BY TED PERRY
Wisconsinites from Ethiopia gather on Sundays to watch the Packers: Team helps them bond with others
MILWAUKEE — When you work as a valet and walk to scores of people each day, you quickly learn what’s on their mind. So it didn’t take long for Deneke Kedir to learn what Wisconsinites think about a lot: The Green Bay Packers. Kedir knew nothing of football. They just don’t talk that much about it in Ethiopia.
When Kedir moved to Wisconsin seven years ago, he didn’t know a first down from a frisbee.
That has all changed.
Every Sunday in fall, Kedir and about a dozen other Ethiopian immigrants gather to share two passions: Great pride in their homeland, and the pride of their new home.
The game of football wasn’t taught to them by their fathers or uncles. They learned it on their own.
Some realized it was the quickest way to learn a culture. Others knew it was the best conversation starter this side of the Sahara.
“You can talk to anybody — especially in Wisconsin, and when I travel, I wear a Packers hat and people say ‘oh, you’re a Packers fan,’ so it’s something that even at airports, you can initiate a conversation,” Ted Medhin said.
On a recent Sunday, it was Ted Medhin’s turn to host. The party moves around each week.
Medhin came to Wisconsin 40 years ago for college.
“But I didn’t care much for football,” Medhin said.
Now a PhD, he can’t get enough of the Green Bay Packers. Packers paraphernalia dominates his man cave, overshadowing his first love — soccer.
The transformation shocked his wife, Delois, who comes from the heart of football country — Alabama.
“All of a sudden it became football and I thought ‘oh my goodness, I can’t watch this. It’s too violent,’” Delois Medhin said.
They are now all in to a game once alien to them all. Their ticket onto the bandwagon was punched during the Brett Favre years.
“I probably lived most of my life here in Wisconsin — so I consider myself a Wisconsinite and what’s the point of being a Wisconsinite without being a Packers fan?” ~Sam Medhin
“I probably lived most of my life here in Wisconsin — so I consider myself a Wisconsinite and what’s the point of being a Wisconsinite without being a Packers fan?” Sam Medhin said.
It’s been said music is the international language. As it turns out, so is passion for one’s team.
At these Packers parties, observations about the game come in both English and their native tongue, Amharic, but you can’t help but notice how family-friendly it is. They do not swear, and they do not call for Mike McCarthy’s head with every failed third down conversion.
“We’re very polite. That’s part of our culture — but we get rowdy sometimes. We don’t curse. It’s not part of our culture to curse — even when they make mistakes,” Ted Medhin said.
Their tailgates lack brats and buns. They prefer beef, lentil and injera, a flatbread popular in Ethiopia.
This group is every bit as invested in the Green Bay Packers as anyone from Ashwaubenon, Appleton or Ashippun.
A swearing-in ceremony made them citizens. Bonding over a team made them feel more American.
“It’s pride, it’s pride. They’ve become one of the people of Wisconsin. They are very prideful of the fact they’ve assimilated. They’re part of the community and they don’t see themselves as anything else,” Delois Medhin said.
This group hopes to keep gathering until the first Sunday in February.