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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Why can't we be Ethiopian first?

Samuel Gebru
For the past months I have mentioned on my blog and other venues that the Ethiopian community in the diaspora is seemingly more divided than it is united. I also mentioned how our divisions are over superficial things that have over-occupied the lives of our self-appointed theorists and human rights activists, who, by the way, tend to do more damage than repair.

Lately, I have been following up on various Ethiopian organizations established in the diaspora that are led the youth and adults. What I have noticed is quite interesting—although not surprising. Ethiopian organizations in the diaspora that are led by youth are usually much freer from the disgusting and harmful divisions that apparently divide our diaspora community. The adult-led organizations tend to focus heavily on ethno-regional matters and refuse to look at the bigger picture.

To our diaspora youth community, being Ethiopian is something to be really proud of. Its no secret that a lot of us when asked to fill out our race check the “Other” box and write “Ethiopian” instead of check the “Black/African American” box. When asked in school if we are black, most of us respond: “I’m Ethiopian.” Regardless of whether I think this is a good thing or not, I don’t notice this attitude from adults and the adult-run Ethiopian organizations.

A lot of Ethiopian adults in our diaspora community associate more of a bond with their ethnicity than being Ethiopian. It is very good—and important—to know and celebrate one’s ethnic heritage. As a Tigrayan myself I have always encouraged other Tigrayan youth to learn about the open-air museum we come from. However, what I have not and will not encourage is the separation of a particular history or culture from the multicultural mosaic we call Ethiopia. The way most adults in our community have been using ethnicity is to enclose ourselves into small cabinets without realizing we live in a kitchen.

Ethnic community organizations and community centers have sprouted all over the United States, Canada and Europe doing more harm than good. Many youth wonder why we don’t see each other on regular occasions and why it is that Ethiopians only get together when someone dies or is married. For instance, recently I went to a wonderful wedding that saw a cross-section of Ethiopians—politically, religiously and ethnically. It was an amazing occasion, far better than any exclusive ethnic event.

Surely there is no straightforward answer to solving this problem of building ethnic enclaves in the diaspora. Nonetheless, just like a government has different departments and agencies all working in coordination with a same statement of being (i.e. Constitution), Ethiopians in the diaspora should work to simply create ethnically, politically and religiously inclusive Ethiopian Community Associations that service the direct needs of people. As for charitable activities in the homeland, these Ethiopian Community Associations could be able to create concurrent projects in different regions of Ethiopia based off the demographics and interests of their members.

Ethiopian youth in the diaspora have bypassed waiting for the adults to act. Organizations and student campus groups are popping up regularly all over the world with Ethiopian students eagerly ready to help any region. You even have Ethiopian students fundraising in collaboration with Eritrean students for each other’s homeland—ironic? There’s a joke that Ethiopian and Eritrean youth create “Habesha” student clubs in their schools so their parents wouldn’t object working with “the enemy.”