For the Habesha community, living in Los Angeles and neighboring cities can be an isolating journey of cultural awareness due to the vast lay-out of Southern California. As a Habesha millennial, Aida B. Solomon created the networking brand HabeshaLA with the goal in mind to promote a connection of “creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial Habeshas.” With most African immigrant parents, expected careers usually fall under the categories of medicine, science, math, engineering, sometimes inhibiting the passions and interests that we grow up having. So when you come home with a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies, like myself, the impromptu whispers in Amharic of disappointment ensue, to say the least. Aida emphasizes that HabeshaLA provides the space to promote artistic creativity, non-traditional career paths, and a place for young Habesha adults to find someone they can aspire to or resonate with. “I am hoping to establish a platform for our voices to be heard, supported, and nurtured within and by our own community. Providing a space to tell our story, from our perspective, through our own lens.”
The Ghanian word Sankofa, meaning “to go back and get it,” reigns true with Aida’s journey to creating HabeshaLA. After she finished her undergraduate degree at UC Irvine with a Bachelor’s in Film and Media Studies and a minor in African American studies in 2011, she traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to work for a newspaper called The Reporter. What was to only last three months turned into eight: “I was blown away by the flourishing arts scene in Addis, and began to question why we did not have such a community in Los Angeles.” Once she returned to Los Angeles she began to research and curate Ethiopian and Eritrean artists, musicians, and filmmakers on Tumblr, utilizing what she learned from her country and bringing it back to Los Angeles to create cultural retainment and communal growth. “I eventually started a Facebook page that started garnering a following, not long after teamed up with a web designer to create our website.” She notes that the creation of HabeshaLA was very much an organic process; her team came together by pure interest and passion, helping grow her movement to what it is today. Aida notes that her team at HabeshaLA includes a diverse group of professionals and academics, who are able to intersect ideas, thoughts, and perspectives to collaborate well with one another.
Growing up in Southern California, I was able to identify with Aida’s purpose for creating a space of creative, young millennials within the Habesha community: geography, lack of career options to aspire to, with the addition of a need for cultural retention, many like Aida will find HabeshaLA as groundwork to re-integrate ourselves within the Habesha community of Los Angeles. “Los Angeles is such a large and spread out city that it’s very easy to become isolated from the Ethiopian and/or Eritrean community. You have the ability to be involved if you choose to do so, or instead lead a more private lifestyle.” Los Angeles is the only city in the United States that is home to a designated block called “Little Ethiopia” with various restaurants and markets, on Fairfax. However, its location sits in a gentrified neighborhood of West Los Angeles where most Habeshas don’t live and don’t spend ample amount of time. Despite the yearly events of New Year’s and religious celebrations, there aren’t many networking opportunities or a predominant Habesha community that centralizes consistent interaction with one another.
Aida recounts her parents’ diligence in instilling cultural identity while she was growing up, furthering her drive and ambition to create a brand that fosters her parents’ same beliefs. “My parents were adamant about my brother and I retaining our culture. My parents spoke to us in Amharic, and I remember at one point we had to pay my mom a quarter every time we spoke English at home.” Her strong familial bonds alongside an extended Ethiopian family within Los Angeles, allowed her to easily retain her culture and ethnicity. She realizes that everyone did not have the same opportunity or might be new to the city of Los Angeles itself. This is where she finds HabeshaLA can establish a common place of networking and community, especially in a progressive city that may leave one feeling culturally deficient; in my case, this happens all too often.
Particular events that Aida and her team have created in the past included a Happy Hour Mixer at the Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in San Jose, and two Summer Soul Sessions that brought out local artists such as Marian Mereba and Yonas Michael. More recently, HabeshaLA is starting up a new monthly event titled Origins. “Our aim is to bring a consistent party for us by us. The HabeshaLA team and I wanted to create a unique event where we can put our culture and artists on the map.” The first event kicked off on December 8th and had a great turn-out from various ethnicities and races, convening to experience the culture and music of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The next Origins event will take place on Thursday, January 12th at Los Globos in Los Angeles.
Aida stands as an example and role-model to so many other Habeshas within Los Angeles and the greater community, showcasing the possibility of careers that are out there and the importance of honing in on our proficiencies, passions, and interests. Yes, you may get the brunt of your parents’ dismay when they find out your career choice, but the fulfillment will far outweigh the initial disappointment. Let Aida and so many other influencers she promotes be an example of various non-traditional careers one can pursue and find a living doing.
From her humble beginnings as a child to her journey back to Ethiopia after undergrad, she has come full circle to bring a platform to help grow a strong, united, young diaspora community in Los Angeles. Her niche only promotes a diversity of blackness, creating an enclave of other variations of black culture within the United States and beyond. “From the music played at our events, to the talent we feature on our blog, to the type of content we post on social media—we are mindful of showcasing diversity.” HabeshaLA refreshingly provides a home of familiarity, culture, and creative inspiration, helping bridge the cultural gap from the old to the new generation of Habeshas in Los Angeles.