Call it recognition, outreach or a small gesture from authorities in the District of Columbia, the Nov. 30, 2011 visit by representatives from D.C. Mayor’s Office on African Affairs to the Oromo Community organization is being hailed as historic.
According to the Mayor’s office, over 90 people were packed into the community house located at 212 3rd St. NW. for an information session about upcoming changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and to introduce the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program.
Ngozi Nmezi, African Affairs director encouraged participants to fill out the ‘we count initiative’ form before calling for a “continued outreach and collaboration” to understand and address the specific challenges the diverse African communities in the district face, the office said in a statement.
Representatives from the Department of Human Services and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, who were also in attendance, talked about upcoming changes to their respective programs as well as eligibility requirements, and where and how to apply for benefits.
At the conclusion of the event, all parties agreed on “the urgent need to bridge the gap between African immigrant communities and D.C. government agencies, as well as to arrive at an accurate count of foreign-born Africans in the area,” the statement said.
An estimated 150,000 African immigrants live in Washington D.C. metro area including parts of Maryland and Virginia. According to Trymaine Lee , a senior reporter at the Huffington Post, “Ethiopians represent the largest African immigrants in D.C. where one in every five black African immigrants is Ethiopian.”
The 2010 American Community Survey shows an estimated 173,592 Ethiopian-born immigrants live in the United States. Community leaders and the Ethiopian embassy dispute those numbers arguing that the number of Ethiopians in the North East region alone can top those estimates.
Ethiopians in D.C. area have been campaigning to rename the historically black Shaw neighborhood near ninth Street NW between U and T streets as “Little Ethiopia.” Their campaign has been stalled by a push-back from African Americans and divisions among Ethiopians themselves.
For the Oromo community in Washington, last week’s recognition was a milestone achievement. Americans have a romanticized idea of Ethiopia as the only African nation to escape colonialism. Ethiopian food is very well known around the states, perhaps more so in the D.C. area. But what is less known is the many contradictions and intricate political differences that exist among Ethiopians.
It’s the recognition of one of those many differences by the city’s Office on African Affairs that makes Wednesday’s event symbolic. Oromo people make up over half of Ethiopian population. Yet, the Oromos remain an oppressed and political marginalized group with little control over government and political affairs. Instead of lumping all Ethiopian immigrants together as one, including some Oromos who shy away from identify as Ethiopians, the mayor’s office broke a new ground. That signals a new beginning for the community setting a good precedent for other leaders around the country.