Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reporter reflects on family heritage in Pittsburgh during G 20

When my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Augustin Fehrenbacher and his family made their way from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1830s, the landscape that greeted them were vast rolling hills prime for farming.

Farming was something the Fehrenbachers from Kappel am Rheim knew something about.

As more and more of them made their way to Cambria County and other areas and towns outside Pittsburgh to set up farms and begin new lives in America, somewhere along the way their last name would change to Farabaugh, and so would some of their vocations.

All Farabaughs around the world come from one of six Fehrenbacher brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century, at a time when western Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the United States, was about to enter the Industrial Age. Pittsburgh would be a sort of Ground Zero; the manufacturing home of steel that would build railroads and buildings from Youngstown, Ohio to Spokane, Washington and all points in between. With the promise of work and money, Farabaughs from around Western Pennsylvania would migrate to the city to work in the mills, or in other jobs that sprung up as the city grew into an industrial hub. Farabaughs would join other Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbians, Croatians, and dozens more ethnic groups in a wave of immigration that changed the demographic of Pittsburgh forever.

While some Farabaughs would stay on farms and in the rural counties, Pittsburgh would become the city where the largest concentrations of our family would call home.

So when the jobs in Pittsburgh started to dwindle as the cities manufacturing status began to change, Farabaughs dispersed throughout the country and the world. Farabaughs could now be found in Pueblo ,Colorado, St. Louis, Missouri, Los Angeles, California, and other cities that offered the promise of jobs and security that could no longer be found in Pittsburgh.

My own family's migration placed us outside Chicago in the late 1980s.

So when Pittsburgh began to reinvent itself, many of the Farabaughs, including my family, were no longer in the area. Banks, hospitals, and technology firms bought up buildings and real estate downtown, and brought different jobs to Pittsburgh.

And with those jobs came a new wave of immigration. When I returned to the city this week to begin coverage of the G20 Summit, I was surprised to learn that Indians form one of the largest foreign-born populations now living in Pittsburgh. 12,000 Indians now call Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities home, and are the latest ethnic group to make their mark on a city that has long depended on immigrants to fuel its prosperity.

Kannu Sahni came to Pittsburgh in the 1970s as the city was in the infancy of its rebirth. Originally from India, the promise of good jobs and a family-friendly city were attractive qualities that kept him here. Now, as his own sons have left the city to attend college, he hopes that they might return, attracted by the attention Pittsburgh continues to receive not just during the G20 summit, but also from the success of sport teams in Pittsburgh, like the Super Bowl champion American football team the Steelers, and the Stanley Cup Hockey Champions the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sunil Wadhwani came to Pittsburgh in the 1970s to attend the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. After completing a graduate degree, Wadhwani chose to stay in Pittsburgh where he formed a technology company. Now called iGate, Wadhwani now employs over 6,000 people worldwide, and maintains his company headquarters in Pittsburgh.

These are just two of thousands of stories of the people who now form the backbone of the workforce in Pittsburgh. The transformation from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs continues today, and is at the center of Pittsburgh's story to the world that the international media is covering during the G20 summit. The city of Pittsburgh hopes to use the Summit as a vehicle that brings more business to the area, and with them, more jobs.

While there are still manufacturing jobs in the area, the universities and hospitals are now the dominant employment engine in Pittsburgh. Looking at the downtown skyline of Pittsburgh, the names of different financial institutions now mark the tops of most buildings in the downtown area.

The continuing rebirth of Pittsburgh is an attractive quality that is bringing people back to their hometown, a city frequently cited as "The Most Livable City" in the United States. It is a story my own family can relate to.

My parents moved back to the area ten years ago, and both of them work in fields that now define Pittsburgh to the world - banking and medicine.

While the prospect of jobs and closeness to family is an attractive draw, I myself have no plans to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh. I'm happy to return to visit family and to cover news stories like the G20 occasionally, but Chicago is home to my Farabaugh family. But no matter where I live, I will always cheer on my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite even a recent loss the to the team in my new hometown, the Chicago Bears.

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