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  • Issayas Tesfamariam

An Eritrean in the US in ? !

Part I

When do you think the first Eritrean came to the United States? Whenever I pose this question, the answers vary from the late fifties to the early seventies. Well, would you be surprised if I tell you that it was in 1922? And this is not a typo! To be exact, it was actually twice, first in 1922 and then later in 1924.

How come?

I started this research when a friend of mine told me that a young Eritrean lady wanted to talk to me about her family's history, after she had read my post on my great uncle, Fessehatsion Beyene. As you recall from my post a few years ago on, my great uncle received his pilot's license from Italy in 1928. A little over a decade earlier, another Eritrean, General Domenico Mondelli (Woldeselassie), had received his pilot's license (See or for this story) in Italy.

After meeting the young lady, she told me that she grew up hearing about her grandfather, Elefe Newatu, who was adapted by an Italian couple and was in Italy in the 1880s. Mr. Elefe later returned to Eritrea a wealthy man and an avid anti Italian activist. She wanted me to look into the story and see if I can find some documentary evidence. While researching, contacting colleagues in Italy, and etc., the story turned to his first born son, Abraha Elefe.

Aboi Elefe Newatu

Mr. Abraha was born in 1903 in Asmara, Eritrea. Abraha run away from home when he was 8 years of age and was caught hiding in an Italian ship. After he was returned to his family, at the age of 12, he succeeded in leaving Eritrea by hiding in another Italian ship. He was adapted by the captain of the ship (the story is not clear here) and became an Italian citizen.

At the age of 19, Abraha Elefe (nationality, Italian) working on a ship called Lucia arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and later sailed to New York arriving on November 16, 1922.

See the list of employees (#16).

Notice the last column where it mentions that he is black (black Italian, that is)

At the age of 21, in 1924, Abraha Elefe, working as a coal man on a ship called Presidente Wilson arrived in New York, New York, USA on April 29, 1924 from Trieste, Italy.

See the list of employees (#159) below.

A young Abraha Elefe

Next, Part II

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