Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Kids seen during the eighth annual Ethiopian Day Festival in Cambridge, held Aug. 5 in Danehy Park. (Photo: Mera Mera)

On a beautiful Saturday in Cambridge a group of Ethiopian kids wave their bright green, yellow and red-patterned flag with enthusiasm, singing a song about unity and love. They put smiles on the faces and hope in the hearts of a crowd gathered to celebrate the eighth annual Ethiopian Day Festival, held Aug. 5 in Danehy Park.

The kids are students of Enku dance studio, which was established by the Massachusetts Ethiopian Support Association with a mission to connect first-generation Ethiopians to their heritage and culture.

Aklog Limeneh, the board secretary of Mesa, said the festival is beyond entertainment, sports and food: It is about bringing Ethiopians together despite their differences. He also believes events such as this set a good example for the young generation, teaching them the importance of being involved and serving their community.

According to the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, more than one-sixth of Massachusetts residents are foreign born, and they have more than $31 billion in spending power annually. Massachusetts immigrants earn $42.9 billion a year and pay $8.4 billion in state taxes. The estimated 12,000 Ethiopians of Greater Boston are part of this community, and they are growing in number. They are hardworking people building churches, businesses and social organizations.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia has been through a brutal civil war that brought tensions and animosity among ethnic groups even in the diaspora community in the United States and all over the world. It was healing to see Ethiopians from different ethnic backgrounds enjoying the Aug. 5 festival with respect and tolerance toward each other.

“I was so glad to be able to attend,” said Steve Owens, the state representative for parts of West and North Cambridge that includes Danehy Park as well as Rindge Avenue. “Cambridge has always been a place that thrives on its diverse population, and the vibrant Ethiopian community enriches the social, economic and cultural fabric of our city. The families and individuals who have come from Ethiopia have overcome challenges and built lives here, contributing to the growth and prosperity of Massachusetts. It was an inspiration to celebrate that community on such a beautiful summer day.”

David Weinstein, a Cambridge School Committee member, attended as well, getting a chance to meet or reconnect with neighbors. “I deeply appreciate that the Ethiopian community has welcomed me to events such as this one,” he said. “I want every community in Cambridge to know that their hopes, concerns, questions and ideas are important to our public schools. We’re fortunate to have a large and active Ethiopian community in the Cambridge Public Schools, and events like this help us build important relationships and understanding – while we enjoy great food, great music and family activities.”

Aboma Dirbaba, a bilingual liaison coordinator of Ethiopian languages in Cambridge Public Schools, said he was happy to find at the festival an American mother and a son adopted from Ethiopia 20 years ago, when he was just 2. “They came all the way from New Hampshire to attend,” and Dirbaba said he was able to tell the adopted son “things that he did not know” about his culture and heritage.

There is still a lot to be done to help newcomers feel at home in the Ethiopian community, Dirbaba said, expressing hope that more Ethiopians join Mesa.

“I am glad to see this event creating an opportunity for people to get to know each other, for agencies to promote their services to our community, and for kids to enjoy the games,” said Tesfaye Sileshi, event director of Mesa. He thanked the Cambridge Special Events Committee, police and Danehy Park staff for help making the festival happen.

We live in a society where most communication happens on social media. We text each other, but most people do not come out of their comfort zones to have this kind of real human relationship.

Although social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a pivotal role in mobilizing the Ethiopian community for different social and political purposes, research shows that online connective actions do not develop to durable networks and communities necessary for attaining a sense of agency and empowerment in a community.

Events such as the Ethiopian Day Festival help people start a conversation about what is going on in their community and how they can solve their issues. In the words of Mesele Kifle, president of Mesa, “We do not have time to dwell on past mistakes and bitterness. Instead, Mesa works hard to help Ethiopians come together for a brighter future and celebrate their way of being Ethiopian.”