Daily Archives: April 5, 2014

Voices from the margins: Young Oromos Speak

This is the first in a series titled Voices from the margins: Young Oromos Speak dedicated to amplifying the experiences and perspectives of young Oromos in the diaspora in their own words.

My first experience of becoming interested in Oromo identity as a form of personal study began when I took a class in African popular culture. I decided to write a paper on Oromo identity in the diaspora and the responsibility of those living outside of Ethiopia to bring global consciousness to our heritage. A constant theme within this is the role of telecommunications development over the past few decades which have created a virtual village which connects Oromos in Ethiopia and abroad.

In terms of my experience as an Oromo person in the diaspora, I feel that outside of my family and friends, my interactions with Oromo identity has been established through social media networks which have allowed me to keep up to date with the latest Oromo news, connect with organizations and activist groups as well as share knowledge.  My use of the media has given me access to new understanding of my heritage and allowed me to distinguish myself from the overarching identity of being an ‘Ethiopian’ while living in Canada. Whether we like it or not, once we enter a host country we are viewed as an Ethiopian, not by choice, but by circumstance.

My parents did not land in Canada with an Oromo passport, but with an Ethiopian one. I have heard many Oromo before say that it is just easier to say they are Ethiopian when explaining their identity to an outsider – that saying they are Oromo isn’t met with legitimacy. But I think that just because Oromia is not yet a state does not mean that Oromo identity should be relegated secondary to Ethiopian identity.

My personal goal as an Oromo in the diaspora is to learn how to write in Afaan Oromo.  One of the key things that I have learned from Toltu Tufa’s recent language campaign is the importance of the ability to write in Afaan Oromo, something we sometimes forget is an issue especially for Oromo children born outside of Oromia.

Many of us who have grown up in the diaspora can speak in Oromo, but have not been formally taught how to write in it. Personally, both of my parents left Ethiopia well before the language reforms of the 1990s and neither are able to write in Oromo with great fluency.  I have come across many people that are ashamed to say that they do not know how to read or write in Oromo – but I do not think this is something to be ashamed of. The ability to access resources to develop Afaan Oromo as a written language is still a new phenomena, both in Ethiopia and abroad. Oromos in the diaspora of all ages should feel empowered to learn Oromo orally and through written word.

In the end, my personal embodiment and representation as a self identifying Oromo has its roots in my immediate family but has grown through my own search for other Oromos in the diaspora. I am proud to identify with my ethnic heritage and I feel that I have a responsibility to contribute to the growth of Oromo cultural expression and heritage. One of the great things about living in Canada is my undeniable right to freedom of cultural expression. This is a right that I am grateful for especially when I realize the ongoing struggle of Oromo identity within Ethiopia.

However, I also understand that my privilege has limitations. I myself have never lived in Ethiopia and I cannot speak of oppression from firsthand experience. I speak through the experiences of my parents and other elders around me who came to Canada from Ethiopia in later years. Yet this does not take away from the fact that I believe that Oromo in the diaspora carry a large responsibility in facilitating Oromo cultural renaissance.

Young Oromos in Diaspora

Young Oromos born and/or raised away from Oromia, Ethiopia, have a wide range of experiences and perspectives.

However, they share the same longing for belonging, identity and community. They have nagging questions about identity and belonging, about history, and the past as it makes ghostly returns. They seek for resources to make sense of their families’ violent relationship with Ethiopia and define their own relationship to histories that shape their worlds in ways they often do not understand. So they ask questions. Many of these questions remain unanswered.

Young Oromos in the diaspora long for frameworks and lenses through which they can understand and make sense of the past, and through which they can imagine a better future. In the absence of physical spaces and resources for making sense, many turn to social media, and other online spaces where they often find contradictory and colliding information/relationships/frameworks. They come face to face with Oromos who have different understanding of history and identity. They come face to face with Ethiopians who refuse to recognize Oromo identity. They come face to face with themselves. For many young Oromos, the search continues, for the search is about identity, belonging, security and empowerment. The search is about life. 

About Bissy Waariyo

Bissy Waariyo was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She is currently completing an undergraduate degree at York University double majoring in Political Science & African Studies.

She is focused on studying how States incorporate or oppress ethnic identities within their political spheres and how peoples oppressed within their state are able to form cultural identity, belonging, and citizenship through digital avenues, i.e. the Internet, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other social networking mediums. Ultimately, Bissy’s goal is to become a professor of African Political Economy. 

Follow Bissy on twitter @BissyLansaa

{ Send an email to oromusings@gmail.com or on twitter @oromusings to add your experience and perspective to the series }

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