Photo courtesy of Allegheny Unitarian Universality Church
Coro Latinoamericano perform at the Allegheny Unitarian Universality Church in Central Northside.
By Neil Strebig
A dozen various accents ranging from Cuban, Venezuelan, Columbian, Spanish, and Puerto Rican harmoniously fill the kitchen of Central Northside’s Allegheny Unitarian Universality Church on Sunday evenings. Admist a group of smiling Latino faces, vino pours and galletas vanish. It certainly isn’t a routine church service. It isn’t a wedding. It is a familia.
Familia, the Spanish word for family, is the essence of what the group, Coro Latinoamericano, is; a multi-cultural Spanish-speaking choir consisting of 15 members from over seven different nations.
“I missed my Spanish speaking community in Boston; I felt disconnected like a balloon floating. This is my family,” choir member Maribel Pintado-Espite said. “This has been my GPS, my map for Spanish speaking communities.”
Pintado-Espite is of Puerto Rican descent and lived in Boston for 32 years before settling down in Allegheny West.
The Bostonian transplant is one of many Spanish-speaking Pittsburghers that the Coro Latinoamericano has helped reconnect with their native cultures. Members come from all corners of the globe, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and even a few members that aren’t of Spanish decent.
“Music is a universal language,” Joan Kimmel, a non-Spanish speaking member of Croatian-Italian lineage, said. “How can you not like Latin music? We’re practically singing and dancing.”
The club was founded by Venezuelan director, Daniel Marchán, in 1997, and over the years their fundamental message of spreading diversity, understanding and appreciation “uniting the Americas” through music has not changed.
“There’s no real Spanish-speaking community in Pittsburgh,” current director Andrea Aroaz said. “It is very important, merging with Spanish speaking cultures.”
Aroaz lives in Mt. Lebanon, but her family is originally from Cuba. She stressed the importance of the choir as a sanctuary for members like Pintado-Espite; it offers them a place to connect with their roots.
Maurillia Silva-Torres, a Spanish professor at Point Park University and founding choir member, spoke out on the issue, explaining that even though, “There’s a Latin community in Brookline, in the beginning it was mostly just students, who came and left.”
“The choir is one of the most important assets in the Latin community because we approach a lot of people,” Silva-Torres added.
The Allegheny Unitarian Universality Church, one of Pittsburgh’s most progressive establishments for worship, is a fitting spot for a club that has such universal appeal.
The church relationship was “serendipitous” and they wanted to leave a larger “footprint” on the community, Executive Director Kenya Dworkin said.
“The acoustics are fantastic.”
Dworkin, a native New Yorker with Cuban roots, also teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, and understands the influential power of music.
“The arts have a transformative potential. If they’re open to everyone and they’re open to the community, they attract the community in different ways,” Dworkin said.
While the club focuses on music, all contributors admit the group means so much more than just songs.
Dworkin admits that the Coro Latinamericano is symbolic of what the Northside is currently going through; a fight of perception.
“The non-Hispanics that joined the choir, they come with a hunger to learn Spanish and Hispanic culture,” Dworkin said. “It’s a social experience.”
The club also helps youth promote acceptance and understanding of various cultures through its affiliation with CORITO Children’s Choir, an Oakland-based outreach program helping children and Spanish-speakers learn English through music.
“By practicing we learn,” Silva-Torres said.
She stressed the importance of understanding not just music, but how important communication is amongst the members. They come from all different backgrounds, but they all share in the struggles of learning music and new cultures.
“We need more people to make the community,” Aroaz said. “The continuity of the people is important.”
The Coro Latinoamericano will be performing at Pittsburgh’s annual Latin American & Caribbean Festival March 19 in Oakland.
For more information about the club visit the official website. The choir practices 5-8 p.m. every Sunday at the Allegheny Unitarian Universal Church located on 416 North Ave. in Central Northside.