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An International Tapestry As thousands of people from around the world— heads of state, finance ministers, central bank governors, ambassadors, support staff, and press— begin to stream into Pittsburgh for the G-20 world economic summit, it’s worth noting that a global delegation is already here, living and working in our neighborhoods. Look around and you’ll find threads of varying cultures and experiences that form a rich international tapestry—one that is dramatically transforming our communities in extraordinary ways.


BY CALLY JAMIS VENNARE espite a slow rate of immigration compared to other metro areas, Allegheny County is home to nearly 50,000 people born in foreign countries—a majority from India, Italy, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom, according to 2008 U.S. Census bureau estimates. Likewise, GlobalPittsburgh reports that more than 40 distinct international communities can be found in Southwest Pennsylvania, while at least 300 international firms from 26 countries operate facilities in the region. The East End and Fox Chapel areas alone offer an album of global snapshots, with residents hailing from as far away as South Africa, Iran, Brazil, Japan, Lebanon, and Ukraine, among dozens of other countries. These individuals have come to Pittsburgh to start their careers, raise families, launch businesses, and in many cases, guide our city toward a better future. Here’s a glimpse into the lives of some of these remarkable people and how they are leading us to excellence in business, medicine, education, and the arts. S H A D Y AV E

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The Artists: A South African and Brazilian Perspective Christopher Hahn comes to Pittsburgh by way of London, San Francisco, and his birthplace of Cape Town, South Africa. Hahn had never been to the city prior to receiving a call about a possible job with the Pittsburgh Opera, but he felt an immediate connection during his first visit here nine years ago. “I was amazed at how at home I felt,” recalls Hahn, who now lives in Shadyside. “It reminded me of San Francisco and Cape Town because of the hills, the water, and the Victorian architecture. It seemed to fit like a glove.” Soon afterward, Hahn became the Pittsburgh Opera’s new artistic director, and last summer, he decided to extend his stay by accepting his current position as general director—a move that might have surprised his colleagues in bigger markets. “It’s all very well to be in a big cosmopolitan city,” Hahn explains. “But I took it as a challenge that a geographically provincial city like

Christopher Hahn 17


Pittsburgh did not necessarily mean provincial in standards. There is this old stereotype that provincial must be substandard because it’s not New York, San Francisco, or London. And I think we’ve proved over and over again that is not true.” Hahn says the loyalty of the region’s cultural audiences and arts patrons allows him to explore new creative directions for productions at the Benedum Center, as well as education and community programming at the Pittsburgh Opera’s new performance space in the Strip District—the former Westinghouse Airbrake Factory built in 1869. “And then there’s Pittsburgh’s great history, which is all about innovation,” Hahn adds. “We’re sitting here in George Westinghouse’s incredible building. He was a genius who kept producing wonderful things for the world, right out of Pittsburgh.” ★

Kenia Ashby moved to Pittsburgh in 1992 with her first husband and two sons. The worldrenowned Brazilian jazz singer from Rio de Janeiro—known professionally as just “Kenia”— now shares a Fox Chapel home with fellow Brazilian Dr. Claudio Lima (pictured above with Kenia), a cardiothoracic surgeon at UPMC Shadyside and Mercy hospitals. As a mother, Kenia’s deepest affection for Pittsburgh extends to its family-friendly atmosphere and affordable cost of living, particularly in comparison to her previous homes in California and New York. “Moving to Pittsburgh is the smartest thing that we could have done,” Kenia says. “The cost of living is low. The kids had wonderful opportunities here that we would not have had in New York City or Los Angeles. That’s what kept me

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here and grounded. Pittsburgh is a safe, comfortable city. And the schools are fabulous!” As a jazz singer, Kenia has found Pittsburgh a little more challenging than the bigger cities where she used to live. But she acknowledges the encouragement she receives from organizations such as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and her camaraderie with other musicians in the community. Their support has enabled her to keep performing the music she loves. Last year, she released her first new CD in nearly a decade called Simply Kenia, produced by Latin Grammy winner Cesar Camargo Mariano. Occasionally Kenia longs for her past life in Brazil, where she was born and raised on the beach block in Copacabana. “I do miss waking up and going to the beach every morning,” she admits. “But I have learned how to ski and to ice skate with my sons,” she adds, with a touch of laughter in her rich, velvety voice.

the son of a Slippery Rock minister and nurse. After graduation in 1998, the couple moved briefly to Arizona and then back to Japan, but ultimately settled in Aspinwall to be closer to family. They still live there today with their young son, Kai. In her job at MSA International, Inc., Edwards helps develop and facilitate global training programs for international sales associates. She understands firsthand the anxiety that her colleagues experience during their first visits to America. Even so, it didn’t take much to make Edwards feel at ease in her Pittsburgh surroundings. “The nature is beautiful in this area, and I love the art museums, the universities, and the cultural diversity,” Edwards says. “I’ve been to San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York City, and people are so much more friendly here— down-to-earth. I just feel at home in Pittsburgh.” Her advice to the visiting G-20 leaders? “I’d remind them that Pittsburgh is a championship city,” she says, laughing. “And of course that they should try a Primanti’s sandwich and an Iron City Beer!”

The Admirers: Accolades From Japan, Argentina, and Canada

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Martin de San Martin had been living and working in Berkeley, California, for nearly 15 years when his employer decided in 2003 to merge with ComponentOne, a software company based in Shadyside. A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, de San Martin decided to make the cross-country move with his Canadian wife, Hannah Krause. The opportunity proved to be a fortuitous one. de San Martin is now the chief financial officer at ComponentOne, while Krause launched a new career in kitchen and bath design and real estate. The couple lives with their two young children in Fox Chapel.

In 1994, Keiko Edwards made a move that would change her life. The native of Kobe, Japan, had completed her associate’s degree in Hawaii, but still wasn’t satisfied with her English language skills. Then she discovered the health education program at Slippery Rock University (the sister school to her Hawaiian alma mater), where she knew she couldn’t get away with speaking Japanese anymore. So Edwards came to Pennsylvania and soon fell in love with her future husband, Andrew,

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“This city is so very different than Buenos Aires, which is a very large, cosmopolitan place,” says de San Martin, who never imagined he would stay so long in the United States. “Pittsburgh is significantly smaller, but the pace is very different as well.” de San Martin and his wife especially appreciate the city’s safety and friendliness, along with the easy-to-access resources for children and families such as the Carnegie Science Center and the Toy Lending Library in Shadyside. “We came here feeling like we didn’t know anyone, and in less than one week found Pittsburgh to be the biggest small town on the East Coast,” Krause recalls. From a business perspective, de San Martin admires the strides that Pittsburgh has made so far in transforming its economy after the collapse of the steel industry, but sees the potential to still make even greater advancements. It is no coincidence, he remarks, that the G-20 summit is being held here. “This is a city full of potential, moving forward at a steady pace toward progress,” he says. “You can see growth all around. Yet we are also fortunate to have a very rich human capital despite our population decline. We’re still here—and making it all worthwhile.”

The Ambassadors: A French and Ukranian Impact

he had worked for Corning in France, Italy, and Belgium, it is Pittsburgh that has captivated Collet and his wife for more than three decades. “This city is our city,” he says. “We have our friends. Our home. Our life is here.” Collet’s pride about Pittsburgh—in particular, his Point Breeze neighborhood—and his continued dedication to his French homeland came together in a distinctive manner in the late 1970s. In the midst of a busy career with Corning, Collet carved out time to serve for nearly 30 years as the city’s Honorary Consul for France. Honorary consuls are private citizens who serve without pay to support the activities of the foreign governments they represent in major cities without a formal Consulate General. Among Collet’s many duties were helping the members of Pittsburgh’s French community feel more at home in our city, collaborating with French executives interested in doing business here, and representing France at cultural and historical events. During his tenure, Collet hosted nearly 20 French delegations—the majority from steel and mining towns north of the Lorraine region. “They all had the same problems,” he explains. “How do you go from heavy industry to another sort of activity? How do you manage the social and personal problems generated by these transformations? Pittsburgh has been a marvelous example of reconversion, and many cities in France are very interested in knowing how that happened.” ★

A single mom at the time with a five-year-old son, she was urged to follow her family to Pittsburgh in 1993, when her stepfather accepted a job with the Allegheny County Coroner’s office. Although her family moved to California soon afterward, Freeman and her son stayed here—and prospered. After initial work with a Jewish nonprofit agency, Freeman followed her dream and studied at University of Pittsburgh to become an immigration attorney. The Fox Chapel resident is now counsel for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, focusing her practice on employment-based immigration. “Now I bring expatriates to Pittsburgh from all over the country,” she says. “We have a very large Indian community. And because of all the universities and colleges, we have a large number of professors who are part of the international community through their work.” Pittsburgh, she notes, is home to the sixth largest community of academics in the nation. “It’s

very calming to come here,” Freeman says. “I wouldn’t have the same feeling living in a different market. You can take advantage of different opportunities, whether it’s the symphony or concerts in the park like at Hartwood Acres. I know that you can do that in Central Park, but alongside 5,000 other people!” Freeman also is an active participant in the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, whose mission is to promote an understanding of important international issues throughout the region. In addition, she is supportive of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Propel Pittsburgh Commission and its Diversity, Outreach, and Civic Engagement subcommittee, which aims to make the city a more immigrantfriendly place. “We’re looking at what larger markets, like Boston, are doing to welcome nationals,” she says. “My official goal is to make the city friendlier to foreign nationals. I help them settle in, and that, in turn, makes our community more diverse.”



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“I opened my store on July 4, 2001. Here we have a very diverse crowd, especially in Squirrel Hill. Russians. Israelis. Middle Easterners. You need people who understand the difference between a $2,000 handmade rug and a $200 machine-made rug. And they do. The cost of overhead is also relatively cheap compared to cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Around the same time that I opened, my friend opened a similar business in San Francisco. His monthly rent was $5,000—mine was $750. That’s an attraction. Along with the school systems. Housing. The cost of living. And you get good people. You get the biggest return for your investment in Pittsburgh.”

“We’ve managed to turn a corner in Pittsburgh. When I first came in the ’70s, the mills were still going. Then we ran through the ’80s when the economy was bad. Somewhere I have the sense that it’s all coming together. I live in Fox Chapel. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, we get on the bikes and cycle down to the rivers. We have breakfast in the Strip District. We cross over to Point State Park or go over to the South Side and cycle back to the Heinz plants. It’s a wonderful city to behold! So I’d tell the G-20 delegation, ‘No matter how bleak and dark it seems, it’s possible to turn the corner and emerge all the better for it.’”

“There’s something special about Pittsburgh. I like the laid-back atmosphere. The quality of life. And I’m glad to see that people from Pittsburgh or those who do not travel much can have a French experience here. I’m the one who opened a European salon in Shadyside with a French flavor. We serve French pastries—made by my friend who will soon be opening a French pastry shop in Lawrenceville—every Saturday at the salon. We are a French community of friends. It may be shocking that a Parisian-born like me really likes Pittsburgh. I did not feel obligated to come or to stay here. It was destiny that brought me, and destiny did things well.”

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“Pittsburgh’s slower pace gave me the opportunity to restart my career after relocating from Los Angeles. In L.A., I was in the retail jewelry business. But here I could start small and evolve. First Downtown, and then in Shadyside. Now 95 percent of my jewelry is my own work. I plan to expand my business nationwide and even conduct international business from Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh’s magic has enhanced my personal life, too. This is where I met my wife, who was studying at Pitt. That was destiny. Now I have a small family. Pittsburgh has been very, very good to me.”

“I came here in 2001 with my wife when my family was looking for an investment opportunity in medical transcription. It is very easy to do business in Pittsburgh, and a great place for businesses to grow. There is a good workforce with a strong work ethic. The cost of living is reasonable. It’s easy for smaller companies to succeed. And there is a thriving Indian population here with many subcultures. I love Pittsburgh. If I had to stay in this country, I’d be in Pittsburgh and nowhere else. To the G-20 delegation I’d say, ‘Look closer at what Pittsburgh has to offer for business. It is a great place to invest in and bring business to. Pittsburgh is waiting to explode with lots of opportunities for people to come here and start businesses. We have everything in place.”

“I like Pittsburgh because it is safe and everybody knows each other, and I think it’s a great place to raise kids. Professionally, it’s been a little more challenging to bring in new ideas to the city like organic skin care. Pittsburghers are consistent. They like to do the same thing over and over again and take things in more slowly, which can be good. But for a creative person like me, it was an adjustment. One thing I really like about Pittsburgh, though— if people fall in love with you, they stick by you, and I feel very lucky to have great supporters. In Budapest, I don’t know if I would’ve had the opportunity to open a spa just being a ‘nobody.’ Here, as long as you put together a good business plan or have a good idea, then people will give you__a SA __ chance.”



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w w w. M o r r i s o n K i t c h e n s . c o m

An International Tapestry  

ICally Jamis Vennare cover story in the September 2009 issue of Pittsburgh's SHADY AVE Magazine -- which was devoted to the G-20 Summit.

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