If you have attended a football or basketball game at the University of Maryland, then you’re probably familiar with Testudo dancing down the sidelines and Terrapins fans wearing red or gold chanting their victory song. While that sight of the local Maryland community is normal during the fall and winter months, I saw tens of thousands of Ethiopians gather in College Park last week for the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America’s (ESFNA) MARYLAND 2013: 30th Annual Soccer Tournament and Cultural Festival.
Throughout the entire week, I met Ethiopians from around the country who made the journey to College Park for the annual event, including tourists from California. I was even more surprised to find Ethiopians traveling south of the border from Ontario, Canada.
“We drove 18 hours from Minnesota to come here. We went to the one in Dallas last year and it was enjoyable. We’re really excited for [Ethiopian Day] later,” said Dawit Melaku, 29 year old Ethiopian from Minnesota.
ESFNA has brought this event to Maryland in years past, and other highly populated Ethiopian metropolitan areas around the country, including Los Angeles and Atlanta. As a fellow resident of the highest Ethiopian populated state, I was able to see why the ESFNA decided to return to Maryland to celebrate the 30th anniversary.
Throughout the week, spectators took the stands in the lower bowl and watched Ethiopian soccer clubs compete against each other on the FieldTurf Surface, which was recently installed last year at Byrd Stadium.
Aside from the the fast-paced action on the field, the entire main concourse was packed with hundreds of vendors for Ethiopians to drive business. Ranging from non-profit organizations booths, to clothing concessions, to food stands, the unique Ethiopian culture, cuisine, and environment was certainly live.
As the workdays ended and turned into the late afternoons and early evenings, the festival’s attendance gradually increased with families and friends arriving. The concourse suddenly became very busy and felt as if I was walking through a densely, crowded Little Ethiopia. Even for non-Ethiopians, it was a positive, welcoming environment to be around.
In honor of Ethiopian Day, Montgomery County Executive, Isiah Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive, Rushern L. Baker III, and Deputy Secretary of State, Rajan Natarajan, spoke and praised the largest Ethiopian populated-area in the country.
“I’m delighted to serve as the co-chair of this 30th Anniversary. To be with so many friends and so many people who enjoy sports, but enjoy the culture, the religion, and all the wonderful things that Ethiopia has to offer to all of the world,” said Leggett.
It was great to see the Ethiopian population from across the country (and Canada) unite here in Maryland to celebrate their culture and heritage through sport. After researching and attending this event, I am now more interested in discovering how more nationalities in the US have cultural celebrations intertwined with sport on a nation level like the ESFNA.