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Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Abdi Nuressa, a singer from Washington, D.C., performs during Sunday's Oromo Community New Year's celebration.

Oromo community celebrates New Year's

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WORTHINGTON -- When Ayayew Bejica arrived in the United States, he had nothing.

"I didn't bring anything with me when I came," he said. "I had no money, not even one dollar. I didn't speak very good English when I came. Since I came, the next day I went to school and language class. I learned and tried to help other people. I advise a lot of people to do that. I always tell them, even at work, don't complain too much. If you try, you're going to be OK."

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But on Sunday night, Bejica wasn't thinking about the past, but enjoying the present.

As the leader of the Worthington Oromo Community, Bejica and many others were celebrating the arrival of 2012.

"Not only do you work hard and get money, but you get everything included," he said. "That's how we're feeling today. We're not even remembering back home today. Everybody is happy."

The Long Branch was filled with members of the Oromo Community Sunday night.

"We started three years ago to build up and organize the Oromo Community," Bejica said. "There was not many people at that time. The following year, there were more people. This year, there are even more. People are looking for jobs and people living here is very comfortable. Worthington is a peaceful place and nice place to live. People work and go to school, too. Some of them go to college and high school, too."

Like Bejica, most of the Oromos came to find jobs.

"I come in 1991 to Sioux Falls, S.D.," Bejica said. "I was living in Sudan for eight years. There was Communism in Ethiopia, so I ran away and stayed there for eight years. Finally, I got a chance to come to the United States. I asked for asylum. I told them my story so immigration accepted me. They were looking for a sponsor and that was the First Presbyterian Church in Sioux Falls. I lived there six years and I was working for John Morrell. Then I went back to Africa and married my wife. I chose to move to a little smaller city."

Moving to a new country, the language barriers were some of the toughest obstacles.

"When I went the first time for John Morrell, they didn't require a lot of language, but when you don't understand what the supervisor says, that makes it so hard," Bejica said. "That made me work hard to learn. The second part was the cold weather. When you go to Africa, the weather is not under 60 degrees. You come in below zero temperature and you have to learn how to dress properly. I have a hard time keeping warm in my hands. As time goes by, I try to overcome all those things."

He moved to Worthington where he works at JBS and does some interpretive work. Bejica speaks Oromo and Amharic.

"I have a very beautiful house in a nice place, and a nice car and I have a very beautiful wife and beautiful children," Bejica said. "I'm really successful and I live the dream."

The members of the Oromo Community originate from Africa, but have been growing in the U.S.

"We are originally from Ethiopia," Bejica said. "Oromo is a part of Ethiopia and is the majority in Ethiopia. We have our own culture. There is a lot of population in the United States, too. If you go to Minneapolis or St. Paul, we have over 20,000 people."

In Worthington, there are approximately 250 members in the community. As part of the community, members help each other integrate into life in Minnesota. That includes everything from translating, to helping at the grocery store to working to obtain a driver's license.

"We encourage the younger people to not only work hard, but go to school and educate themselves and respect the law and stay out of trouble," Bejica said. "That's the main goal is to organize the people to help each other."

On Sunday, the members of the community had music by Abdi Nuressa and enjoyed a limited ethnic cuisine. The event was sponsored by JBS, which donated $1,200 and the local union, which contributed $500.

"Today, the city mayor showed up and that's good morale for our people," Bejica said. "We appreciated JBS. They provide us jobs and not only that, but they try to organize the community, too. The union president is Mike Potter and he's a good organizer. He talks to everybody and he knows how to talk to everybody. He's helping us a lot to organize."

The community had an election, where Bejica was chosen as the leader. He will serve for two years.

"Even if they call me in the middle of the night, I'm not hesitant to go anywhere, even leave my house at 3 in the morning," he said.

Along with his own community, Bejica works closely with other groups throughout the city of Worthington. He also has a relationship with the Worthington Police Department.

With his new beginning and new life in America, Bejica is hoping to find ways to give back.

"I have a very, very big appreciation for this country," he said. "I told my oldest son, when he grows up, he has to go to the military and not be just a soldier, but be an officer. I'm too old now to serve this country and to give back something. I have more freedom than I did in my country.

"I want to give back something. I'd like to serve myself, but I'm 54 years old right now. So I told my son, 'You do for me when you grow up.' It's good for you and it's good for country. If you come back, you'll learn discipline and be a good person. At the same time, it's good for your country."

Bejica became an American citizen 15 years ago.

"When I travel out of this country, I traveled three times to Africa, I'm an American citizen," he said. "I identified myself now as American and I'm proud to do that. It's a great country. I told people, you have to work hard in everything, in school and your work place. When you do that, this country is very, very great."

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