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Celebrating Independence Day the Oromo way

By Ayantu Tibeso

Each year on July 4, Oromos in Minnesota gather in Minneapolis to celebrate America’s Independence Day. It is a tradition that started over a decade ago. This year, despite warnings to stay out of the record breaking heat, Oromos came out by the hundreds and did what they do every year on this date. New and old faces reunite at Riverside Park every year.

They chat and laugh over sizzling barbeque under trees and man-made shades, away from the scorching sun. Others engage in sports of their choosing: soccer, basketball or volleyball. Many discuss politics, as usual. Some advertise their businesses and sell cultural merchandises. Children cool off in the small swimming pool while adults watch on enviously wishing they could do the same.

Officially known as the Oromo Picnic,this year’s gathering was as lively and welcoming as always. Organized by the Oromo Community of Minnesota (OCM), the picnic is a social carnival that brings together more than a thousand people each year. OCM, a non-profit organization established in 1985, provides an array of services to the budding Oromo population in the Twin Cities and surrounding metro areas.

The organization also advocates on behalf of refugees and immigrants seeking asylum and resettlement in the state. With the Fourth of July event, one of OCM’s goals is to build bridges between Oromos and other communities. As such, the annual picnic brings Oromos together while also affording them the opportunity for cross-cultural exchanges with others.

Minnesota is believed to be home to the biggest Oromo population in North America. Oromos began arriving to the Midwestern state in big waves after 1992, when the EPRDF began a systematic crackdown on members and supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front. Since then, political instability and economic insecurity has pushed many out of their country. Thousands have relocated to western countries such as the U.S. and Canada as well as Australia and various European countries. However, the biggest population of Oromo refugees and immigrants remain in Kenya.

Marcos Bekuto, a longtime resident of Minnesota, described the annual picnic this way, “it has now become a ritual for Oromos to come together on this day. It is the only place we can come without anyone calling us.”

Every year, individuals and families come to Riverside Park, without waiting for any invitation. It is indeed a ritual, which has not been cancelled even once since it began. The organizers say the Oromo annual picnic is a tradition that will live on as long as Oromos continue to reside in Minnesota.

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