Birhan “Mac” Mekonnen is standing on his balcony, surveying acres of land, reflecting on what he’s built. The balcony rests just below the most unique architectural feature of his home in Heath—a dome modeled after Fasil Castle in Gondar, Ethiopia. Gondar is Mekonnen’s hometown, the hometown he fled in 1977, three years after war erupted.
Along with his future wife, the 18-year-old walked for days, finding refuge in Sudan, where their first child would be born. The young family of three relocated to North Dakota 18 months later, where Mekonnen’s sponsors suggested he seek employment at a grocery store. He refused and went on to receive a degree in electrical engineering. And with that, the Mekonnens set out again, this time to Dallas, where a network of relatives and friends was rapidly developing. That was 28 years ago.
Today, an estimated 35,000 Ethiopians call North Texas home. One of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Dallas, they’ve gravitated
toward Rowlett, Wylie, and Garland, where the Ethiopian community association that Mekonnen heads hopes to build a community center. “It was designed to bring Ethiopians together and keep the tradition and culture,” Mekonnen says of the association, “to teach our children, making sure they know their roots.”
Mekonnen himself relishes those roots. Although he is proud to be a U.S. citizen, he calls his journey here “forced immigration” and he was determined to bring part of Ethiopia with him. His home is decorated with art from his wife’s frequent trips back to Ethiopia. But the part of his country he is most determined to hold onto is not something he can put on his walls. Self-reliance, he says, is what most encapsulates his community—and Mekonnen is a perfect example. After moving to Texas, he enrolled in a management program and bought a Domino’s Pizza franchise in Paris, Texas, turning it from one of the worst-performing stores to one of the best. Today, he owns 23 Domino’s locations in Texas.
“For Ethiopians, we get a job, we get an education,” he says. “It is a culture. We are proud of supporting ourselves and supporting others.”