Hispanic migration to Western Pennsylvania double national rate
Hispanics are relocating to Western Pennsylvania at double the national rate, bucking the region’s overall population decline but highlighting the ethnic group’s relatively small size compared with other major metro areas, new census figures show.
The region is shrinking, losing about 5,700 of its 2.6 million people between 2013 and 2014, but its Hispanic population grew by about 1,600 people or 4.2 percent. The national growth rate among Hispanics is 2.1 percent. Much of the growth here was driven by migration from other parts of the country and emigration from other countries.
Long-term trends driven by the collapse of the region’s steel industry explain the continued loss of people in Allegheny County and the region, said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Pittsburgh has long been the only major metro area with more deaths than births, and the only cure for that is time, he said.
“The important (trend) to me right now is that there are more people moving in than are moving out,” he said.
Overall, the region’s Hispanic population is one of the smallest of any major metropolitan area, about 40,000 people, or 1.6 percent.
“It’s the fastest-growing segment here as well as the rest of the country,” said Ivan Usero, membership committee chairman for the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has about 70 corporate and individual members, including attorneys, medical professionals and small business owners, and has grown by about 70 percent during the past 18 months, he said.
Santa Hernandez, 37, and her husband, Gabriel, 31, started what became El Milagro restaurant in Beechview on a shoestring.
Originally from Honduras, Gabriel Hernandez first came to the area to remodel apartments for a Maryland company. Living in Crafton, he trekked regularly to Oakland because it had the only grocery store he knew of that carried Mexican foods.
His wife, who is from Mexico, was working at a convenience store in Beechview, and they decided to start preparing and selling Mexican dishes from the store. He used his last paycheck of $400 to buy the food.
“The first day, we made $600,” he said.
Over the next year, they relocated a couple of times before they opened in their Beechview location in 2012, he said.
About 7 percent of Beechview’s residents are Hispanic, one of the highest percentages in Pittsburgh, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Hernandez enjoys living in the neighborhood.
“This is a quiet area,” he said. “It’s a nice place.”
Word of mouth is one of the forces driving the area’s expanding Hispanic population, said Betty Cruz, Pittsburgh’s special initiatives manager.
If immigrants report positive experiences to their friends and family, that will encourage them to come here, she said.
“The growth that you’re seeing from the Latino community is, hopefully, a reflection of that,” she said.
Hugo Santamaria, 25, of Robinson moved to the area three years ago from West Virginia to get a job. He emigrated from Mexico to the United States 10 years ago. He likes living in Robinson because it’s affordable and near shopping areas.
One problem is the language barrier, he said. More fluent in English than many of his friends, he sometimes serves as an interpreter when they need medical care, he said.
“My friends ask me to go with them,” he said.
The city’s Welcoming Pittsburgh program is aimed at making the area more attractive to all immigrants. Its advisory council released a set of 40 recommendations this month that include developing a language access plan.
Language is an issue “not just for the Spanish-speaking community but for the immigrant community as a whole,” Cruz said. Increasing the number of interpreters will take time, she said.
Another part of the plan is to offer extended citizenship and classes in English as a second language.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Contact him at 412-325-4301 at firstname.lastname@example.org.