittsburgh isn’t perfect, and bigotry existed in the early 1900s just as it does today. These groups of people had their own struggles that they were faced with. But imagine what this city would look like if the businesses and restaurants we consider to be backbones of our daily lives weren’t here because of continual discrimination.

Mancini’s Bread, started by an Italian immigrant in 1926, might not be here today. Primanti Brothers, owned by the son of a Greek immigrant since the mid-1970s, might not be here today. Heinz Ketchup, created by the son of German immigrants, might not be here today.

Can you imagine living in a world where Hunts is on every dinner table instead?

Foreigners continue the tradition of Pittsburgh’s vivacious history when they live here because they add their own cultures and stories to the mix. According to a 2015 study conducted by the Immigration Policy Center, more than 730,000 immigrants live in Pennsylvania alone.

And immigrant businesses are absolutely crucial to Pennsylvania’s overall economy, as well.

The same study states that $2.2 billion in total net income is generated by Pennsylvania immigrant businesses. If they were removed, Pennsylvania would lose $5.3 billion in economic activity, $2.3 billion in gross state product – a measurement of a state’s economic output – and nearly 30,000 jobs.

Immigrants wield $36.3 billion in purchasing power, and they’re also 30 percent more likely to start new businesses compared to U.S. citizens, according to the Brookings Institute. Forbes reports that more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

Many of the traditional “American” brands we think of fall into this category. Google, eBay, IBM, AT&T, Budweiser, McDonald’s, Boeing, Home Depot – they all are businesses, products and ideas created by immigrants or children of immigrants that changed the fabric of American life forever. That iPhone sitting in your pocket? Same scenario.

Immigrants and their offspring have a drive and passion to succeed in this nation just like our forefathers did all those years ago. For those at Las Palmas and other immigrants scattered across the city, the proverbial American Dream is a vision of black and gold. They deserve to be treated with respect, because Pittsburgh is just as much theirs – if not more – as it is ours.

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