Little Ethiopia sign on the corner of 9th and U Streets NW.
BY ALAYNA HUTCHINSON AND ALLIE JUDGE
This past December, the D.C. Council officially named the 9th and U Street business corridor “Little Ethiopia.” The council unanimously agreed on the measure “to recognize the Ethiopian community’s heritage and culture, outstanding leadership and contributions” to D.C.’s economy and the business corridor in the Shaw neighborhood, as well as “its partnership with the African American community in the fight for social justice and civil rights.” The full resolution can be found here.
“The Ethiopian community has played an integral role in the development of many businesses in and around Washington," said Philemon Mastewal, whose Ethiopian-born parents own Büna Coffeehouse in Petworth. "As the city with the highest concentration of Ethiopian immigrants, D.C. has always felt like ‘Little Ethiopia’ to me, but I am glad to hear about the recent formal recognition from the city council."
Although the resolution was ceremonial, it signifies the impact and history of the Ethiopian diaspora in the D.C. area, which stretches back decades. A 2016 WAMU story noted that D.C. was a draw for Ethiopian immigrants for a number of reasons, including the location of the embassy, the strength of Ethiopian-American political relations and prominent HBCU Howard University. The majority Black population in the city also created a more welcoming environment in the 50s, 60s and 70s when Ethiopian immigrants and students first began coming to the U.S. in significant numbers.
Because Ethiopian immigrants initially settled in Shaw and the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood, “Little Ethiopia” became a prominent location for Ethiopian-owned businesses. The resolution notes that the flourishing of Ethiopian businesses in this area helped with “revitalizing the community following the riots in the mid 1960s.” Since then, Ethiopian businesses have sprung up throughout the DMV, but “Little Ethiopia” remains a cornerstone representing the economic power and historical impact of the Ethiopian diaspora.
In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that the Ethiopian-born population in the D.C. area was about 35,000, which makes it the largest concentration for Ethiopians outside of Africa. Other local sources and organizations consider that number to be much higher, and certainly, as the resolution notes, the population of Ethiopian descendants in the D.C. area totals more than 300,000 people. “Little Ethiopia” has been one of the areas where a concentration of Ethiopian immigrants live, work, and open businesses; however, research from 2015 has also shown that higher concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants are now living outside of D.C. in areas like Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Alexandria, creating new “Little Ethiopias” all over the DMV.
To support the Ethiopian immigrants in the DMV, be sure to visit local Ethiopian restaurants and businesses, such as Büna Coffeehouse. You can also donate to the Ethiopian Community Center and other immigrant-focused organizations, and continue learning more about the history of immigrants in your community!