Changing demographics

Changing demographics

Colorful lions make their way through Squirrel Hill as part of the Lunar New Year Parade.

Photo by Jim Busis
Colorful lions make their way through Squirrel Hill as part of the Lunar New Year Parade. Photo by Jim Busis

What’s red, inclusive and all uphill? The Lunar New Year Parade on Murray Avenue. The Squirrel Hill-based pageant, which tied up traffic on Sunday, featured music, marching bands, detailed costumes, dancers and, of course, dragons.

Attendees saw the event as a symbol of what Squirrel Hill has become.

“Squirrel Hill is a great venue for this,” said Paula Riemer. “I think it’s great. I love that Squirrel Hill has become so multiethnic.”

Changing demographics necessitated recognition and celebration in a neighborhood that has long been associated with the Jewish community, said Jordan Golin, chief operating officer at Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, which helped spread the word about the event.

“The Asian community, and specifically the Chinese Asian community,” he said before the parade, “has been growing significantly in Squirrel Hill over the past decade.”

Raymond Baum, president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, agreed.

“In the past they haven’t been so large,” he said. Now, “they’re growing, and they’re getting noticed.”

Golin and Baum’s claims are confirmed by prior censuses. According to the 2010 census, Squirrel Hill (which, although colloquially considered one neighborhood, is technically divided between Squirrel Hill North and Squirrel Hill South) consists of 26,473 residents. Among those, 79 percent are white and just under 14 percent Asian. In the 2000 census, Squirrel Hill’s then 25,902 residents were categorized as 82 percent white and 10.5 percent Asian.

“Since we are the organization that supports immigration and reform, we need to celebrate and promote diversity,” said Jeffrey Freedman, president of JF&CS. “We just thought that celebrating the Lunar New Year was a wonderful way of underscoring the culture of mosaic that exists in this city.”

The Lunar New Year began being celebrated in China thousands of years ago and is today celebrated across East Asia and in East Asian emigrant communities around the globe. Pittsburgh’s celebration was the brainchild of Alec Rieger, founder and executive director of NextGen:Pgh, and was actualized through a partnership between his organization and JF&CS.

It was a “pretty thrilling” collaboration, said Rieger, who thought of JF&CS as a natural fit because of its work with assisting immigrants in the city. “They’re the Ellis Island of Pittsburgh as I see it.”

For the past several years, Rieger has wanted to bring the celebratory event to Pittsburgh.

“Every major city has a Lunar New Year Parade,” he said.

But he also believed that more effort was needed to welcome and integrate Squirrel Hill’s Chinese and Asian communities.

“My thesis was we weren’t including the community in the larger community,” he said.

After several months of planning, Sunday’s parade presented a festive tribute for the several thousand spectators and hundreds of participants.

Along with traditional Chinese lions, a marching band, musicians, local politicians and ethnic dancers proceeded up Murray Avenue to the shouts of cheering spectators.

“What a turnout,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “We have a significant Chinese American population in Pennsylvania, and to see so many people come out is great.”

“The turnout is absolutely incredible,” added Pittsburgh Councilman Dan Gilman.

Spectators noted the cooperation between ethnically diverse communities.

“I love the juxtaposition of the Chinese cultural music and dancing with the Allderdice band. It’s just amazing,” said Eileen Freedman, who was standing near the corners of Murray and Bartlett.

Several feet away, Raye Coffey remarked, “It’s about time we honor the Chinese, especially since we have so many Chinese restaurants.”

For others, the parade offered a long-awaited welcoming gesture.

“I grew up on the West Coast and we celebrated this every year,” said Marian Lien, SHUC’s executive director. “This is a realization of a dream for me. This is my dream come true. Now I’m at home in Pittsburgh.”

Equally complimentary was Dr. Freddie Fu, grand marshal of the parade, who, like hundreds of others, was dressed in bright red colors.

“I’ve been here 41 years and waited 41 years for this,” Fu said.

“I haven’t seen anything so festive on this scale,” added his wife, Hilda Pang Fu. “[This] helps the whole Squirrel Hill and gives exposure to Chinese merchants.”

Even Squirrel Hill’s newest residents embraced the merriment.

“You could get here right before the parade starts and get a space. You don’t need to camp out five hours before,” said Judith Adelson, who with her husband and family recently relocated from Long Island, N.Y.

Added her husband, Rabbi Seth Adelson, “There was nothing like this in Great Neck.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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