When some 234 years ago America’s founding fathers solemnly declared “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, it is unthInkable that any Oromo took notice, let alone imagine that America would one day become a beacon of hope and home for his descendents.
The Oromo are relatively newcomers. Like all immigrants they found the allure of the American dream, the idea that everyone is afforded a decent shot to a “better, richer, and happier life”, too powerful to resist. Even today, with a stagnant economy and the image of America in the international stage somewhat tainted by wars abroad and a foreign policy viewed as anathema to its defining values, daily, many dare to risk their lives to come to this shinning city on the hill, oblivious to the treacherous and arduous journey.
Oromo-Americans celebrated independence day with a sundry of feelings. On the one hand, with a jubilant mood of soaring excitement fired by the fireworks. On the other hand, with a naging question of how and when the 40 million strong nation celebrates freedom, much the same way Americans do, weighing down heavily on their spirits.
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The Oromo Picnic, now a 10 years old tradition, is a premium social event, a reunion of friends and a day kids look forward to, to play and have fun with friends – in the open amongst kin, savoring berbecue. And telling by the important fact that the grill kept busy all day long, spiced by an Oromo tartar sauce, soon to grace the shelves of local supermarkets, it is an ocassion of great enjoyment.
The picnic is organized by the Oromo Community of Minnesota (OCM), arguably the largest and the premier Oromo community organization anywhere. The picnic draws more than any other Oromo event in North America. An array of sports, Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer and track and field, for whom the Oromo are famous, the legendary Abebe Bikila and many Ethiopian runners are fellow Oromos, beautified the event along with music blusting from makeshift tents, endowing the atmosphere the feel of a festive African village celebrating a rare bumper harvest and giving thanks to a fuitful hunt.
In most societies immigrants are outside the perimeters of the mainstream, often a maligned, insecure, and misunderstood community. Not so in America. The sea of Oromos in all their diversity roaming the Riverside Park in Minneapolis on this day had the look of a people perfectly at home, confident and every bit as devoutly patriotic Americans as anyone could possibly get, not to mention passionately Oromo. Seeing it is like witnessing the flower of the American spirit in its freshness, beauty, and vitality.
Despite its punishing winter Minnesota has been home to Oromos since 1970s. The war, drought and famine of 1980s swelled their number. The largest influx however did not arrive until after 1992 when the incumbent EPRDF regime, dominated by the Tigrean minority, unleashed a relentless war of attrition against the Oromo majority, ostensibly to root out the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the first and only pan-Oromo party. Today their estimate in the Twin Cities runs upwards of 30,000.
Ethiopia in general and Oromia, the Oromo homeland, in particular, as in the past, suffer from rampant human rights violations, lack of an independent judiciary, free media and a vibrant civil society, much remnicent of Stalin’s rule, where even the laws are weapons of oppression. Elections are held but only as a facade for tyranny. The irregularities of the last poll on 23rd of May drew a strong US and European Union condemnation, after a 99.6% win for the ruling pary, in power for 20 years, more a Sadam era farce than a genuine election.
The Oromo presence is being felt in Minnesota. This recognition is not lost, especially on vote-hungry politicians such as Matt Entenza who pitched for his run for governor.
Remarkably the day went without incident, testimony to the law-abiding nature of the people, to whom, as their proverb says, “the law is more precious than ones children.” The allusion is noteworthy as it shows how central the concept is to their psyche. No wonder children outnumbered adults 3 to 1 in the July 4th celebration.
For pictures please follow this link: http://opride.com/foto/index.html
* Mohamed Ademo is a graduate of U of M Duluth and a freelance editor at opride.com (contact: email@example.com).
* Hassen Hussein is a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology with MBA and a democracy and human rights advocate.