Haile Abera and three friends gathered in the shade of a big white tent after a soccer game at Spartan Stadium on Sunday, telling stories of their Ethiopian homeland and sharing a spicy meal.
Abera, a wartime refugee, had traveled from San Diego to participate in a weeklong soccer tournament and cultural festival, coming to San Jose to meet up with friends from the old country and celebrate their heritage.
“You feel like home,” said Abera, 41. “You hear your own language and eat your own food.”
Some 20,000 people, including players from 22 teams from Canadian and U.S. cities, are expected to descend upon downtown San Jose through the week for the
Ethiopian Sports Federation of North America tournament. Many are spending their days at Spartan Stadium for the tournament and food festival, and their nights at downtown hotels and nightclubs listening to Ethiopian musicians.
After Sunday’s soccer game, in which the San Diego Tewdros defeated the Philadelphia Addis 2-0, some 30 food booths on the field next to the stadium took center stage. Abera and his friends tore off pieces of injera — a thin, spongy flatbread — to grab mouthfuls of spicy collard greens called gomen, raw beef with hot peppers called kitfo and soft white ayeb cheese.
“People joke about why Ethiopians are good runners,” said Abebe Gelagay, a member of the festival’s organizing committee. “It’s because they eat teff,” an Ethiopian grain used to
After nine years of trying, San Jose’s Ethiopian community and its San Jose Lions soccer team won the bid to host the Ethiopian national championship, held in a different city each year. About half of the Bay Area’s roughly 40,000 Ethiopians live in the San Jose area.
The Ethiopians don’t have a business district or neighborhood here, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Cathedral off Senter Road in South San Jose is a primary spiritual and social gathering place where young children are taught the Amharic language.
Many Ethiopians immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s as insurgents began their ultimately successful attempt to overthrow the Marxist military regime. Most Ethiopians settled in Washington and Los Angeles.
In 1991, Abera settled in San Jose because his uncle lived here. At the time, he said, many of his neighbors back home, some as young as 13, were being conscripted into the military.
When he attends these annual soccer tournaments, he often runs into old friends and finds himself saying, “I never thought I’d find you alive.”