Fall 2009

When the world comes to Pittsburgh this September, what will it find?
Six international transplants share some thoughts about their adopted
home—including some tips about what makes Pittsburgh uniquely Pittsburgh.
Destination Pittsburgh

This month, a coterie of dignitaries, envoys, and other worldly sorts will converge in Pittsburgh for the G-20 Summit. The meeting represents a chance for the city to show the world how it’s weathered the demise of its main industry and transformed itself into a center for biomedical, educational, and technological excellence.

As leaders and journalists from around the world descend on the Three Rivers for this major economic summit, many will undoubtedly be surprised at what they find: lush hillsides, a riverfront lined with new developments, not steel mills, and plenty to do and see. What impression will they come away with? To answer this question, we’ve turned to six local experts—Pittsburghers who were born outside the United States, who once viewed the city with fresh eyes but have also called the country’s most livable city home long enough to appreciate its hidden gems and lovable peculiarities.

The city’s foreign-born population is still a relatively small lot—at about 5 percent, it’s well below the national average. But these émigrés definitely contribute to the life and flavor of the city. They also have a distinct perspective on where the city is heading. “I think the G-20 is huge for Pittsburgh,” says Santosh Perla, an Indian-born project manager at the technology firm Vivisimo. “It’s just a reflection of how far Pittsburgh has come. We’re a city rising again.”

By Reid R. Frazier
Photos: Renee Rosensteel



The North Shore


Name: Santosh Krishna Perla
Age: 29
Occupation: Project Manager, Vivisimo
Birthplace: Born in Ongole, India. Raised in Zambia
Years in U.S.: 10
Years in Pittsburgh: 4
What brought Santosh to Pittsburgh: Work
Neighborhood: Squirrel Hill

Santosh Perla turned down a job in Silicon Valley to come to Pittsburgh four years ago. “People said I was crazy,” says Perla, who was born in India and raised in Zambia, where his father worked as an accountant. He came to the United States to study and eventually landed a job at Vivisimo, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off software firm based in Squirrel Hill.

Today, Perla’s the vice president of internal affairs of NetIP North America, a Network of Indian Professionals, which affords him a chance to network with South Asians from around the country. His parents now live in India, and Perla still lists Zambia as the place he’s from. But ‘home’ is Pittsburgh, and as a tech worker, that works, says Perla. “Google’s here, Microsoft is here, Intel is here, Apple is here. Definitely on the technology front, and the biotechnology front, Pittsburgh’s on the right track.”

Dos & Don’ts:

Do: See Pittsburgh from the Duquesne Incline. Drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel to get a breathtaking view of the city! Go kayaking on the river. Explore the historic neighborhoods. Try out the various brunch places.
Don’t: Forget to visit Pittsburgh at least once in your life. We have a lot to offer! If you move here as a young professional you may not like it at first. But Pittsburgh will grow on you.

My favorite place in Pittsburgh is:

Crepes Parisiennes in Shadyside. I get the vegetarian crepe with soytang sauce.

How I find people from India:

Initially, by accident! When I moved to Pittsburgh I knew no one. A few months later I went to a Garba (Indian dance) event at the University of Pittsburgh. I randomly bumped into two family friends I knew from Zambia. I had no idea they were in Pittsburgh.

In 2006, I joined the Pittsburgh chapter of NetIP. I took it over in 2007 and for two years my life revolved around it, bringing home the “Best Small Chapter” Award for 2007 and 2008. I also won “Best Small Chapter President” Award for 2008. Because of NetIP, I’ve met many many South Asians around Pittsburgh and all over the country.

What I miss most about home:

I miss the widespread popularity of soccer. I watch live games at Piper’s Pub on the South Side. I get Indian food at the various Indian restaurants around the area but I like trying cuisines from around the world. Most importantly, I miss family. It was tough moving halfway around the world 10 years ago for school. It’s something I’ve gotten used to over the years. I try to visit my parents every couple of years.


Kelly’s Bar & Lounge, East Liberty

Name: Raymund Ryan
Age: 50
Occupation: Curator of Architecture, The Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art
Birthplace: Cork, Ireland
Years in U.S.: Off and on since 1981
Years in Pittsburgh: 6
What (or, in this case, who) brought Raymund to Pittsburgh: Richard Armstrong, former director of Carnegie Museum of Art, now head of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, convinced me to take this job.
Neighborhood: The Strip District

Every June 16th, a group of Irish and lovers of Irish culture gather in venues around Pittsburgh to hear readings from Ulysses, the James Joyce novel set on that very day in 1904 Dublin. And each year, Raymund Ryan reads the chapter set in the country’s National Library. It’s a good way for Ryan, Carnegie Museum of Art’s curator of architecture, to reconnect with his homeland.

Through his work at the museum, Ryan has also had a wee bit of the luck of the Irish in finding other Emerald Isle connections to share with fellow Pittsburghers by way of the handiwork of Eva Rothschild, Valerie Mulvin, and Niall McLaughlin—all Irish artists or architects. 

Dos & Don’ts:

Do: Buy a detailed street map to help navigate your way around the city.
Don’t: Assume you can reach Pittsburgh easily from abroad, although the new Paris flight on Delta should help.
Do: Take the time to explore the many different neighborhoods.

My favorite place in (or around) Pittsburgh is:

Fallingwater, in all seasons—it’s an architectural icon, although not all my architect friends realize exactly where it is. And the view from Mt. Washington. Another great place is the round booth at Kelly’s Bar in East Liberty.

How I find others from Ireland:

Occasionally Irish artists or architects come to the museum. Eva Rothschild was in the 2004-5 Carnegie International. The Dublin architect Valerie Mulvin lectured here in February 2008. And Niall McLaughlin, from Dublin, but now based in London, was in my Gritty Brits exhibition a few years back. I’m sure many visitors to the museum will remember Pete Corcoran (a longtime security guard at the Oakland museums), a genial Galwayman, who sadly passed away in December. John Carson, from Carrickfergus, is head of the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon and has invited both British and Irish artists to visit.

What I miss most about Ireland:

Listening online to RTE (Irish National Radio) keeps me up-to-date with what’s happening at home. Some evenings, colleagues have even caught me listening to the Dublin traffic report! When I go back to Ireland to a pub, I get oysters, Guinness, and brown bread.  Typically consumed during months with an ‘R’ in the name. 



Name: Jane Hyland
Age: 50  
Occupation: Scientific Illustrator/Preparator for the Section of Invertebrate Zoology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Birthplace: Ferntree Gully, Victoria, Australia 
Years in U.S.: 18 (all in Pittsburgh)
What brought Jane to Pittsburgh:  A visit to an English friend
Neighborhood: Greenfield

Jane Hyland came to Pittsburgh from Australia via London, on a whim. In the late 1980s, she decided to visit a friend who was studying at Carnegie Mellon. “London was all populated and dirty,” Hyland says. “I was getting tired of being a poor starving artist.”

She ended up coming back to Pittsburgh the following year to get a degree in art. A few years later, she began what would become a long and storied career as an illustrator and preparator for Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s bug department (i.e. invertebrate zoology) where she still works today.

Dos & Don’ts:

Don’t: Remove a cone, chair, bench, or other furniture from a potential parking space on the street. If I am lucky enough to park within walking distance of my house in Greenfield, I am thankful to the parking gods, and I do watch the neighbors’ “chairs” or “orange cones” for their saved spaces with amusement. When I first saw the practice of leaving nice kitchen stools and chairs out in the snow, I thought they’d been left out for the rubbish, so I initially took one home to give it a new coat of paint—until I was told very emphatically that “it was saving a space!” 

My favorite place in Pittsburgh is:

Going to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s studios to do the Saturday morning ballet class, followed by a trip to The Strip District for a cappuccino, and a walk up and down Penn Avenue to look at the people and the shops. Then I usually come to work at the museum to work on my illustrations, and then go up to the galleries in the Art Museum to see any new exhibitions. I also love the boat trips up and down the three rivers, where you get to go under all the bridges and marvel in amazement at their age and architectural majesty. 

How I find other Australians: 

My oldest English friend whom I came to visit in 1989 still lives here, but I have yet to discover an Australian contingent, where they hold their afternoon barbies…(throw another shrimp on the barbie, mate!). I would join in if I could find them.      

What I miss most about Australia:

My morning pilates stretch on the beach, followed by a dip in the sea with a neighbor who would come to swim laps. She would swim from our beach, and I would wait for her to do the two-mile round trip, just so I knew she hadn’t met with the local Bronze Whaler shark and hadn’t been eaten for his breakfast. I miss the helicopters flying around warning everyone to get out of the water if there is a shark in the area. I also miss the most consistently tasty cappuccinos in the world, and the Fish and Chip Shop where I’d get grilled flake and chips (French fries) and steamed Dim Sum with soy sauce for lunch. I also miss my family most of all, sitting in the backyard with my Mom and listening to the deafening roar of the cicadas in late summer.


Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, The Strip District

Name: Carla Andrea Leininger
Age: 44
Occupation: Talent Sourcing Analyst at PNC’s Human Resource Department
Birthplace: Brasilia, Brazil
Years in U.S.: 22 (all in Pittsburgh)
What brought Carla to Pittsburgh: My mom got a scholarship for graduate studies and chose the University of Pittsburgh
Neighborhood: Rosslyn Farms

Dos & Don’ts:

Do: Experience the Pittsburgh Cultural District. The programs are amazing and the gallery crawl is a lot of fun. You run into so many people and there are plenty of cool things to see and do.
Do: Visit The Strip District. La Prima has the best coffee in the world. Penn Mac has the biggest cheese selection I’ve ever seen.
Don’t: Think you can find a public pool open after Labor Day weekend, even if it’s 90 degrees outside. Be sure to have friends with pools instead.

My favorite place in Pittsburgh is:

AVA Lounge in East Liberty—on the last Saturday of the month, I deejay there. It’s a fantastic world music selection, where you can dance or just chill out and make new international friends. I love Jazz Live on Katz Plaza during the summer—free concerts, cool people, great weather in the heart of the city. It’s a great way to unwind after work. I love The Waterfront and South Side Works—they make me feel like I’m on vacation someplace else.

How I find other Brazilians:

We meet one another at parties and occasionally on the streets. But to help us get to know one another in an easier way, I created the website www.arrepiabrasil.org. There we can blog, find out what is happening on the calendar of events, check out pictures, and see the face of the community. Some folks from Brazil connect with the local community even before they land here and it makes the transition to a new country much easier.

What I miss most about Brazil:

I miss restaurants that offer homemade food by the pound. The selection is amazing and you eat what you want and pay by the weight. I miss the incredible pastries and the sweet breads with coconut fillings. I miss the Carnaval parties when we forget all our troubles and go to the streets to dance and sing. Every special occasion ends with a Carnaval parade. I miss the music. There are no Brazilian places to eat or shop in Pittsburgh.


Highland Park

Martha Agedew Vasser
Manager, Tana
Addis Ababba, Ethiopia
Years in U.S.:
Years in Pittsburgh:
What brought Martha to Pittsburgh:
College (University of Pittsburgh) and I stayed because “I married a guy from Pittsburgh.”
Highland Park

When she first came to the United States from Ethiopia, Martha Vasser lived in various Eastern seaboard states. So when she arrived in Pittsburgh, Vasser was shocked, and pleasantly surprised, by how friendly Pittsburghers were. “You get used to people not speaking to you when you walk down the street, so it was a little shocking coming to Pittsburgh and having people say ‘hi’ to you on the street.” It didn’t take Vasser long to adjust to the hospitality, or to her new city. After running an African art gallery, Abyssinia, Vasser now manages Tana, an Ethiopian eatery in the bustling Centre Avenue corridor of East Liberty.

Dos & Don’ts:

Do: Come and eat at Tana.
Do: Look at Pittsburgh with an open eye. Pittsburgh has a lot to offer. There’s a lot of history here. Even East Liberty, when you think about how far back it goes; the other day I was reading about the Gulf station, the first gas station in the world, was right here in East Liberty on Baum Boulevard.
Don’t: Ask a Pittsburgher to cross a bridge and take you somewhere. They’ll take you Downtown. Then you’ve got to catch a bus!

My favorite place in Pittsburgh is:

Highland Park. I live there and I love it. I love the park itself. I like walking there. I like watching my summer jazz concerts there, I walk around the reservoir. I like the community, it’s very diverse. You find all kinds of people there. When people come to visit, I take them to Mt. Washington, then I drive out to the airport and then come back through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. It’s the most shocking view of the city. I also take them to Kennywood. Why? I guess I have become a Pittsburgher—people have fun there.

How I find other Ethiopians:

Since we opened this restaurant, we’ve found more Ethiopians than we ever thought we would. We thought there were like 10 of us, but apparently there are a lot more. More are staying and making a home here than ever before. Why? I’m not sure.

What I miss most about Ethiopia:

I miss the people. They’re very hospitable; there’s a very family- and community-type feeling.


Highland Park

Name: Emanuele Cauda
Research Engineer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Birthplace :
Torino, Italy
Years in U.S.:
2.5 years (all in Pittsburgh)
What brought Emanuele to Pittsburgh:
A new job
Squirrel Hill

Emanuele Cauda was looking for a new start when, several years ago, he met some American researchers at a conference in Italy. They worked in his field—occupational health—and they liked his research. Would he consider taking a job in Pittsburgh?

Without knowing much of anything about the city, Cauda accepted a local position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he studies the health effects of diesel emissions on mineworkers. “I was pleasantly surprised about the city. It has really active neighborhoods. The presence of the universities really provide a lot of life.”

An avid hiker in Italy, Cauda got into rock climbing when he moved west of the Alleghenies. He hopes to get back into the sport soon. His schedule has been a little tight of late. His daughter, Teresa, was born last August in Pittsburgh.

Dos & Don’ts:

Do: Get out and enjoy the great parks, riversides, international people, and city neighborhoods like Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Lawrenceville, and Regent Square.
Expect too much night life and social events on the streets during the summer.

My favorite place in Pittsburgh is:

Every park. They are gorgeous. Frick Park, Schenley Park, Highland Park. If I need to relax after a busy day in the office, I know where to go. I like rock climbing at The Wall on Penn Avenue in the winter and at McConnells Mill State Park in the summer. There are some secret spots for rock-climbing five minutes from Pittsburgh—but they’re secret, so I can’t tell.

How I find other Italians:

With my ears. There are a lot of “just arrived” Italians in Pittsburgh. Many of them work at CMU, Pitt, or UPMC, and it’s not difficult to find them around Oakland, Squirrel Hill, and Shadyside. Italian people like to have fun outside and you can recognize them when there is a loud crowd in the street.

What I miss most about Italy:

Having a nice “aperitivo” in the summer. There are many places in Italy where you can have a beer on  a patio and eat small, really small appetizers, like snacks. It’s possible to find something similar in Shadyside and on the South Side, but the idea is slightly different. I also miss a nice late-afternoon or evening walk in the city. Downtown is becoming more appealing these days, but there is still room for improvement.

Also in this issue:

Poster Boy  ·  The Whales' Tale  ·  Insect Appellant  ·  Presidentís Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Now Showing  ·  Face Time: Jason Busch  ·  About Town: The Art of Change  ·  Field Trip: Virtual Field Trip  ·  Science & Nature: Robots Rule  ·  Artistic License: Word Play  ·  The Big Picture