By Alec Dunn
December 24, 2023
“Thirty-five years ago today, 28-year-old Mulugeta Seraw was a beloved son, nephew, brother, father, and community member when his friends dropped him off at his house after a party. His friends, fellow members of Portland, Oregon’s Ethiopian community, stalled their car as they began driving away, which attracted the attention of young white racists, who opened with name-calling; two of them escalated to violence. Mulugeta, who was headed into his apartment, returned to stop the fight; egged on by a girlfriend, a third racist grabbed a bat, got out of the car, and with one vicious swing Mulugeta Seraw’s bright smile was relegated to two dimensional experiences like this poster.
We remember beloved ancestor Mulugeta Seraw on this terrible anniversary with a poster designed by Icky and printed at Nun (say noon) studios by @cowpokepress. Icky used a version of the famous Mother Jones quote: “Mourn the dead! Fight like hell for the living!”, which didn’t translate well into Amharic.
We contacted some folks who could translate, Frita and Vemund, who said this:
”Mourn the dead – ሃዘኑ አይወጣልንም – hazenu aywetalenem – is a familiar way to express yourself while mourning in Ethiopia but not necessarily common to say it in this exact way. Literally it says : we would never want to forget about his passing / our love for the one who passed away will never leave our hearts.
Fight for the living – ያጀግነናል – yajeggenenal – says ‘it strengthens our courage’; refers to the previous statement about mourning. The noun ጀግና – jegna – alone means a hero, someone who would fight for the good being of others, also through participating in a struggle for his/her people.”
We are deeply grateful for their kindness and skill in making this bridge between languages and cultures, to share a universal message. You may see these around town: a good opportunity to remember your courage, and your sorrow. To say his name.
Mulugeta’s uncle Engedaw Berhanu said of his nephew, “He lived as a peacemaker and he died as a peacemaker.”
Mulugeta Seraw, you strengthen our courage; your memory will never leave our hearts. Thank you for coming to earth.”
My old friend Moe Bowstern wrote this on November 13th, 2023. I am late to re-post. Moe art directed this memorial project for Mulugeta Seraw. Flowers were left at his grave and posters and stickers were put up around Portland, Oregon—Mulugeta’s adopted home. It was a thrill to work with thoughtful translators on this project—thank you Frita and Vemund; and thanks Matt Knowles (Domino Sound/DJ Prince Pauper) for making the connection. Also big ups to the great Christina Martin, our printer, at Cowpoke Press.