Written By Aida B. Solomon
Aida B. Solomon is a marketer and writer originally from Los Angeles, California. Aida B. Solomon holds a Masters from the University of Southern California in Communication Management. Aida is the founder of the media group HabeshaLA and co-founder of a strategic communications firm, Integrate Africa. Aida is currently based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Culture, by definition, can be defined as, “the social behavior and norms found in human societies”. In the last few years, the concept and idea of culture has been interpreted and redefined in various ways. “For the Culture”, coined by hip hop group Migos, refers to the outward expression that young folks of color take on to represent our new age sense of culture.
It is quite a time to be alive.
As a black woman of Ethiopian descent born and raised on the West Coast, I have come to embrace culture and cultural identity as fluid, encompassing the numerous factors that have shaped how I choose to define myself.
My parents emigrated from Ethiopia in the early 80s. After choosing to settle in Pomona, California to raise their two children, my parents knew early on that they wanted my brother and me to have strong ties to Ethiopia.
My mother who was a stay-at-home mom throughout our childhood, would make us pay her 25 cents every time we spoke English in the house.
Till this day she says, “Why would I not teach my children my own mother tongue? Don’t I want to be able to communicate with my kids? Express myself fully without stumbling on grammar and vocabulary?”
My parents would spin stories on their life back at home: carefree childhoods in Dessie and Adama, surrounded by family and neighbors and communities that all played a part in raising my parents.
As I grew older, I wanted the ability to create my own narrative of Ethiopia.
After graduating from the University of California Irvine in 2011, I set off to Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa to finally experience the Motherland for myself.
During my eight-month stint in Addis, I was working for the Reporter Newspaper with my beat on culture and the arts. I was blown away by the outpour of creativity in the Addis arts scene. Growing up as a first-generation Ethiopian, I was often encouraged to pursue the sciences or mathematics. Practical, stable career paths were always preferred by my parents’ generation.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, I realized that the Ethiopian community I was raised in was disconnected. Apart from annual celebrations and weekly church gatherings, my generation often did not have the opportunity to meet or network. I began researching on Tumblr and was pleasantly surprised to find an online community of filmmakers, models, writers, and other creatives not only based in LA, but around the globe.
I Began to develop to HabeshaLA as a platform to celebrate and connect creatives in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Diaspora.
The HabeshaLA website featured interviews with local and rising talent, such as the likes of writer Hannah Giorgis, entrepreneur and Taste of Ethiopia founder Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, and rapper Yonas Michael.
The other component of HabeshaLA is to produce and launch events to bring the community together. HabeshaLA has produced musical showcases with performances by Marian Mereba and Hewan, hosted the Los Angeles screening of the film The Diaspora Journal, and launched the monthly Origins party featuring live DJ sets.
HabeshaLA has aimed to create a much-needed niche in Los Angeles and beyond.
It is most rewarding to see the impact that HabeshaLA has made on the community. Receiving feedback from a new LA transplant that they were able to finally meet other Habeshas at one of our events, or receiving positive comments on a blog post, or even a DM from Instagram with a simple “thank you for what you do” is what has motivated myself and our team over the last 3 years to keep going.
Creating a brand from scratch and putting yourself out there for the world to see (and sometimes judge) can be terrifying.
For myself, it was the passion that I had to “do it for the culture” that kept me going.
Putting our culture on the map, whether it is among other African diaspora communities, within Los Angeles, or on a global scale, is our end-goal.
Fast forward 6 years later, I find myself back in Addis Ababa to explore other opportunities. While HabeshaLA is currently in a rebranding hiatus, I pray and hope that the impact it has made on the Habesha community is not lost. To see so many of our folks killing it, from Amine to Kelela, to the Weeknd to Ruth Negga to Nipsey Hussle to Marcus Samuelsson, shows there is much, much more to look forward to.