Talking to D.C.'s Immigrants
By Joan Muwahed and Ana Claudia Chacin
September 24, 2018
Insecurity and oppressive regimes have led many vulnerable people to migrate to the United States throughout recent years. The Ethiopian community are among those who have made their presence known in D.C.
When we hear the word “immigration” on the news, it’s almost always tied to policy changes, laws or President Trump. It’s vital for immigrant stories to be shown in a different light and highlight the core of immigration, the people. The aim is to share stories of how and why a community immigrated to D.C., and how they ultimately assimilated, or did not.
The focus of this issue would be on the following communities:
Because D.C. has a large density of Ethiopians in the region, the focus will be mainly on their community. Although El Salvador has the largest immigrant population in D.C. when it comes to Latin Americans, we thought shedding light on the Venezuelan diaspora in D.C. would be also interesting.
That way, we would have different perspectives on immigration to the U.S., and different experiences to relate and compare.
The enterprise story we will be focusing on will be a description of three immigrant groups in D.C. that have immigrated due to insecurity and oppressive regimes in their countries.
Two of the countries that have been established in D.C. as a large immigrant community are the Ethiopian and Salvadoran communities. The story will compare those immigrant populations to that of Venezuela’s in D.C., which has a much smaller community.
When meeting with several people, we established connections with different communities such as the Ethiopian Community Center in Silver Spring. The Ethiopian community is very concentrated in the Silver Spring region, so it was a good location to find sources.
Ethiopian Community Center
Salem Beede, 27, is the Ethiopian Community Center’s program coordinator. Beede is an immigrant herself, and now seeks to help other immigrants assimilate in D.C.
Her family came to the U.S. five years ago and she completed her education in D.C. Beede explains that Ethiopians often come to the U.S. fleeing political unrest in their country and to seek better opportunities than those offered in their home country.
Beede added that this is why the Ethiopian Community Center is important. She said her job entails organizing events that help immigrant groups assimilate to the environment in D.C.
The community center services Ethiopian immigrants with english classes, computer classes, resume services, immigration form advice, and translation services.
Beede’s work ranges from organizing events to helping clients understand immigration forms.
Beede said the organization also partners up with the government when they have health care sign-ups every Tuesday with the Department of Human Services.
The center reaches out to businesses so that they have enough information to relay to their clients.
She said, “Currently we are working with the department of employment services and we are giving public education on D.C.’s wage law for both employees and employers.”
Amaretch Alemu, 67, is an Ethiopian immigrant who now volunteers as the Ethiopian Community Center receptionist.
Alemu explained that her son petitioned her to move to the U.S. and the process was not as rigorous as it is for other immigrants. She came to D.C. 12 years after her son moved to the city.
In Ethiopia, Alemu was an accountant, but she said that in the community center, where she has been for the last three years, she has been doing linguistics.
Alemu’s daily routine involves translating English articles and helping fresh immigrants understand how to read bus and metro directions.
Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
Another place that Ethiopian immigrants and other communities can come together and receive guidance is ECDC. ECDC serves the African immigrant and refugee community in the U.S. through a broad spectrum of local and national programs.
Nezia Munezero Kubwayo is a Burundian refugee and works for ECDC. She said that most of their immigrant clients come in seeking microloans.
“Many immigrants benefit from that service,” Kubwayo said.
She said there are some immigrant and low-income community members who go to the Economic Development Group to get loans and start their businesses and they are later addressed to ECDC to help complete their loans.
The council also helps immigrants apply for jobs. Kubwayo said there is a program that helps immigrants connect with community and government services that they may need.
ECDC also does many events to bring the immigrant communities together, she said. There will be an open house for people to learn more about ECDC and how they can receive help.
She added that the council’s goal is to help immigrants integrate into their new communities and become self-sufficient.
For the feature video section, we would first like to focus on events held in those communities that help bring immigrants together such as job fairs, cultural events, and music festivals.
We have looked at possible events that will take place within our time frame and have some options available such as a talk by Jantilla Inc, that will speak about the Ethiopian diaspora.
There will also be a fundraising gala for Ethiopians and an African diaspora entrepreneurship summit in October. ECDC will also hold an open house for immigrants to find out more about their programs and how they can receive help.
Another possible feature video would be the story of an Ethiopian restaurant owner. We spoke to Getu Amde, 51, who owns and manages Nile Ethiopia, a restaurant in Silver Spring.
Amde moved to D.C. in 1985. He previously managed his brother’s restaurant, and now owns his own as of five years ago.
He said that the Ethiopian community in D.C., “makes it feel like home.” Amde said he specifically likes managing his restaurant because Ethiopians come together and he gets to socialize with them there.
Although Amde moved when he was only a student, he still cares about the state of Ethiopia and tries to send his family money when he can.
Our Multimedia feature can be used with mapping. We can show a map of the D.C, Maryland and Virginia area and highlight where the Ethiopian community resides mostly. With further research, we can also illustrate how those communities scattered or dispersed over the years and where they ended up.
Overall, this feature will help indicate where certain immigrant groups in D.C. are concentrated, placing emphasis on Ethiopia, Salvadoran and Venezuelan nationalities as these will be the main focus of our issue.
We can also feature videos of those events and create an interesting package. Photos and audio would be embedded as a part of this story to bring the viewers closer to the people featured and the events happening.
Sidebar stories we have considered are immigrants that are white-passing. We would focus on their experiences immigrants in D.C. in comparison to other immigrants that have a harder time blending in.
From the video we showed in our first pitch and shown below, we could use Andres Castillo, the communications representative for Vision Democratica, who spoke about how his experience is very different from that of other immigrants because of the way he looks, highlighting the fact that he passes as an American.
Also, this would include a feature on the ex Venezuelan political prisoner that we showed in our first pitch exercise. We met Francisco Marquez, executive director of Vision Democratica, a D.C. based NGO that studies and connects the Venezuelan diaspora around the U.S. He is an ex-political prisoner and we can do a feature on him while highlighting the problems in Venezuela and the violation of human rights around the country.
We also have a connection with Alfredo Romero, one of the founders of Foro Penal, an organization of lawyers based in Venezuela that offer their services to political prisoners. They helped Francisco Marquez negotiate his release.
We could also cover the Ukrainian community in D.C. We have a connection with a small group of Ukrainians who meet once a month to celebrate their culture. Dimitri Ivanovski is an organizer of the group. Ivanovski said he would be happy to have us at his event this November.
The best dates for this issue would be on Nov. 27 and Dec. 4. The events listed below could help improve our content and understanding of Ethiopian immigrants in the region.
Jantilla Inc., will be sharing on a wide range of topics that matter to the public discourse in the Ethiopian Diaspora and beyond. JantillaTalks will host its semiannual conference on the topic of “Excellence of Attitude - in Mind and Beyond” that will be held on Saturday October 6, 2018 at the Sheraton Hotel, Silver Spring, MD.
2. African Diaspora entrepreneurship summit held on Oct. 12.
3. Wegene Ethiopian Foundation’s 18th year fundraising gala will be held on Oct. 27. This event will include a dinner, entertainment, and an auction.
4. Dimitri Ivanovski is an organizer of the group and said we could come to their November event.
5. ECDC will host an event for immigrants on November 22 for Thanksgiving.
Although we faced some challenges during this assignment, we also found positives.
First, we found it difficult to speak to people on the record. Many of them did not like to be recorded or photographed. They seemed to be afraid of showing their faces on camera, although they were not saying anything harmful. Many of them rejected being photographed, and others were more welcoming about it.
Second, there were minor language barriers with some of the Ethiopian immigrants, however, we got by.
On the other hand, transportation was not an issue because we had a car, otherwise, it would have been a longer commute. The neighborhood we were mainly looking at was in Silver Spring, which is a 25 minute drive from American University.
Also, we don’t believe that bad weather could disrupt the production cycle of our issue, unless the conditions become unbearable.
Challenges we might face with this topic is mainly not being able to photograph or film people for interviews and other multimedia content.
However, we can try to diversify the people we talk too by not only speaking to immigrants but spokespeople that represent Ethiopian/Salvadoran/Venezuelan NGOs, who are more likely to accept being filmed.
Also, we would aim to speak to as many people as possible to diversify our options.