Neglected Identity – A Special Issue of Biftuu – Barii: Seenaa as Sanait
By Seenaa Jimjimo* | April 10, 2014
Even though my story is not as compelling and thrilling as the story of “Chaltu as Helen,” I still find it perplexing to see some Oromos introduce themselves in two characters. Perhaps, you are wondering what I am referring to. Let me take you through the story. It was just this past Sunday; I ran into a beautiful young Oromo woman. Just after she had walked in through the doors with her husband, she introduced herself to me with a typical Habesha name. I couldn’t pronounce her name, but I introduced myself as well. With excitement on her face, she told me her real name was … (let me just say, another typical Oromo name). Now, I am not in any way denigrating her for falling short of stating her real name to herHabesha friends; I was rather heartbroken and saddened by the fact this happened too often.
It is no surprise to me, as it is no surprise to you, that there are too many Oromo men and women who simply want to blend with Habesha identities easily by neglecting who they are. In fact, I have no problem using the name Ethiopia to define where you have come from. I understand it is the easiest and shortest thing to say to non-Ethiopians, and to receive warm welcome from your best “Habesha” friends, whom some of us dearly want.
However, have you considered the other side, the damages you are causing? Perhaps not; if you have done that, I believe that you will most likely make a better choice. The simple statement of your Ethiopianizationdoes not only renounce your Oromummaa, but it also leads you to lose the priceless opportunity to teach your true identity to others. Your statement makes you to acknowledge that you are indeed just another Habesha from that country. Remember the notion of “Ethiopianization” will force you to lose the noble opportunity of becoming a role model to the young generation, that looks up to you and to your peers, to claim who they are as Oromos. You know more than anyone, your people and your nation were (are being) persecuted and killed for simply being Oromos. In fact, most us come to this country claiming the Ethiopian government persecuted our parents or us ourselves.
I recommend each Oromo person to speak your mother tongue aroundHabeshas. For some reason, the best-friend, whom you have known too well, will show you their different side, the side you have never thought they have in them; perhaps, you already know that, maybe that is why you want to avoid bringing up your identity. For me, I have seen it too many times;Habeshas acting surprised that I am an Oromo, and that I don’t speak their language, or even worst, giving me the “eye” because I have announced I am proud to be an Oromo.
On the other hand, I’m a witness to the changes in the country so calledEthiopia. It was just eight years ago that the Ethiopian embassy staffer thought it was funny an Oromo person requested for a translator. Eight years later, I have witnessed great changes and pride to be an Oromo. Here at home, where I have lived for over half of my life, I have met so many young Habesha men who claim to be mixed/half-Oromos. Perhaps, some of these men are motivated to get my number; nevertheless, it makes me happy to know that the once-illegal identity has finally become a popular thing. I just want to acknowledge those changes have come with so much blood and struggle of the Oromo.
While our battles are far from being over, I would like to state that I understand the argument some of us (Oromos) make. Some of us will say, “Our problem is not with the name Ethiopia, rather the Ethiopian government, or even worst, not the Ethiopians, rather their leaders.” I say to you that the name Ethiopia and the government are one and the same. Whether it is the Tigrayan or the Amhara leaders, or their kin foot-soldiers, all have committed the same crimes against the Oromo. When their leaders mutilated and murdered our innocent men and women in such places as Aannolle and Calanqoo, their kin foot-soldiers supported them. Even today, over a century later, their kin foot-soldiers celebrate the leader that had committed numerous crimes against humanity against the Oromo people. Habeshas want the millions of Oromo lives lost by their genocide to be forgotten; our identity to be lost so we can accept Ethiopianization to become Amharas when they dream wildly. Remember, not a century ago, but today, Oromos are still being persecuted for simply being born as Oromos.
Amazingly, here in the West, far away from home, they still seem to control some of us with their spell. The American saying goes, “if it looks like a pig, smells like a pig and tastes like a pig, chances are ‘it is a pig’.” Remember, if we talk like them; dress like them or name our kids like them, then we have become them. The difference between them and us is just our culture, language and religions. With so much complexity in modern religions; truly, it is just our culture and language that differentiate us. In 2014, Habeshas expect us and our kids to speak their language. When we don’t, they ask “Why?!” – as if we are one and the same; worse, they make us feel inferior as we have failed to learn some important language. More importantly, we fail to ask them how come they don’t speak Afan Oromo when they were born and raised with Oromian milk and honey. What happens to the audacity, learning the culture and language of the country you reside? Of course, that does not apply to the Habeshas; they are the “chosen.”
The hardcore that I seem …
To give you an example of my experience, which had led me to who I am today, I would like to take you back to the Spring of 2013. As a last year graduate student in small town Illinois, I ran into a group of students – some of whom I knew, and others new faces. As I got close to the group of students, I noticed an unfamiliar face speaking directly at me in the language that seemed too familiar. Shortly after he had finished his statement, I told him that I did not speak that language. Angry and disappointed as he was, he walked away really fast. Everyone in the group (six people to be exact) smiled. Two second later, he returned with more of his language. Again, I said to him, “no offense, but I think I have told you I do not speak that language.” A good friend of mine, who knew me for almost three years, said, “I told you; she is not an Ethiopian; she is an Oromo.” Surprised and amused, he started laughing.
My colleagues and friends were so surprised by his act; they asked if we knew each other. While I understood my colleague’s confusion, I knew too well what his real aches were. I walked away with a smile on my face, saying to my friend, “clearly, he has a problem.” My friends shook their heads in agreement. Later that evening, two of my colleagues told me some of the things he was saying about me. He said, “He knows I speak the language, but I am trying to act American.” What he did not realize was that those people knew me, way long before he came, and everyone who had a chance to interact with me either as a classmate or a Student Representative (a Senator at Large) knew that I was always Oromo. Even though he failed to learn I was Oromo from his fellow classmates, the following week I taught him a lesson he would never forget. I am sure he had taken the lesson well, and he would never violate anyone else’s identity.
We are in America – the land of the free. It should not be up to someone, like the guys I mentioned, to tell us who we are. No one should define you; that time has passed. We should never alter our identity to please someone, and become something we are not. To some of us, it is time we face our darkest fear. There are far too many of us that believe in being Oromo, but continue to claim someone else’s identity. Our reasons might be different, perhaps many, but if not now, then when? Always remember, you can only overcome your fear only by facing it. To go back to my “little friend,” he later tried to tell me that he was in fact an Oromo from his dad’s side. He didn’t speak the language because he was born and raised in “Addis.” I think we all know what that means.
If you have read this far, you are probably wondering why I am writing about this now. I guess my answer would be, it is because of my recent encounter with the young Oromo lady whom introduced herself asHabesha, I mentioned above, and the place this month holds in my heart. I am not sure if everyone knows what the month of April represents. As the saying goes, it is no brainer to know little about your history. April 15th is the day all Oromos should remember. It is Oromo Martyrs’ Day, or the day we commemorate those who had fallen while paving the path to freedom for us. If you cannot celebrate this day for whatever reason, it is your duty to remember the men and women who sacrifices their precious lives to survive our identity, which we enjoy today. It is your responsibility to educate your fellow Oromos and non-Oromos what this day means to you and your people. The best way to represent your identity is through culture; culture is best kept by practice. As an Oromo, if we cannot agree on everything politically, I am certain that we can all come together to celebrate the national April 15th.
Happy “Guyya Gootata Oromoo!”
* Seenaa Jimjimo is an Oromo Activist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org