We commemorate the 30th Year of the establishment of the Oromia Student Union (formerly known as the Oromo Students Association) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to honor those who paved the way for us – pioneer and determined Oromo nationalists that scarified their time to uphold Oromo struggle through educational excellence. With that promising hope aimed at ending the oppression and injustice against the Oromo people, they implanted an enduring pride in our hearts; sacrificing their lives for our freedom, they fought for us and thought us how it feels to fight for others.
These heroes and heroines inspired us to take individual steps and follow in their footsteps to lead the Oromia Student Union (OSU). Today, thirty years later, we remain firmly committed to the objectives OSU leaders put forth at the time of founding that hard work and commitment is only way to win in the two most pressing combat fronts (struggle against injustices and illiteracy). This year’s commemoration is geared around honoring these noble public servants and bringing their wonderful work to light.
In 1980, Oromo Relief Association of North America (ORANA) was formed at the University of Minnesota by a pioneer Oromo student who just transferred to the University the pervious year. The communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam had been in power for about four years when the pioneer nationalist left Oromia in 1978. The situation was very bad. Nationalist Oromos were being harassed and detained. Many of his close friends and contacts were thrown into prisons and only few managed to escape to the Sudan and other countries in the region. He proclaimed his freedom the moment he got off a flight that took him through Denmark and Sweden on July 2, 1978.
He arrived in the United States on September 12, 1978 and started his studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, Minnesota. There were about ten African Americans and he was the only Oromo at the college. He would look forward to his once in six or eight weeks’ visits to the Twin Cities to spend time with the four Oromo nationals, two of whom had families.
In the summer of 1979, he transferred to the University of Minnesota to join the Institute of Technology. He would get together with the Oromo nationals and their families almost on weekly bases. Those weekends were filled with activities, like going to the lakes and playing soccer or simply eating together, mostly at the two families’ homes. They would listen to Oromo music and talk about the subjugation of their people in Oromia. They were the first members of the Oromo community of the Twin Cities area.
While walking around the University campus or studying at the library, he came across some Ethiopian nationals threw questions like, “Tenayistilign, Habasha nahi?” at him – roughly translated, greetings, are you Habasha?” The founder of ORANA recalls, “…as a matter of fact we did not escape from such questions whenever we went to places like shopping malls. Whether your answer was, “aiydelahum Oromo negn meaning no I am Oromo out of politeness or simply act as if you did not understand what they were saying, you would be laughed at or receive a very nasty look.”
As time went by, he and his Oromo group started talking about what to do about the situation back home. Through individual contacts they heard about the existence of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) in Africa and Europe. Looking at the situation of that time, they agreed that forming a relief association and helping Oromo people would be more fruitful. Thus, they formed the Oromo Relief Association in North America and started actively campaigning for Oromo people at churches, schools, and human rights working groups and at many civic group gatherings.
This pioneer soon recognized that the University of Minnesota provided support for student associations. The problem was that members of such associations had to be at least three students but he was the only Oromo student. Two of the four Oromos had already graduated from the University and one was taking only a class or two at a time. The fourth Oromo was studying at a private college. Two international students from the Middle East who were his friends were more than willing to bridge that gap and he was able to register ORANA as a student association at the U of M. Meeting places and assembly halls became available to the group. Soon he registered to use a display window at the main entrance to Coffman Memorial Union. After waiting for over five months, ORANA got a chance to use it. They displayed flag, Posters of Oromo Women, books about Oromia, and many cultural materials and artifacts in the locked glass display case for two weeks. It generated tremendous pride in the Oromos on campus but anger and disbelief for the Ethiopian students at the University, as well as within the Ethiopian community in the Twin Cities. In short, it became the talk of the town for a while.
What did ORANA accomplished under Founders’ leadership?
- Members campaigned and found sponsors for many Oromo refugees from the Horn of Africa, and the first group of Oromo refugees (three men and two women) arrived in 1981. That continued for many years.
- ORANA collected used clothing and medicines and sent it to Oromo refugees in Djibouti and Somalia in 1980 and 1981.
- Over a certain period of time, two American friends and two Oromos traveled to Djibouti and the Sudan to visit ORA’s activities and OLF’s operations from eastern and western zones. They brought back audio and video materials and many good and concerning news, which helped the members of ORANA tremendously.
- ORANA started participating (1981) in the annual celebration called the Festival of Nations and took part in dancing (Hawwisoo Kiilolee Oromia – 4 members, no women) and cultural displays. After five years on a waiting list, they eventually started selling food at Oromo café. They won prizes three times (1st prize once) at the cultural exhibits. Three men performed their first Oromo dance performance in front of about one thousand people.
- ORANA became a member of the Union of Oromo Students in North America (UOSNA) and traveled to Washington DC for a weeklong conference for the first time, in 1980.
- Organized the first Oromo Forum in Minnesota held in the Twin Cities in 1983, when UOSNA had its first conference in Minneapolis.
- ORANA released a recorded audiocassette of Hawwisoo Kiilolee Oromia in 1981.
- Published a magazine called To’ataa Oromo regularly.
- ORANA sent letters of invitations to Oromo struggle leaders to facilitate their travels to attend UOSNA yearly conferences.
Recent leaders of Oromia Student Union were motivated by the principles of the organization. These principles are;
a) Help Oromo students throughout the country in setting up local chapters of Oromia Student Union in institutions of Higher education.
b) Create networks with Oromo students, professionals and community members.
c) Contribute to the struggle of self-determination for Oromos and the advancement of Oromo culture and society by means of working towards the academic excellence of Oromo students.
d) Help each other become culturally responsible professionals.
e) Provide a support group for students entering institutions of higher education by facilitating tutoring, mentoring and other programs.
f) Assist the surrounding Oromo Community by organizing educational awareness programs such as workshops, college fair, career day and conferences.
g) Provide a forum for speakers to make presentations of timely issues of interest to members on contemporary aspects of the Oromo people and their land in Oromia.
h) Organize social activities and events for the membership.
i) Raise awareness about the Oromo people on this large University campus.
Current OSU activities
a) OSU participates in an annual African Nite to represent Oromia among other African Nations, and showcase Oromos heritage and the diverse culture of Oromo People.
b) OSU hosts freshman and Transfer students welcoming events in order to empower high school students,
c) Organizes a Pre-college workshop where professionals with different educational backgrounds provide high school Oromo students with different information about higher education. The admission office of University of Minnesota partially sponsors the event.
d) OSU members volunteer at various high schools throughout the Twin Cities to help Oromo students after school and in classes.
e) Sponsors recreational activities like summer picnic (summer of 2009 with Oromia Youth Association, and Oromo United soccer team). Winter jam, bowling and other activities that bring young Oromo students of different backgrounds.
f) In spring of 2009, Oromia student Union started an event called ‘Oromo Awareness Day’. This event features the history, culture and struggle of Oromo people for self determination. In spring of 2010, OSU will be hosting Oromo Awareness Day in collaboration with International Oromo Youth Association and Oromia Youth Association of Minnesota.
OSU’s relationship with other student Organizations on Campus
Oromia Student Union works closely with student organizations such as the Somali Student Association, Black Student Union, and African Student Association, Al-Madinah Cultural Center, etc.
OSU has become one vibrant student organization and was recognized by the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) where July 28th 2007 was proclaimed as the “Oromo Student Day” at the University of Minnesota. For the first time, OSU has given special recognition to its founder after 27 years during the 2007 Annual OSU Dinner; secured office shared space at Coffman Union, and received the most publicity from the Minnesota Daily.
The extraordinary performance of OSU on U of M was convincing enough that OSU secured exclusive office space on Coffman Memorial Union in fall 2009. The current OSU board and members are working hard on bring back the memories of 30 years on January 25, 2010 at Mississippi Room (321) Coffman Memorial Union. We would like to take this opportunity to extend our invitation to everyone to join us celebrating this dignified day.
Oromia Student Union Board
300 Washington Ave. S.E. #226 F
Minneapolis, MN 55455
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org