Ethiopia: How it happened
by Azeb Tadesse & Meron Ahadu
A perspective from the people
behind the idea
By now, most people have heard
of Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, a place named for
its unique ability to put forward a serving of Ethiopia. Along
with the news, there have been many speculations on how this event
came about and what it took to visibly acknowledge the essence
of the area. As with most things in this world, Little Ethiopia
began as a notion. Over a 10-year period, a number of Ethiopian
restaurants and specialty store businesses slowly began to relocate
to a strip on Fairfax Avenue. The neighborhood was soon transformed
from an abandoned boarded up drive-by strip into a hub for community
life, buzzing with colors, aroma, and affability of Ethiopian’s
ancestral home. As years passed, Ethiopians and Angelinos began
to label the area as “Little Addis”, “Little
Ethiopia”, and “Ethiopian Restaurant Row”.
The notion began to take hold
after PBS aired a segment of Huell Howeser’s popular “Our
Neighborhood” show entitled “Little Ethiopia”.
Meron Ahadu, co-author of this article, was the tour guide for
that segment and the show got its title from the fact that the
strip offered visitors a slice of Ethiopia.
The chain of events that led
to the fruition of Little Ethiopia began when Meron Ahadu and
Tirsit Asrat organized a fundraising for Congressman Mervyn Dymally,
who played a key role in the mid 80’s in helping Ethiopians
get amnesty. At the time, he was running for a seat in the California
State Assembly. Unfortunately, the turnout by the Ethiopian community
was disappointing. Nonetheless, it was at this event that the
idea of Little Ethiopia was put forth and the Congressman pledged
women came together to plan another benefit for the Congressman
with a goal to get better participation from the Ethiopian community.
It was at this time that the need became apparent to form a non-partisan
organization that stood for an increased involvement of the Ethiopian
community in the U.S. democratic process. Hence, the Ethiopian-American
Advocacy Group (EAAG) was established. In addition to raising
funds for Congressman Dymally, the function held on July 26, 2002
was the launching ceremony of EAAG. Various city and state officials
attended this highly successful event. One of the short- term
projects presented at this occasion was Little Ethiopia and it
won the support of Herb Wesson, Speaker of the House for the California
State Assembly, and Councilman Nate Holden of District 10, where
Little Ethiopia was proposed to be located.
August 7, 2002, the motion to name Little Ethiopia was presented
to the Los Angeles City Council. Consequently, as a result of
aggressive lobbying of several political personalities by EAAG
members, the City Council voted unanimously to designate the area
on Fairfax Avenue, between Olympic and Pico, as Little Ethiopia.
The enormous support and candid enthusiasm of the City Council
members and the larger Ethiopian community came as a pleasant
surprise to many, even to those who worked on the project. A highly
successful street festival organized by the community followed
on November 24, 2002, to inaugurate the area as Little Ethiopia.
A one-block stretch of Fairfax was closed to through traffic for
a street festival featuring children’s village, cultural
dance and music, fashion show and contemporary Ethiopian music.
Approximately 5,000 people attended the festival from all walks
of life and congratulations were received from around the globe.
City officials and community leaders unveiled the sign designating
the place as Little Ethiopia and thus the area was renamed bearing
event was truly significant in many respects; firstly, this was
the first time in the entire history of the United States that
a city has recognized an African country by naming an area after
it. Secondly, Little Ethiopia is the only place outside of Ethiopia
that bears the name of the motherland. As one drives through the
area, it is difficult to ignore the official sign designating
the area. In that respect, it indicates that Ethiopians have arrived,
are here to stay, and have stood up to be counted as vibrant members
of the City of Los Angeles. Finally, yet importantly, this is
a legacy for the next generation of Ethiopian-Americans. They
will not be burdened with the task of establishing their identity
but will have a footnote in the history books to refer to as they
strengthen and build their presence in the U.S. and aboard.
is quite overwhelming to realize that a deed at the local level
should have such a universal significance. However, this only
bears witness to the importance of engaging one’s surrounding,
and begs the question: what can be accomplished if we focus on
our commonality by setting aside our differences? What could the
65,000 Ethiopians in Southern California do if they join forces?
How about the more than 500,000 Ethiopians in the U.S.? Better
yet, what could a coalition of a couple of million African immigrants
accomplish? EAAG hopes we will find out in our lifetime.
Azeb and Meron
Azeb Tadesse and Meron Ahadu are members
of the Ethiopian-American Advocacy Group (EAAG), the organization
that successfully lobbied the Los Angeles City Council to rename
the Fairfax Avenue strip, Little Ethiopia.