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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Oromo Immigrants Strive to Be Heard

The sycamore tree is an important symbol for people who come from the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Its broad limbs and green canopy serve as a town square of sorts. It's a meeting place and a signpost in the landscape. Oromo people put pictures of sycamores on their walls, on calendars and even on the flag for their political movement.

The tree isn't native to Minnesota, but the Oromo Center in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside area could serve the same purpose for the immigrants who live here.

Oromo elders sit on chairs against the walls of a small front office space. The walls are covered with pictures, many of graduating Oromo students receiving diplomas and other awards.

Hassan Hussein has been an active volunteer at the Oromo Center since he first arrived in the Twin Cities in 1994. The U.S. offers freedoms Hussein said are not available in his country.

"Back home in Oromia, the mere act of expressing a political opinion could get you in prison for years," Hussein said. "There are people who have been in prison for like 15-20 years never being brought before a judge or a court, simply for expressing their views. Being Oromo here you can organize openly, you don't have to hide."

Minnesota Public Radio

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