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Shaw Shuns 'Little Ethiopia'

Ethiopian entrepreneurs Yared Tesfaye, left, Yeshimebeth Belay, Yehunie Belay and Sinidu Sodere on Ninth Street NW, long tied to black history.
Ethiopian entrepreneurs Yared Tesfaye, left, Yeshimebeth Belay, Yehunie Belay and Sinidu Sodere on Ninth Street NW, long tied to black history. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

Division over the designation does not always conform to expectations.

Alfie Alloway, 35, who grew up in New York's Harlem neighborhood, stood in the doorway to the takeout market he opened a month ago on Ninth Street. He said the tensions between American-born blacks and Africans are unmistakable but unspoken. "I've brought Ethiopians around blacks, and the blacks will stop talking," he said. "And I've brought blacks around Ethiopians, and they start talking in their own language. In both cases, everyone shuts down."

He acknowledged discomfort with Ethiopians at times, though he said he supports the designation. "They want the stature, a position of eminence, you can understand that.

"Who's the majority here?" he asked. "Times change."

Up the street, Adey Abebe, 32, an engineer who emigrated from Ethiopia more than a decade ago, walked out of Etete with a group of friends. The idea of a Little Ethiopia is fine, she said, but not in the middle of Shaw.

"It's not our right to take someone else's culture and make it our own. This is a historical black neighborhood," she said.

Bantamlak Yimenu, 52, an Ethiopian cabdriver who lives in Greenbelt, stopped on Ninth Street for a coffee on another day. If there's a Chinatown, he said, there should be a Little Ethiopia. But he is not interested in tampering with history.

"They're black, and we're black, too," he said. "Why should we fight over a street name?"


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