casa san jose

Casa San José helps immigrant families preserve holiday traditions and embrace new ones in Pittsburgh

Photo above by Nazym Jumadilova used by permission via Unsplash.

For many Latinx immigrants to the Pittsburgh region, including those who gather at Casa San José, the winter holidays are very different from the celebrations they’re accustomed to in their home countries.

When you’re far from home, the loss of familiar traditions can ramp up your homesickness. There are different songs, different foods, different events and ways of celebrating. Those changes can make the holidays feel unfamiliar and unsettling to some immigrant families. The staff at Casa San José, a resource center for Latinx immigrants, have developed specific programming aimed at helping families feel more at home in Pittsburgh during the holiday season.

Kidsburgh talked with José Ochoa, youth specialist at the nonprofit about some of the ways they help families new to Pittsburgh to enjoy the city this December. The center has about 30 families that participate, and has been focusing on helping with holiday traditions for the last four years.


Ochoa encourages families living away from their home country to share their customs and culture with friends and neighbors that they’ve met in Pittsburgh. “A good example might be the Day of the Dead celebration and how it’s widely known in the country now,” Ochoa says. Along with talking about their culture, it can help immigrant families and their new neighbors if they experience communal celebrations together.

“Being inclusive of the festivities,” he says, helps people “stay in touch with our heritage.”

Sharing with new friends can help immigrant families to retain their traditions. And it deepens the cultural experience for the city as a whole, as new ideas are incorporated into the city’s cultural fabric.


Casa San José also helps families build new traditions here. Most of the families they serve come from countries in warmer regions of the planet. So snow is a new and magical experience during the winter holidays.

“It’s really beautiful and even if it comes with the cold, some families seem to enjoy it a lot together,” said Ochoa. Many families also enjoy learning about and participating in the festivities around the city. But they sometimes need a bit of help to navigate them. Market Square and PPG Place can be overwhelming even for native Pittsburghers when these spaces are packed with visitors each December.

The decorations and customs of a new city can be exciting, even if they are different. The staff and volunteers at Casa San José have taken groups to Light Up Night and ice skating at PPG Place. They’ve also hosted snowball fights and introduced everyone to sled riding, which our hilly, cold city is perfect for.

Over the next few weeks, they are sponsoring several events to get the families they serve into the holiday spirit: An ornament-making event is happening at their Beechview location on Dec. 11, and they will take a group of high school students to ice skate at PPG Place on Dec. 18. In January, events at the Andy Warhol museum are planned to introduce immigrant families to Pittsburgh’s artistic icon.

For immigrant families who want to attend events with Casa San José, or for native Pittsburghers who want to volunteer to welcome new families, Ochoa invites everyone to contact