There is a large Eritrean community in California´s Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County. Like many other nationality-based communities in the area, members tend to be of varying political or ideological persuasions which sometimes hinder the development of strong community associations.
By Michael Abraha
There is a large Eritrean community in California´s Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County. Like many other nationality-based communities in the area, members tend to be of varying political or ideological persuasions which sometimes hinder the development of strong community associations. Because of such differences, the Eritrean community in the Silicon Valley has been without an effective association for a few years. But, some members of the Eritrean community came together recently and formed a new association whose leaders say they are determined to unite members again and provide social services to all without any distinctions. I interviewed the chairwoman of the new association, Tighisti Gerezgher.
Michael Abraha: What do you plan to achieve through the new Eritrean Community Center?
Tighisti Gerezgher: Our goal is to serve and bring Eritrean nationals together in Santa Clara County. We are a social and cultural association. And we are committed to serving Eritrean community members regardless of their political opinion, religion and party affiliation. One of our main objectives is to help Eritreans to successfully adjust to the American social and economic fabric without losing our cultural and traditional heritage.
Q: How do you propose to become a center for all Eritreans?
A: As I said, we will be independent and non-partisan. We will work hard for tolerance by going beyond party lines and by treating every individual as equal member of the community. Without these values, we will not achieve a common goal of unity and progress. It won’t be easy because we have a diverse community. So there are hurdles. But we will strive to grow together by focusing only on our underlined cultural, educational, social programs that utilize all available resources.
Q: Why has it taken so long to establish the new center?
A: Here we have to remember that the Eritrean Community Center in Santa Clara County was formally established in the mid 1980’s. And we acknowledge that it was a united and strong community until about 2002. From then onward, political affiliation and opinion started to matter more and more causing bitter friction between many pioneering members of the community.
Q: Then what happened?
Well, eight months ago, a group of us – consisting of students and other volunteers – got together and started first to look into the reasons for the weaknesses of the existing community center and to find ways to make it strong again. We were ready to confront the obstacles which made the community very stagnant. We had utilized all possible channels including several meetings with some inactive leadership members of the community. This was useful in identifying the core issues before working on how to resolve them. Our quest also clearly showed that many Eritreans living in the area wanted to see improvement.
Q. It seems it has been smooth sailing.
Far from it. Our endeavors were met with hostility and unnecessary name calling. For example, there was negative reporting and warning against our efforts on alenalki.com. We made it clear again and again that we needed to come together and unite the people. We stressed that politics was an individual right and responsibility and should not be allowed to interfere with the social and cultural wellbeing of our community.
Q: What happened then?
A: We tried to resolve the misunderstanding. We established a neutral mediating body between our group and those running the existing community center. Unfortunately, this lead to a dead end. We then said ok we have done our part, but surrendering was not an option for us. We realized we had to start from a scratch and work tirelessly to establish a community that has a vision for its people.
Q: Where there other obstacles to overcome, within your own group, for example?
A: We had no doubt about the commitment of our volunteers But there was always concern that as our efforts were taking much time and there was no cooperation or intention to work together from the other side. To be honest we were little worried that many people might give up. But people were more determined than ever. Time also was a constraint for many of the volunteers as some of them were students or employed fulltime.
Q: Could you describe your organizational structure and your guiding rules and principles?
A: Our organizational structure is composed of a congress or council consisting of all active registered members. And then there is the five-member Executive Body which runs day to day operations and it consists of Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Chair of Media, Culture and Education, and Head of Public Relations. We also have a five member Board of directors that oversees the work of the executive. Our guiding principles are contained in the association’s bylaws whose mission is to serve all Eritreans in Santa Clara County by all means possible through providing equal opportunities to all Eritreans regardless of their gender, sex, age, religion political opinion and party affiliation.
Q: What specific services will you be providing and can you estimate how many people you hope to serve?
A: Our plan is to serve all members of the Eritrean Community Center Santa Clara County and beyond. As outlined in our bylaws, our services will include programs that promote our national identity, culture, history and languages. Our other objective is to serve the community by providing the necessary social services to help in their resettlement process by providing, for example, job placement information. New immigrants would specially benefit from such a program. We hope to provide special tutorials to young Eritreans. We will host different seminars and events that deal with issues related to such things as health, education and social life. We will also serve as a hub for networking between Eritrean communities and their members in the united sates.
Q: What are your sources of revenue?
A: For the immediate time we are going to depend on member contributions and different fund raising activities we are going to do within our community. But in the long term in order to expand our services and programs we will utilize all avenues available to us.
Q: Any last words.
We are strong believers of looking forward not backward. Our objective is to identify things that will rally all Eritreans under one shade and tear the walls of divisions. Obstacles are short lived but unity is a lasting goal. We invite all Eritreans to join our center or other centers around the country.