Rochester Ethiopians vie for more visibility – Reuters
ROCHESTER — Although home to around 500 Ethiopian families, the Ethiopian community in Rochester has had little visibility.
The Ethiopian community in Rochester, Minnesota is working to change that. An Ethiopian heritage day on Saturday went a long way to changing that, organizers said.
Hundreds of people attended the inaugural event at the Rochester Art Center.
“We must come together to show our faces, one to each other and two to everyone,” said Yit Mirete, a native of Ethiopia and a resident of Rochester. Mirete was one of the ECRM members who organized the event.
Mirete said visibility is key to being part of a community and contributing to its culture.
“We love our coffee, we love our dress, we love our colors,” he said.
“It’s not just poverty we have,” Mirete added. “We have dignity, we have culture.”
Mirete’s daughter, Eliana Yitbarek, ran a vendor stall selling food, clothes, jewelry and other items. Although she was born in the United States, her parents, who are both from Ethiopia, ensure that she knows about Ethiopian culture and traditions.
Vendors sold food, clothing and cultural objects. Volunteers demonstrated how to roast, grind and pour coffee.
In a nation that contains an array of cultural identities, more than 80 spoken languages and around 200 dialects, coffee connects them all, Mirete said.
“The whole neighborhood comes together for coffee at least once a day,” he said.
Minor differences between cultures matter less for Ethiopians living in the United States
“We have different ways of doing everything,” Yitbarek said. “Here, we are like a family even if we don’t know each other.
It’s another common thread that crosses cultures, it’s a welcoming attitude towards visitors and foreigners, said Zeni Aly, another organizer of the event.
Neighbors’ homes are open to each other and to strangers, Aly said.
“You don’t need an invitation,” she said. “You just introduced yourself.”
Aly said the same spirit of sharing was behind Saturday’s event.
“We can’t bring everyone home, but we can bring some of it here,” she said.
Gatahun Tebeka, another ECRM member and organizer of the event, said the group intends to hold the event every year.
“It’s a learning experience for us,” Tebeka said.
Lessons are not just for event planners. Food vendors at the event have the opportunity to gauge local interest in Ethiopian food. If interest is high enough, more experienced cooks might consider opening an Ethiopian restaurant, Tebeka said.
It’s something Mirete said in hopes that the Ethiopian community will one day add to Rochester’s already diverse food culture.
“As Africans, we have to bring our flavors, our differences here,” he said. “It’s all about visibility.”
The Diversity Council, United Way of Olmsted County and an event grant from the Rochester Downtown Alliance helped ECRM organize the event.