Oromo : Shame on the US Census Bureau – Urgent Action Needed.

By Oromsis Adula*

Compared to previous years, the US Census Bureau tasked with conducting a census survey every deccenial has increased its outreach to minority groups through effective use of social media, partner community organizations and colorful pamphlets in a language other than English. In March, pre-count letters were sent out to every household in the country. Some people have already started recieving the census forms in the mail.

It is even more encouraging to witness the Oromo Community of Minnesota, Oromia Youth Association, Oromia Student Union and Oromo Churches in Minnesota taking decisive steps to encourage people to participate in the count. For example, last week, Arfasse Oromiya sent out an emailed addressed to Oromo media outlets urging people to be counted as Oromos.

In a widely circulated email, Arfasse wrote, “If you are an OROMO make sure you are counted as one on the 2010 Census Survey. It will help in getting a more accurate count and getting our voices to be heard.” The email was immediately available on multiple Oromo email list-serves and facebook groups that cater to Oromos. The email has also sparked a lively  discussion on Oromian National Academy email list serve. Responding to Arfasse’s email, a member wrote, “…my fear is a lot of Oromians may count themselves as Ethiopians. To avoid such misrepresentation, Oromo media, community and youth organizations should aggressively campaign on this”. Within days, not only was the  email plastered all over facebook, I was getting a flood of emails from as far as Canada – all urging me to “BE COUNTED” as an OROMO.

In a pamphlet available in several languages on the 2010 Census website, the Census Bureau stresses the importance of being counted as follows,

Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. And people from many walks of life use census data to  advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent  diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more. When you do the math, it’s easy to see  what an accurate count of residents can do for your community. Better infrastructure. More services. A brighter tomorrow for everyone. In fact, the information the census  collects helps to determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and [other] services.

As I was preparing to create a step by step video instruction (found at the bottom) on how to fill out the census form, I recieved a shocking urgent email from a friend. I was taken aback and felt speechless, as prehaps many people were. My initial favorable view that the efforts by the census bureau was a reflection of America – the compassionate, diverse and inclusive was averted.

My friend wrote,

Oromo community members in Minnesota have encountered yet another challenge to the Twin Cities Oromo, as well as Oromos everywhere in the United States. I am sure that we have overcome this type of century-old challenge in Oromia, as of 1991.  As everybody knows, March /April, 2010 is the Census Season in the US.

Community leaders in Minnesota have, therefore,  been encouraging all community members to fill and return Census Forms on time. Those who seek jobs have been encouraged to apply and interpret for non-English-speaking Oromos. It was at this juncture that some Oromo applicants were surprised by an unexpected derogatory name for the Oromo,  ‘Gala’, found on Census job application print-outs. This happened a couple of days ago, but the existence of such defamation/mis-representation spread very fast, and staff and Board members of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, as well as concerned community members, started calling the St. Paul, Minnesota Census Office expressing their outrage and demanding explanation of how this could happen.

The explanation the State Census office tried to provide was that the mistake is from the 6-States/ Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas/Regional Computer data base, which is in Missouri. Further follow- ups, however, identified that this was not a Regional problem confined to these States only, but nation-wide problem. Some people have thus contacted the Central /National Census office/tel. #’s: 301-763-7774, 301-763-3030, and 310-763-3691/, only to find out that they are trying to fix the problem, but that it may not be corrected for the current 2010 census’. that is to say; the name “gala” will stick for an indefinite time in the US Census data base!

This calls for immediate action by all concerned, without delay! The Contact phone number for the Public information Service regarding Census: 301-763-3030.

Background :

For starters, Oromos are the largest ethno-national group that make up an overwhelming majority of Ethiopian population. For far too long, Oromos  suffered economic marginalization, and political persecution , referred to as Gala, a derogatory term aimed at dehumanizing them. Gala is in Ethiopia what a “nigger” is in the United States – an offensive term used in reference to African Americans. Thanks to the countless martyrs, the  Oromo freedom fighters and activitsts, the Oromo has overcome that social segregation and defamation.

In this day and age, it is therefore, an affront for the Census Bureau for not detecting the “error” beforehand. It is even grieviously offensive to assert that the “mistake may not be fixed for the current census”. This hateful term brings back a memory of oppression and a life marked by a century of humuliation. To escape such social segmentation, Oromos were once forced to hide their identity by changing their names and adopting a foreign identity. This regretable “mistake” then serves as a reminder that those days are still with us — even in a country where Oromos sought safefy and freedom.

To verify the complaint and look more into the matter, I browsed the 2010 Census website to only discover that the informational pamphlet available in many African languages including Amharic, Tigrigna, Somali, and Kiswahili is not available in OROMO. In terms of the number of speakers, Afan Oromo comes in third after Hausa and Arabic in Africa. The Unites States is home of the largest number of Oromo immigrants outside of Oromia.

I therefore call on the Census Bureau to fix the said “error” and non-Oromo Americans to stand in solidarity with Oromo people in urging the bureau to take an urgent action in correcting this appaling oversight.

Please call congressional offices in your respective area of residence.  Here is how you can do it in three easy steps.

Step 1 : Call the public information service number (301-763-3030), state your full name and where you are calling from.

Step 2: Express your concern as follows; I am calling to express my concern over the use of an offensive term Gala in the census database in reference to Oromo people. I appeal to your office to urge the bureau to urgently correct the mistake.

Step 3 : Thank you!





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Collaborative stories written or reported by OPride staff and contributors.

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