Columbus Day parade has a Latin American flavor

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When the 28th annual Pittsburgh Columbus Day Parade makes its way through the city's "Little Italy" neighborhood today, it will include the usual groups.

Marching in the Bloomfield parade, which celebrates the arrival of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas, will be the Italian Sons and Daughters of America and the Knights of Columbus, alongside the Calabria Club and the Societa' Dante Alighieri, among other Italian heritage groups.

Marching, too, will be members of the Latin American Cultural Union.

"The past couple years, we've been building on inviting other ethnic groups to participate in the parade," said parade chairman Guy Costa.

So for the second year in a row, a parade that commemorates the discovery of this part of the world will include a group whose members celebrate the heritage of the people who were already here when Columbus arrived -- and whose existence was greatly altered by all who followed him.

It's a holiday that, for the Latino community, has long caused "mixed feelings," said Jesabel Rivera, 26, of Monroeville, president of the Latin American Cultural Union.

Columbus' arrival, and the subsequent settlement of North and South America by Europeans, caused death and hardship for many indigenous people, Ms. Rivera said. Yet the Latino culture, as it exists now, is the result of that mixture of native people and Africans and Europeans, she said.

"I think it's a day to celebrate what we are now," Ms. Rivera said.

In Pittsburgh, where the Latin American community remains small compared to populations found in other cities, it's also "a good opportunity to say 'hey, we're here,' " she said.

Indeed, the cultural organization has been here for more than 25 years. Founded in 1986 as a club for people who wanted to get together and speak Spanish, in 1992 it became a nonprofit organization with a focus on promoting the folk culture of Latin America. It expanded its mission in 2011 to promote and preserve all Latin American and Caribbean culture and now has about 230 members, including some people originally from Latin America, some U.S. residents with Latino heritage and some people who just want to embrace Latin American culture.

Ms. Rivera, who moved here in 2010 to attend graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, is originally from Puerto Rico. Three years ago, she said, it was rare to hear anyone speaking Spanish, but now she said she hears it more often. She thinks her experience is a sign that Pittsburgh is attracting more people from Latin America.

Last year, for the first time, she was one of fewer than a dozen members of the Latin American Cultural Union participating in the Columbus Day Parade. Ms. Rivera expects that a couple dozen of her organization's members will march in today's parade, which will also include a Puerto Rican band, a float celebrating the different cultures of Latin America and dancers.

The two-hour parade will start at 11 a.m. and march on Liberty Avenue through Bloomfield.

neigh_city - holidays

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published October 11, 2013 8:00 PM


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