There are an estimated 25 Ethiopian businesses on a single city block at 9th and U Streets in Washington DC, the center of what is known as “Little Ethiopia.” Many of those are restaurants, serving up traditional dishes like tibs (a dish of sautéed meat and vegetables), injera (flatbread) fir fir (a spicy dish of shredded flatbread, clarified butter and berbere) and doro wat. With an estimated population of 250,000 people, Washington DC and the surrounding areas have the highest concentration of Ethiopians outside of Africa. This has made the area the best place for Ethiopian food in America. But how did why is this case? How did the nation’s capital become a second Addis Ababa?
In 1930, Haile Selassie was installed as Ethopian emperor in a coronation that received international attention. Attended by dignitaries from across the world, Selassie’s face landed on the cover of Time Magazine. Selassie, whose birth name was Ras Tafari, was regarded by some as the coming messiah and the physical manifestation of the Rastafarian belief system. Essentially a Christ figure, he is still viewed as prophetic by many today, especially in Jamaica. Soon after his coronation, however, world politics overcame religious fervor. In 1935, Mussolini's Italian army invaded Ethiopia as a show of power. Considered one of the precursors to World War II, the Italian army easily defeated the ill-armed Ethiopian forces and took the capital of Addis Ababa on May 5th, 1936. Selassie retreated into exile, but he reappeared in front of the League of Nations (of which Ethiopia and Italy were both members) on June 30th, 1936 to give a speech considered one of the greats of the 20th century. Speaking in his native Amharic, he condemned the League of Nations for not doing what they were created to do - stand up for a member nation. Explaining in graphic detail the horrors that the Italian Army had inflicted on the Ethiopian people, he asked for help in making the atrocities stop. The League of Nations still did nothing, showing how little power it really had. Historians give credit to Selassie as the impetus behind the creation of the better-equipped United Nations.