The Pittsburgh Latino community has many amazing people working across a variety of sectors, from nonprofit to corporate, from artists to students. We are a community that is rich in talent and dedication to making this city the most livable for all who call it home.
Cafe Con Leche honor these individuals with the FUERZA Award on Aug. 15 at The Hardware Store (a co-working space) in the Pittsburgh “Hilltop” community of Allentown, just above the South Side Slopes.
FUERZA! was the first-ever fundraising event of Café Con Leche, which connects the Pittsburgh Latino community, promotes Latino culture in Pittsburgh and create a space for dialogue and creative problem solving. All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will directly benefit the organization’s operating expenses, and help sustain its free programming throughout the year
Fuerza Award Recipients
KEYLA CRISTINA NOGUEIRA COOK
Hometown: Juquitiba, São Paulo – Brasil. Brasileira. Owner and Operator at Feijoada To Go. Creator of Projeto Madre Latina (A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh). Administrative Coordination at Carnegie Mellon University.
Keyla has been living in the Pittsburgh area for the last 3 years. Always involved with Latino community either by serving as volunteer at COESA (Brazilian Association) or sharing a little bit of Brazil through food by cooking Brazilian food for private parties and/or Latin@ events such as Cafe con Leche. Keyla’s last project, Projeto Madre Latina ( A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh) came to life with the help of the Brazilian photographer Lila Rodrigues.
Favorite place: West End Overlook
What are your hopes for the Latino community in Pittsubrgh? I hope the Latino community in Pittsburgh can feel welcome and find valuable resources to live here. Find ways to preseve their heritage and consequently pass it along to future generations. I hope in the future Pittsburgh can be more diverse and good for all Latinos, by providing various types of support for latinos of all ages through culture, health and education and much more.
“Latinos independently of nationality should work together to strength our ties and keep building a strong Latino community!”
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brazil. Nationality: Brazilian. Profession: Psychologist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. COESA’s Executive Director and Trilingual Program Director.
Giselle was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2004, she immigrated to the USA. Giselle has a degree in Psychology from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ (1999) and she is a specialist in Mental Health (2001) through School of Public Health of Foundation and Institute Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Giselle is a licensed Psychology teacher graduated in UFRJ (2002). She has worked as school psychologist, psychiatric counselor, school-based therapist and clinical psychologist since 2000. Giselle has a master in Social Work from University of Pittsburgh and she is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania, USA. She is currently a field advisor for master students of School of Social Work of University of Pittsburgh in combination of holding a position of school-based therapist and program coordinator for WPIC of UPMC. Giselle served as teacher assistant for the Portuguese Department of University of Pittsburgh in the past. She also is an ex-student of the Doctoral Program of Applied Developmental Psychology of School of Psychology of Education at University of Pittsburgh. Giselle has articles published about Street Children as well as disparities related to ethnicity and mental health diagnosis on incarcerated youth. Giselle is a published poet. She published her first poetry book named “Saudade” in 2010, Editora Senac-RJ, Brazil. Giselle is a co-founder and current executive director of COESA – Cultural Organization for Educational and Social Actions; a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania since 2012. Giselle is a competent and passionate community leader who has been contributing for the development of educational, health and social projects in Pittsburgh, Pain the USA as well as in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She recently pledged with COESA to promote Welcoming Pittsburgh Program and she is the creator of the Trilingual Program in Pittsburgh supported by the city of Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Schenley Park
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To become visible, united and well supported.
Is there anything else you would like to share? I love poetry.
Currently lives in Ross Township but grew up in NJ. Dominican. Engineer / Actress / TV & Radio personality. Ansaldo STS / La Rumba Productions ( Self Employed). Board member for Women & Girls Foundation. Also for Manchester Academy Charter School. Associate board member for Sarah Heinz House.
Engineer by training. Entertainer by passion. I believe we can do whatever we set our minds to as long as we adapt without losing what makes us who we are. Moving to Pittsburgh was a challenge as I felt I was leaving behind a huge part of me. However when I realized that not only can I bring my culture here but also get to share it with others, helped me help others feel welcome and make Pittsburgh their home.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mount Washington’s view.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To continue to grow, diversify and enrich the current culture in Pittsburgh.
JOSE MIGUEL JUAREZ
Hometown: Paterson, NJ. Nationality: Guatemalan American. Medical Student and Paramedic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Jose Miguel Juarez completed his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is very passionate about living, learning, and working among underserved and vulnerable populations. In Houston, TX, Mr. Juarez served in a low-income Latino community as a middle school teacher for Teach For America. In Florida, he worked in a medically underserved community as a coordinator of medical services for Crescent Community Free Clinic. Today, he volunteers as a paramedic for Operation Safety Net, providing medical services to the homeless of our Latino community. He is also a coordinator and medical translator for SALUD Clinic, a free clinic committed to helping all uninsured and indigent Latinos in Pittsburgh. Mr. Juarez is determined to help reduce health disparities in our community. As a doctor, he will continue volunteering and advocating for all Latinos who do not have access to health care.
Where is your favorite place in Pittsburgh? As a resident of Oakland, Pittsburgh, my favorite place to go for a delicious lunch is the taco stand outside of Las Palmas on Atwood Street.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? My greatest hope is for every Latino individual and family to have access to all resources in our community necessary to ensure a good quality of life. My personal goal is to become an effective advocate of the movement to ensure that health care reaches every Latino in our community, especially the underserved.
Mr. Juarez is a 2015 recipient of the American Medical Association Minority Scholars Award. The AMA Minority Scholars program not only encourages diversity in medicine and alleviates debt, but also rewards commitment to the elimination of health care disparities, outstanding academic achievements, leadership activities, and community involvement.
Hometown: Medellin, Colombia. Nationality(s): Colombia, United States. Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon University.
Originally from Medellin-Colombia, I am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. I first came to the U.S. in 1998 to a language school at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. While there, my family moved to Miami, so instead of going back to Colombia, I went to Miami where I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at Florida International University. After graduation, I moved to Pittsburgh to pursue an MS at Carnegie Mellon University. That was in 2003 and 12 years later, I am still in Pittsburgh and at CMU. As an Assistant Professor at CMU I am involved in multi-disciplinary research projects to better understand the social, economic, and environmental implications of policy-driven change in the operation of the energy system. More recently, I have also started working on issues related to energy and environmental sustainability in developing countries, including Colombia and Brazil.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? I really like the Carnegie Mellon Campus. Obviously, I spend a lot of time there. I think it is a beautiful campus and I love walking around it in the spring and summer when it is sunny. I also really like the Blue Slide Playground, where my kids spend a lot of time.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? When I first moved to Pittsburgh from Miami, I thought I would not have a chance to speak much Spanish, but I quickly found out I was mistaken. After 12 years here, I continue to be impressed by how vibrant the Latino community is in Pittsburgh. I hope this continues. I see that Latinos in the area are very involved in civil society and I would like to see Latinos become more involved in local government. Since I work at a university, I hope we can continue to attract talented students from Latin America. I hope we can establish connections with universities in Latin America so that their students can come spend time here in Pittsburgh and our students can go there. I think this kind of education exchanges would be valuable for Pittsburgh as well as for the countries in Latin America.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population? The one other thing I hope for the Pittsburgh Latino community is that as the restaurant scene in Pittsburgh continues to grow, we can see more Latin American restaurants. As in most U.S. cities, Pittsburgh has some really good Mexican restaurants and there are also some good Peruvian eateries. It would be great to also have, for example, Colombian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Argentinian food.
Hometown Santiago, Chile. Nationalities USA and Chile. Media Artist, Filmmaker, and Performer. Robert Morris University; Associate Professor of Media Arts.
Carolina Loyola-Garcia is a multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and performer. She works primarily in media arts, including single-channel video art, video installations, video design for theater, digital printmaking, documentary, and as a performer has worked in theater and dance. She received her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University and is Associate Professor of Media Arts at Robert Morris University.
Through her work she has explored topics related to social justice, the dislocated identity that results from colonialism and migration, and questionings around issues related to aspects of human existence such as relationships, the transient nature of the postmodern experience, memory, and the tense interaction between economy and the environment.
She has been on stage with Quantum Theatre on the productions of The Red Shoes, Ainadamar, Maria de Buenos Aires, and Mnemonic; and is the founder of the Pittsburgh-based flamenco ensemble Alba Flamenca.
A Few Favorite places in Pittsburgh: There are several places I love in Pittsburgh, including Biddles Escape to meet up with friends or hide and get work done; Highland Park, where I go for runs when the weather is nice; the shops on Bryant Street; and the Gallery Crawl event four times a year. I have been enjoying the variety of the restaurants that have been opening in Pittsburgh in the past ten years, always something new and exciting to try.
Hope for the Latino Community in Pittsburgh: As the Latino community continues to grow its presence in Pittsburgh, I hope that more organizations will recognize all that we can contribute to the cultural diversity of the region and will grow their support of activities and events around Latino and Hispanic heritage and interests.
Hometown: Alajuela, Costa Rica. Nationalities: Costa Rica, United States. Executive Director, Dress for Success Pittsburgh.
Mónica Méndez, PhD, began her tenure as the Executive Director of Dress for Success Pittsburgh after her move from Orlando, Florida, where she was the Executive Director of the House of Mentoring and Empowerment (HOME), a human trafficking organization for youth and young adults. Dr. Méndez has served as a gender-consultant to corporations, non-profits, and government organizations. She has published and presented her work in both national and international forums and in front of a wide variety of audiences. Recently, Dr. Méndez was named a Forté Fellow, which is a prestigious and competitive fellowship awarded to business women with diverse backgrounds who are in business school and who exhibit exemplary leadership and demonstrate a commitment to advancing women in business. She was also named an Echoing Green Global Fellowship Semifinalist for her work with HOME and for showing that she understands the needs of her community and strives to provide the possible solutions for the challenges it faces. Her work, passion and understanding of the issues affecting women and their families was also recognized in 2011 when Gloria Steinem presented her with a medal on behalf of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) honoring feminists in Florida who made extraordinary contributions to the empowerment of women. Her goal is to make Pittsburgh a stronger, healthier community by promoting the financial and social empowerment that women need in order to break the cycle of poverty. She is the wife of her wonderful husband and enjoys spending her “free time” with him and her dogs.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mt. Washington
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? We come together as one voice for the well-being our communities and future generations.
Hometown: Miami and New York City. Nationality: Cuban American and Puerto Rican. Papercutting Sculptor, Self Employed.
Originally from a blend of New York and Miami, Gianna Paniagua is a papercutting sculptor based in Pittsburgh who creates work about her experiences living with a heart transplant. Her upbringing was rich in culture, coming from Cuban and Puerto Rican families, and her mother made an extra effort by teaching her spanish as a first language. Living with a transplant, her reactions and emotions towards certain situations found a way into her artwork. Now, Gianna creates largescale installations that spark a discussion concerning the fragility of the human body and promotes the success of organ transplantation. She has exhibited in Wood St Galleries, 707 Gallery, the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and at the Scope Art Fair: New York. Recently she received the grand prize for the Emerging Young Artist Program at the Kennedy Center who honored artists with disabilities. She continues to spread her story through her work, and future plans include a residency at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and an installation for admitted children in New York Presbyterian Babies Hospital.
Favorite place in Pittsburgh: Children’s and Rivers Casino. You can thank my dad for this. I am still followed by the transplant team at Children’s Hospital, and go there for small procedures each year. My dad and I started a tradition that after each procedure, we would celebrate by going to the all you can eat buffet at River’s Casino. Anyone who knows me knows that I base all my social activities around food, and this place gives me an unlimited supply. My mom, dad, and I all go to the casino after a long day at the hospital and then play a few slots.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino Community? My hope is that it grows and introduces to Pittsburgh to the numerous amazing cultures and vibrancy that exist under the umbrella term of “Latino.” I moved here 10 years ago, and I was the only one in my high school who came from a Latino background. Coming from cites like New York and Miami, that was extremely disorienting for me. Now, thanks to all that the city has to offer, we are seeing more Latinos coming to Pittsburgh. We all come from two backgrounds that we have to blend, and now it’s time to introduce Pittsburgh to that blend.
MARISOL WANDIGA VALENTIN
Hometown: Ross Township. Nationalities: Kenyan, Puerto Rican. Humanitarian Aid Program Officer, Global Links
Marisol Wandiga Valentin is the Program Officer for the Caribbean Region for Global Links, a medical relief and development organization dedicated to supporting health improvement initiatives in resource-poor communities and promoting environmental stewardship in the US healthcare system. In addition to her role at Global Links, Marisol serves on the Boards of Directors of the Society of Contemporary Craft and North Hills Ebony Women, and sits on the Advisory Boards of the Latin American Cultural Union and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education & Community Engagement Department. Marisol is half Kenyan and half Puerto Rican. She holds a B.S. in International Business from Duquesne University and is certified as a Humanitarian Aid and Development professional by La Roche College and RedR. Marisol enjoys spending time with her best friend and husband, Oscar Valentin, and her family and friends. Her passions are predictive marketing, social justice, non-traditional career pathways, cultural exchanges and folkloric dancing.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? St. Benedict the Moor Church
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? Latinos have added so much to Pittsburgh’s history and achievements -from names internationally recognized like Roberto Clemente and Christina Aguilera to those more locally known like Eduardo Lozano and Salome Gutierrez. In the past our contributions have been narratted as a semi-colon in Pittsburgh’s history. I believe the new Latino community is making its mark, and soon we will be a full blown exclamation mark.
“We need to [...] cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.” — Cesar Chavez
MARÍA EUGENIA NIEVES ESCORIAZA A.K.A GEÑA
Hometown: Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.
Musical director of Pittsburgh band Machete Kisumontao; Educator
I have played music all my life in Puerto Rico, NYC, and now in Pittsburgh, my home for the last 11 years. I’m raising my lovely daughter in this wonderful town. I’m always happy to contribute to the arts and culture of the Latino community and the Pittsburgh community. I’m happy and proud to call Pittsburgh my home. My daughter and I have had so many beautiful adventures and experiences here. We’ve met best friends, and it’s been the perfect environment for me to attain personal achievements; grow as an artist and individual, and hit life’s major milestones.
Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh?
My favorite place in Pittsburgh is the Strip District in the daytime with all the shops from different parts of the world. There’s so much variety and you can find pretty much anything you want there. I also love the South Side, the North Shore, Oakland… and all the bike trails. You know what?! I love all of Pittsburgh!
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population?
I hope that businesses and institutions are proactive in their support of artists, the cultural ambassadors of the Latino community. I hope that the Latino community can unite and work together to bring more music, art, food, and all things culture to Pittsburgh.
Fuerza Award Nominees
Hometown: Pittsburgh, by way of Washington D.C.
Profession: Physical Therapist
Alice Beckett-Rumberger is a wonderful mix of entrepreneur, mother, and wife. Alice is the Owner/Founder of TheraFusion. A direct bill Physical Therapy practice. TheraFusion is a vehicle for patient rehabilitation and healing for injuries but her focus on injury prevention is a benefit to both young athletes, weekend warrior or anyone that wants to life a healthier life. Her speaker series on “Real Food, Real Life” is especially engaging as she helps folks better understand food labels, healthy food shopping, food preparation and more. In addition to her business ventures, she is also an ardent supporter of the arts, children, those in need, and non-profits. For years, she has been actively involved with the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, which brings high quality children’s theater to Pittsburgh. Alice has played a leadership role in fundraising for the Non-Profits she serves. Whether she is pulling off a Fashion Show for the North Allegheny School District Foundation or running a leg or a marathon for Dirty Vagabond Ministries (one of a small number of ministries to inner city youth endorsed by the Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh) she shows all the vibrancy and passion of a strong minded, action-oriented Latina! Alice has a global perspective on helping others and is an ambassador for there is No Limits Foundation. She balances these causes while being a mother of seven wonderful kids and wife to her husband David!
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
My hopes for the Latino community in Pittsburgh is to keep our heritage alive and be leaders in our respective professions. Working together for cultural understanding and all the benefits that diversity brings to a community.
Diana Bellini is Vice President – Latin America Account Manager at BNY Mellon. She is Ecuadorian by way of Queens, New York and is passionate for the advancement of Latinos. Diana currently mentors several college girls as well as serves on the board of ALPFA in order to help expand Latino leadership. Her focus is to help female Latino entrepreneurs sustain and expand business in the Pittsburgh region. Diana also wrote a blog about her work in Pittsburgh recently, you can read what she has to say here.
Berenise is a motivated, insightful and energetic emerging professional who arrived in Pittsburgh from California just one short year ago. She came to Pittsburgh to accept a fellowship with CORO, a highly competitive, national fellowship program. During that year she worked for Governor Wolfe’s transition team, started a mentoring program for young women in Westinghouse High School and did research projects for both The Neighborhood Learning Alliance and The Mentoring Partnership. Berenise has a commitment to working with community organizations breaking down barriers for youth who struggle with inequalities of race, economics and opportunity. We need to keep her as an asset to our community by recognizing the work she has done here. Part of her consideration for wanting to return to California is the lack of Latino culture in Pittsburgh. As a young, Latina, emerging professional in public service, Berenise has the opportunity to lead the way for other young people like herself to find a place and a home in Pittsburgh that values not only her work but her culture.
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Nationality(s): Puerto Rican
Profession: Program Director
Employer: YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods — 90 of them, to be exact; all vibrant and all rife with distinct character. Conversely, that same distinction has, in some ways, created division. And when you belong to a group that hasn’t traditionally been a part of that social makeup, the gap feels even wider. Latinos in this city represent such a group, but that appears to be changing because the region is changing — slowly, oftentimes painfully, but changing nonetheless. I’ve noticed an increased interconnectedness among Latinos here in recent years. It’s evident when you hear Spanish being spoken on the buses and on street corners (a rarity ten-plus years ago), Latino products being sold in grocery stores, and authentic food selections from Las Palmas to Chicken Latino popping up in areas you wouldn’t typically expect them in. We’re more visible, more recognizable. As part of that visibility, there’s a real opportunity to tell more of our stories, to embrace and celebrate our uniqueness, and showcase ”nuestra cultura” as part and parcel of the distinct character of those aforementioned 90 communities. We’re here, we’ve been here, and we’re not going anywhere. In fact, you could say we’re just getting started.
Kenya works tirelessly and endlessly in keeping our culture together! Her work with Coro Latinoamericano is proof of thatt. Her work strengthens Pittsburgh through unity and diversification, keeping Latinos connected through culture and music. Kenya’s work gives us a place to call home – wherever we can sing…. we are home! Her knowledge of the different Spanish speaking countries as well as knowledge of the host community gives the Pittsburgh Latino community the ability to be inclusive.
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Profession: Civil Engineer
Employer: Williams Energy/ Colombia en Pittsburgh
Sandra is very committed and dedicated to the Latino community she gives all her time to help and do things for others under her initiative Colombia En Pittsburgh became a nonprofit and is now growing and helping many of the refugees that have come to Pittsburgh. The Latino community is growing and do are their needs with people like Sandra it’s easier for others to adjust and stay in Pittsburgh because they find the support they need to get a fresh start
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
I came to Pittsburgh 10 years ago and this place had very little to offer to the Spanish speaking community, I am proud to see that the community is growing and I would like to see more support for those who arrive here and break family ties, and need to start from scratch, there are many names that come to mind when it comes to help, but only a few that are really dedicated to this cause, and many more families coming that we need to integrate to the new big latino family of Pittsburgh.
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Nationality(s): Puerto Rican
Profession: Health Strategy Consultant
Employer: Highmark Health
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
My hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community is for it to continue to grow and increase its visibility without losing its sense of CommUNITY. That we can continue to support each other and to collaborate, not only with those of our nationality or only those who are Latinos, but also the community at-large. I hope the community continues to grow its tolerance towards new ideas and different groups, as well as to embrace all the different cultures in the Pittsburgh community, without losing its identity; always remembering that every step we take has been supported by those who were there before us.
Hometown: Born in Maracay Venezuela, raised in Bath MI
Profession: Assistant Vice President/Business Development Officer
Employer: WesBanco Bank
Janette has done much advocacy work around financial literacy, poverty alleviation, and tax preparation for low to moderate income families in the Greater Pittsburgh area. She has spoken for many area groups such as Lawrenceville United, Hill District CDC, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Presbyterian Senior Homes, Focus on Renewal and others on such subjects as budgeting, lending preparedness for small business owners, home ownership, identity theft and fraud, and rebuilding credit. This year Janette was pleased to help the United Ways’ Money In Your Pocket Coalition by preparing tax returns for low to moderate income residents in the Homewood area. Through her profession, she also takes considerable joy in working with new business owners and small businesses in helping them better understand their financial picture through relationship banking. Janette is enthusiastic about her culture and heritage. She is passionate about using her skills and expertise in banking to empower clients to have a better financial future.
What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
To work more cohesively across multiple channels to network together, support and promote Latino based businesses and causes, and to celebrate Latino culture is this vibrant growing urban center.