Jared Polis Ethiopian festival

Gov. Jared Polis, center, tries on a Taste of Ethiopia T-shirt at annual event in northeast Denver on Aug. 3, as he is introduced by Denver City Council member Stacie Gilmore and joined by festival organizer Nebiyu Asfaw.

On a blazing hot August afternoon — on the same day that people died in El Paso, Texas, allegedly for the color of their skin — Colorado politicians were prominently celebrating immigrants at Parkfield Lake Park in northeast Denver.

Insights has made the case before that good food is the fine wine of politics, and nowhere are both things as excellent as they were at the annual Taste of Ethiopia on Aug. 3.

I’ve also written about the political emergence of the East African community in east metro Denver for years, and it’s done nothing during that time but gain momentum.

The food festival's chief organizer, Nebiyu Asfaw, and I call each other "cousin," since a mail-order DNA test indicated I was more than 1 percent East African. Maybe that's just a tiny bit, but I'd be proud to have a link to Ethiopia. All of us in a sense come from there, as it's the cradle of humankind

The African emergence in culture, religion, business and politics is nothing short of amazing.

The first Ethiopian immigrants came to metro Denver after President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980.

The law gave priority to refugees fleeing "a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group." 

The bill passed the U.S Senate unanimously, I might add.

Additionally, President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother.

Nearly 1 in 10 Coloradans -- about 550,000 folks -- are foreign born, and immigrant-owned businesses employ more than 100,000 people producing more than $16.7 billion in goods, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank.

"It's quite a homecoming for me," said U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, backstage before he received an award from the Taste of Ethiopia for being Colorado's first Congress member of African descent. "This is the community that gave my family a start."

His parents fled violence in Eritrea nearly 40 years ago. Neguse in March was part of the first U.S. congressional delegation to return to the war-torn country in 14 years, because of a border war with Ethiopia that ended last year.

His is a quintessential American story: Immigrants who give back to their adopted nation, to make it stronger with broader thinking with compassion for those who come here with hopes for peace and a dream of a better life for their children.

"There are so many folks here today who are like that," Neguse told me. "This is what makes America great, the idea that people can seek refuge, seek the American dream and build an incredible life, because that opportunity exists here."

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican running for mayor of Aurora, is a fixture at the annual event, and he remains popular with the community's leaders for his work on foreign relations in East Africa.

"Aurora is one of the most diverse cities in the United States," he boasted. "It's very important to reach out to everyone, and to become part of their respective communities, as well.

It makes America stronger to be a country people want to come to -- "legally," Coffman added.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock revved up the crowd, as he almost always does when he's handed a mic. "Ethiopia, make some noise!" he said. Ethiopians and the rest gathered on a hillside above the stage did just that.

Then Hancock got political, specifically on President Donald Trump's harsh and broad rhetoric.

"This event and all of you in this great metro region of ours represents, really, the example of what we're fighting for as so many of us push back against the hatred coming out of the White House against our immigrants and refugees," the mayor said. 

Gov. Jared Polis made a bee-line to the food tents before he spoke on stage. His 7-year-old son, Caspian, was trying Ethiopian food for the first time, he said, making his way to the stage.

The governor spoke of Colorado's "Ethiopian brothers and sisters."

"In a Colorado for all, its great diversity is really its strength," Polis told the crowd. "It makes us a culturally richer state, a more prosperous state, a state where we can be part of all and experience all the great cultures from around the world."

Other political faces in the crowd (forgive me for inevitably missing some) included U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora; Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare; District Attorney George Brauchler; Denver City Council members Stacie Gilmore and Amanda Sawyer; and Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Andrew Romanoff and John Walsh, plus a smattering of current and former state legislators.

The governor was doing a lot of cultural tasting on this Saturday. An hour earlier he spoke at the first Taste of the Middle East Festival in Centennial.

The next day, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera was the guest of honor in Polis' hometown, Boulder, for the Colorado Latino Festival.

Polis, meanwhile, was at the Adams County Fair, according to his schedule, sharing the playbill with mariachi bands and Tejano stars Little Joe y la Familia.

Colorado Latino Festival co-founder Jose Beteta, the former executive director of Boulder’s Latino Chamber of Commerce, summed up the need for believers in multiculturalism to come together.

“In times of division, it is important to show that we are united and stronger together,” he said.

(1) comment

Neb.asfaw@verizon.com

Great article Joey!


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