Cafe Con Leche helps Pittsburgh's Latino community meet wider audience
Tara Sherry-Torres is a welcoming soul.
Making people at ease is one reason she founded Cafe Con Leche, a company that hosts events bringing together members of Pittsburgh's Latino community, as well as those who want to learn more about her heritage through food, music, dance and art.
Her next event is Feb. 28 at Most Wanted Fine Art in Garfield. After that, she will team with New Voices Pittsburgh, based in East Liberty for the play “Yo Soy Latina,” written by Linda Nieves-Powell, on March 14 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.
“Cafe Con Leche is about building community, learning about Latino culture, a space for dialog and problem-solving,” says Sherry-Torres, a Bloomfield resident whose mom is from Puerto Rico and her Polish father is from Ohio. “I have been shocked at the response, which to me, shows people are interested in learning about other cultures. Cafe Con Leche has been a great way to welcome new people to Pittsburgh.”
She came to Pittsburgh from Brooklyn in 2008 to study for her graduate degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh and decided to stay and, in turn, promote Latino culture.
Sherry-Torres has a way of combining art and cultural events to create an avenue for dialogue about social issues, says Bekezela Mguni, director of programs and strategic partnership for New Voices Pittsburgh.
“Tara is really energetic, and she loves Pittsburgh,” Mguni says. “She is so friendly, and she knows about a lot of different things. She has a really diverse background, and she is open to a lot of different types of people.”
“Yo Soy Latina” is part of the eighth-annual New Voices Pittsburgh Women of Color Herstory Month. The play will focus on the challenges Latino women face and help people understand that Latinos are multi-layered.
Karen Goldman, assistant director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, which is hosting its 35th annual Latin American & Caribbean Festival on March 21, appreciates the spontaneity of Cafe Con Leche.
“It's held in nontraditional venues and is pulling in not only members of the Latino community, but others as well,” Goldman says. “It is not easy doing what she is doing, but she makes it look easy, and I think that is great. I love that she is doing this because we are very much interested in promoting all kinds of Latin-American and Latino culture in this city.”
Sherry-Torres, a social worker and community organizer, hopes to work with companies on how Cafe Con Leche can assist immigrants and to connect them.
“Tara's events are great because they get people to come together, and it's an awesome way to network and learn about a new culture or taste a new food,” says Keyla Nogueira Cook of Hampton, a Brazil native who caters some of the events. “Everyone feels welcome because Tara is so inviting. She is open to all people from the minute she interacts with them. She is all about the community and wants to share with everyone.”
It began in January 2014, when Sherry-Torres was a resident artist at Most Wanted Fine Art in Garfield. Her project, Cafe Con Leche, came out of love for her Puerto Rican roots, a craving for good Spanish food in Pittsburgh and a desire to bring people together to break bread while enjoying music, art and dance. She envisions creating a place where different parts of the city converge in the same way.
Her events, which have attracted as many as 200 attendees, include a celebration of the African roots of Latino culture, as well as The Amazing Plantain where poets, musicians, spoken-word artists and dancers performed their craft and told of why they loved the plantain so much.
Cafe Con Leche is supported by the Sprout Fund, Most Wanted Fine Art and Bloomfield Garfield Corp.
“We never stop learning, and we need to empower our children at a young age to talk about their heritage and their lives,” says Sherry-Torres, who speaks English and Spanish and understands Portuguese and Italian. “Three percent of the population in Pittsburgh is Latino, and that number is growing. I feel like Pittsburgh needs what I am doing. Culture is in our blood, and it is important to feel a connection to it, to be able to tell our stories. People have told me this is what they have needed, and I hope it inspires others to tell their stories.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7889.