Dabie Setenna knew he wanted something better for his family.
It wasn’t Ethiopia, the country of his birth, he knew that the United States was where he and his wife, Yenenesh, and their three children — Melka, Lettu and Roofie — needed to be.
That was five years ago. Now the Setenna family are newly minted Americans living in North Little Rock and about to celebrate the Fourth of July.
A holiday that has an all new meaning but it first took getting to Arkansas.
“I knew an Ethiopian who worked for Heifer,” Dabie said, “and the Clinton Foundation also has workers in Ethiopia.”
Heifer is based in Little Rock and former President Bill Clinton’s connections to Arkansas are long and deep.
Dabie said he didn’t know anyone in Arkansas but upon getting here, he already had connections through his religion. The Stetenna family are all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons.
“We had the whole church,” he said. “It was like family, we had this connection as soon as we talked.”
The Setennas traveled to Memphis to take this oaths of citizenship and his three children were asked what it means to be an American to them in an interview earlier this week.
“Pizza,” was the first thing said by Roofie, who is 8, and added that it was her favorite food.
It isn’t all pizza though.
“It is all about opportunity here,” said Melka, who is 15, and a student at North Little Rock High School. “Here, you can do whatever. You can play sports. You can do anything. The opportunities … just great opportunities.”
Becoming Americans took some steps.
First was an application for the Diversity Visa Lottery at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, then that was followed by reams of paper filled with extensive family histories, interviews, police checks and health exams. That started in 2006, and in 2007 the family had secured its place in the lottery system in 2007 and gained permanent resident status in 2008, which cleared them to come to the United States.
The Setenna family lived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the country’s largest city with more than three million people, or more people than live in all of Arkansas but Dabie said it isn’t all that different.
“The community that we know, the church community,” he said. “It all feels the same. We’re happy to be here.”
Children being children have made the transition easier for the family.
Dabie and his wife’s English is still heavily accented but for the children, they speak with a slight Southern drawl and have picked up on the local customs.
“Our children bean adapting quicker than my wife and I,” Dabie said.