Twin Cities, MN: BelAhdan with Janet Curiel, Once Upon Oromia .. a story of a Oromo community

November 1, 2012


I am an ESL teacher in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where I also reside. I have been teaching for 15 years, primarily in this community. I have worked in family literacy programs as well as teaching adults ESL, which is what I do at this time.

I have two sons, one who is 26, who lives in California, the other is 17, and he lives with me.

I enjoy my work with East African students and I enjoy their stories. I also feel it is important to write down their stories, both traditional and of their lives, so they will not be forgotten, especially for their children. Many aspects of their lives are embedded in these stories and the traditional stories have been a way to teach values and culture to their children.

don’t know how familiar you are with the Oromo community in the Twin Cities. They are often mistaken for Somalis here but their story is very different. They are the second or third largest group of people in the continent of Africa, with the third mostly commonly spoken language. In Ethiopia, they comprise the majority of people,maybe a little over 50% of the population, and yet, they are treated as second-class citizens at best. At worst, they are tortured and killed by the Ethiopian government.

They come from an ancient and unique, egalitarian system of government, but much of this has been lost since the Ethiopian government, aided by weaponry from European countries, conquered them in their own land in the late 1800′s. Since that time, they have lived as serfs or worse. Many of my students, who are adults, fled their country as refugees. Many are victims of torture from the Ethiopian government.

In my years as an ESL teacher, I’ve come to know them well and I appreciate many of their attributes, including the warmth and closeness they share with one another and those who are their friends. I am concerned with the stories which many of them have shared with me and I believe that as Americans come to know them, as people who are unique from other East Africans, there is a greater chance for them to at last be free in their own land.

Again, I would be delighted to share more if you would like me to do an interview for your show. Another idea would be for someone in the Oromo community to appear on your show. If you would like, I can certainly give you contact information of an interested person.