The Occupations of Ethiopian Immigrants

Ethiopian migration to the United States began in the late 20th-century as the result of civil war and political unrest. [1] The lifestyles of Ethiopian immigrants also had to be altered once they arrived in the United States. Ethiopian immigrants were subjected to “blocked mobility.” One could easily assume whatever job they worked in Ethiopia would transfer to the United States and they would find something in the same field; however, this was (and is) very uncommon. The “blocked mobility” thesis analyzes how immigrants are often forced to create their own jobs because they have been restricted in the host country due to structural or prejudicial reasons.[2] However, some immigrants find entrepreneurship appealing because an accreditation is not required and their language skills do not have to be perfect.[3] It should be noted that not all Ethiopian immigrants became entrepreneurs; some went to college and found jobs in new field, while others faced downward mobility.

Marie Price and Elizabeth Chacko describe the Washington Metropolitan Area as a community where immigrants, especially Ethiopians, built restaurants or took jobs to serve the diverse community, whether that be construction, driving a taxi, social work, or professional services.[4] These occupational interests are seen in the real lives of Ethiopian immigrants in the area today, which we read about in oral histories conducted with Ethiopian refugees who live or work in Alexandria, Virginia. A young Ethiopian immigrant woman, Afomia Wendemagegn, spoke about the downward mobility of her parents’ when they arrived in the United States. In Ethiopia, her mother worked in an office, and her father drove a taxi.[5] However, once they arrived in the United States, both her mother and father worked as servers in a sandwich shop.[6] Her parents most likely became downwardly mobile because of the language barrier.

Therefore, jobs were created by the Ethiopian immigrants because they offered more flexibility. Rhoda Worku immigrated to the United States and enrolled at a college in California in the early 1980s, and then transferred to Northern Virginia Community College.[7] She worked as an accountant for many businesses in Northern Virginia until 2004 when she opened the “Caboose Cafe.”[8] Worku enjoys working for herself, and serving her community. She caters to whatever the community asks in terms of menu items, and she especially enjoys interacting with the neighborhood children, something she may have not been able to do working another job.[9] Entrepreneurship has been a positive experience for Ethiopian immigrants such as Worku.

caboose-cafe

Rhoda Worku (on the far right) owner of the Caboose Café in Alexandria, Va.

(Photo Courtesy of the Alexandria Gazette Packet)

Downward mobility affects immigrants because of prejudicial or structural issues, eincluding Ethiopians. Wendemagegn’s parents settled with employment at a sandwich shop once they arrived in America. On the other hand, Worku worked hard to build her company from the ground. Other Ethiopian establishments in Northern Virginia include restaurants, beauty salons, fabric stores, clothing stores, and businesses specializing in Ethiopian music.[10] These businesses owned by the Ethiopian immigrants in the Washington Metropolitan area not only bring together the Ethiopian population but also serve the general community.[11] These businesses allow a place to explore Ethiopian traditions and ultimately reject the idea of “blocked mobility” that many immigrants face in the United States.

little-ethiopia-washington-dc

“Little Ethiopia” in Washington D.C.

(Photo Courtesy of the Ethiopian Times, Online Newspaper)

[1] Jill H. Wilson and Shelly Habecker, “The Lure of the Capital City: An Anthro-Geographical Analysis of Recent African Immigration to Washington, DC,” Population, Space and Place (2008), 433.

[2] Marie Price and Elizabeth Chacko, “The Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs in a New Immigrant Gateway,” Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies (2009), 330.

[3] Marie Price and Elizabeth Chacko, “The Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs…,” 330.

[4] Marie Price and Elizabeth Chacko, “The Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs…,” 332.

[5] Afomia Wendemagegn, “Interview with Afomia Wendemagegn,” Interview by Krystyn Moon, Alexandria.gov (June 4, 2015), 5.

[6] Afomia Wendemagegn, “Interview with Afomia Wendemagegn,” Interview by Krystyn Moon, 6.

[7] Rhoda Worku, “Interview with Rhoda Worku,” Interview by Krystyn Moon, Alexandria.gov (May 20, 2015), 5.

[8] Rhoda Worku, “Interview with Rhoda Worku,” Interview by Krystyn Moon, 7.

[9] Rhoda Worku, “Interview with Rhoda Worku,” Interview by Krystyn Moon, 16.

[10] Elizabeth Chacko, “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” Journal of Cultural Geography (2009), 33.

[11] Elizabeth Chacko, “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” 33.

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