Exploring Africa in LA: A Little Ethiopia story (Part 3)
Written by Shaka Mali Tafari
Producers: Shaka Mali Tafari and Anyel Zuberi Fields | Digital producers: Crissy Van Meter and Andrea Domanick
If you’ve been following along with my journey into Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, then you may remember the various voices that brought this story to life. For this story, I recorded over 15 hours of interviews, and I want to share some of my favorite exchanges and let these voices shine.
What’s your connection to the African diaspora?
Art Director and Screenwriter
“Whenever you meet other Africans, it's immediate, like you're meeting your brother and sister. You never saw each other before but you're like, ‘Are you Ethiopian?’ and, ‘Are you Nigerian?’ Then there's this immediate connection. It's really beautiful. They feel proud when you tell them there's a Little Ethiopia here and [when I tell them my] family has a restaurant. They're like, I gotta come support you. It's just like this beautiful connection right away.”
Child of immigrants
HR Management, LA Native, Wife, and Mother
“My parents met in Greece. They both were born in Ethiopia. My mom was in her twenties, my dad in his early-thirties, and I think they spent a total of six years together in Greece. My mom got her nursing degree there. In the early 1980s, they found their way to Detroit, Michigan, where my uncle hosted them for a few months while they figured out what would be next in their journey here.
It's hard to get through life in this country, so I can't even imagine leaving your native country and going somewhere where you're not fluent in the language or the culture, and trying to make the best.”
Finding success in America
Owner of Messob, President of the Little Ethiopia Business Association
“When I came into the States, I spoke no English at all. I was going to school in Westchester. I used to run for Westchester [High School], and [I won the] championship. It was a big deal, [I never] ran before … but [I] won the city conference for Los Angeles. It was really great.”
Dr. Abraham K. Adhanom
Professor of Business and Entrepreneurship at Azusa Pacific University, Amharic and Tigrinya Language Instructor at UCLA
“I came to the U.S. in 1994 after receiving an international leadership grant to study here. But before I came, I was assigned to work as an engineer because during the eighties, there was famine and hunger. There were a lot of problems in Ethiopia and Eritrea, so we were starting to do some projects like a micro hydroelectric dam construction project, healthcare clinics, schools, and construction projects.
I was basically managing the engineering projects. I did that for about six years, both in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and although they call the micro dams, these are dams that employed 3000 people. [I] Was 21 years-old and I was in charge of managing 3,000 people.”
What does Little Ethiopia mean to you?
“Little Ethiopia, to me, means my vision and my hard work paid off.”
“Little Ethiopia is a meeting point to feel that little piece of home. If you've never been to Ethiopia, it can be like where you find home.”
“Little Ethiopia is something I'm proud of. Looking back, it's something that I'm more proud of today. Unfortunately, you don't really see much of other African cultures or countries really represented in neighborhoods like Little Ethiopia, so it was like the Hollywood Walk of Fame because that's where I was excited to go.”
Dr. Abraham K. Adhanom
“Little in Ethiopia is a place of belonging. That's where we all come together. I come here to meet friends, to enjoy culture, to see people who look like me, and speak like me. I come with my kids and my wife and we enjoy it. We have fun and it's a place that we can show all Americans, all African-Americans, and everybody can come and experience a little bit of Ethiopia, a little bit of East Africa. This is a place for us to introduce our identity, our culture, our people.”
How important is Little Ethiopia to Los Angeles?
Staff Writer at The Atlantic
“When I think about what makes LA special, what makes LA feel alive and vibrant, and pulsing and constantly changing, I'm thinking of Little Ethiopia. I'm thinking of places where people have, either come to the states or come to California or have been there for generations and come up through any number of hardships and difficulties and made something beautiful.
It was about their community and they invited other people in, and it's not lost on me what a big deal that is. And what a big deal for folks in that diaspora. I am always heartened by places where there are multiple little pockets like that – of groups that are different and overlapping, and just excited to be in one another's presence.”
Dr. Abraham K. Adhanom
“I think we need to do more to promote the value of culture, the value of history, and the value of globalization that little Ethiopia brings. Every Angeleno should come and experience the food, experience the coffee, experience the culture, the music, and everything. And with my students at UCLA, we try to come here once a semester, once a quarter. It's a cultural experience that you can only enjoy by being here.”
The future of the neighborhood
“I wish ambitious people like you and other young generations to come to build history about Africa, and history about Ethiopia.”
“My fear is that unless some young people come and take over the businesses – we might lose it. So [we] always discuss it. We have the Little Ethiopia Business Association.”
“I do worry about the legacy. I know my dad has that concern, and I've been thinking about that seriously. What will this place look like? It’s so scary because of how quickly neighborhoods like this disappear all the time without a trace. The community is doing a lot right now to preserve it. These are just like the facts of life – gentrification happens, rent goes up. A lot of these businesses don't own the land they're on, so it is really a scary thing to think about.
I'm still struggling to figure out what the future will look like because I don't want an LA where Little Ethiopia doesn't exist. LA and Little Ethiopia are synonymous, so it's definitely a concern I have. I don't know what the solution is, but I think we have a couple of years to figure that out.
[In the meantime] come support your local restaurants and your businesses here. Maybe there's an interesting solution where, maybe there's part-owners, or maybe there's a way to do this with co-owners. But there's got to be something for the next generation.
There are a lot of young entrepreneurs, like in the Habesha community, who are doing creative things – they're selling coffee, goodies, and imports from Ethiopia. They're starting to do this on Instagram, or on other types of social media, or on their website. [But] I think it's really important to have a physical space where people [can still come to and meet] in LA
[So] I don't know what the solution is yet, this calling to all young Ethiopians in LA to come out here, and we'll have a meeting and we'll figure this out. But there's definitely a way that young Black, and other African entrepreneurs [can be involved]. [But] there are interesting solutions that we haven't thought of yet, and we're open and receptive.”
Mr. Fekere Gebre-Mariam
Dr. Abraham K. Adhanom