Askale Yigletu is one of the many immigrants who have settled in the North End neighborhood of Saint Paul in recent years. She arrived in America with her two daughters on September 7, 2001, four days before the terrorist attack on the United States. She says, “I was lucky that I came before September 11.” Some of her friends and relatives were scheduled to come to the United States shortly after she did, but their trips were canceled after September 11, and they had to remain in their homeland of Ethiopia.
This article was originally printed in the North End News in October 2006. It is republished with the permission of the author.
When she first arrived in this country, Yigletu worked as a volunteer for Catholic Charities. She taught Basic Adult Education for four years, and she serves as an Oromo and Amharic interpreter for different organizations and offices.
She has worked to co-ordinate and connect adults in her community with an organization that trains individuals to create their own jobs and how to find other ways to help themselves. Yigletu currently works with English Language Learners (ELL) at Arlington High School. She is a graduate of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, East Africa, and received her Masters degree in 1994. She taught in Ethiopian high schools for ten years. She became the first person to teach the Oromo language at Addis Ababa University, and taught there from 1994 until 2001. While at the university, Yigletu had the opportunity to prepare an Oromo language exam for the Ethiopian Secondary Schools Leaving Certificate (ESLC). This was monumental for the Oromo language to be included in the package of the ESLC, which is the entrance for universities and colleges in Ethiopia.
When Yigletu first started teaching the Oromo language there was no prepared material so she had to develop everything from scratch. She also taught lexicography (principles of writing, compiling, and editing a dictionary), language, and society.
Now, Yigletu and a partner have written a dictionary which includes the English, Oromo, and Amharic languages. Oromo and Amharic are the main languages spoken in Ethiopia today. Since Yigletu and her writing partner work in the schools, they saw the struggles that the ELL students were having. She says, “I always think about the problems that ELL students face with the language barrier.”
During the school day, Yigletu travels from class to class, assisting students where she is most needed. However, as she says, “I cannot cover all the classes.”
Yigletu believes that the dictionary can help teachers and students alike. Teachers can ask the students to look up a word in the dictionary, to help the student better understand and get the exact meaning of a word. The dictionary is compact in size, and students find it handy to carry around.
Yigletu is happy to be living in the United States, where she values the freedom of speech that we sometimes take for granted. In Ethiopia she felt discrimination to the point she could not practice her culture, and could not speak her language. Even the highly educated are treated with suspicion by the government, and ethnic groups are not treated with equality unless they are part of the ruling class.
Why did she choose to come to Minnesota? Yigletu says she talked to friends who had already come to Saint Paul, and they told her that the education system here is a good one, and they encouraged her to come. There are many other people form Ethiopia who have settled here and Yigletu says it is “good to be with people you know and like. ” She also commented that immigrants are treated well here, and she finds the people in Saint Paul to be friendly and accepting.