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Stories of Habesha Women

The project is gathering oral histories from first generation Habesha women in audio and video form and making them available to the public online.

Illuminating the Immigration of Ethiopians and Eritreans into Rainier Valley Through Oral Histories

Habesha WomenThe project consists of gathering oral histories from first generation Habesha women in Rainier Valley and sharing these stories with the public. Personal information on each of the women profiled will be in the form of audio, video, and photographs and will be collected, at least in part, by the women’s daughters or other younger female relatives. Our primary objectives are increasing awareness of these communities within the public at large by sharing these women’s personal stories, giving the participants the opportunity to talk about their lived experience, and cultivating a more inclusive approach to history and heritage within our own organization. We want to take on this project specifically addressing Habesha local heritage in order to broaden the scope of our approach to local history. The project is defined within the Ethiopian- and Eritrean-American communities that live in Rainier Valley, where there are very large concentrations of residents within these groups, using the overall Habesha ethnic identity that includes some of the people from each of those two countries.

The project is taking place primarily in the Columbia City and Hillman City neighborhoods of Seattle. Interviews will be done in participant homes, or in a local public venue, such as the community center at Rainier Vista housing community. The project is important at this particular time in Seattle history because it affords us the chance to gather oral histories from first and second generation immigrants, who are in an early phase of their experience as Americans. Our previous oral history projects have involved individuals whose families immigrated to the United States, but their families and the ethnic communities that they were a part of were a couple of generations further into their lives in this country.


The project is intended to aid in showing the ways that the Habesha community is integral to the history and identity of Rainier Valley now and over the past 20-40 years, by highlighting the personal experiences and perspectives of individual women. The project will be framed around concepts of transition, adjustment, and formation of new local community. By working with the local Habesha community, we will broaden our archives to include histories that are vital to the area, but have not previously been collected or addressed in any significant way by our organization. This project will expand our reach into just one important local community within the myriad of varied communities that comprise the greater Rainier Valley population, but the specificity of our project is important because of the distinct cultural identity of each group of people from any given country. Most of the recent African immigrant communities have been underrepresented by the history and heritage community at large, with the obvious exception of within the work being done by the Northwest African American Museum. Those populations are a large part of the identity of the geographic area that we serve, and the impact and presence of these populations in Rainier Valley are both visible and significant.

One corollary impact of the project is that by having daughters interview their mothers (or other older female relatives), we create an opportunity for a dialogue and learning experience that might not hap¬pen otherwise. The interview experience affords people a different way of knowing and connecting with each other, outside of normal everyday actions and communications. We expect that the project will serve as a valuable experience for the participants themselves, not just for the people who will be able to hear and see the stories as filtered and presented by RVHS.

Lisa Uemoto at Rainier Vista stated her enthusiasm about our project: “I think this is a great and exciting opportunity for our residents – and can be very empowering. I am learning a lot from our youth and our residents so much. Often time what they shared with me are powerful information."

Some of the interviews may have Amharic or Tigrynia in them, in which case we will have translations made available in any materials presented to the public.

Our goal is to complete the project by the end of 2015, although the project is entirely scalable, and if it becomes larger we could extend the time line. Depending on what resources are made available to us, we will be able to incorporate more or less participants and/or more presentation of the project to the public. Documentation will be in the form of the audio and video recordings, as well as the transcriptions of these materials. Once we have materials assembled, we can offer to do presentations in the schools and to other entities and organizations that would want to have access to the materials. We will make as much of the material as we can available on our own website, and we will also share articles and media with the public and with other publications, through direct contacts and also through social media.

Image of Habesha women performing traditional dance from Wikipedia Commons, permitted under the Creative Commons license.

Image of woman performing the Bunna (traditional coffee ceremony) by Jean Rebiffé, permitted under the Creative Commons license.

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