Washington (CNN)A radio host says she wakes up every morning wondering if her mom is alive.
A man who came to the US to escape political persecution says the country he now calls home is empowering the very people he fled.
A health care worker says she fears her family may be starving whenever she sits down to eat.
War in Ethiopia is more than 7,000 miles away from the US capital. But for these Ethiopian Americans who spoke with CNN at recent demonstrations in Washington, the conflict is of urgent importance -- and they say it should be to the world, too.
The DC area boasts the largest population of Ethiopians in the United States, with some local experts estimating there are as many as 250,000 Ethiopian Americans here, including both immigrants and US-born descendants. Now, as fighting in Ethiopia intensifies, protesters both for and against the country's government are taking to the streets of Washington.
Communities, and even some families, are divided over the conflict.
"People who have lived in harmony for years, now they are forced to take sides. ... Children are forced to side either with their mother or with their father," says Tsehaye Teferra, founder and president of the Ethiopian Community Development Council, based just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia. "That's a very difficult situation to be in."
Even with the deep divisions between them, there was some common ground among the Ethiopian Americans who spoke with CNN. Many said they were frustrated by the US government's response and afraid for the safety of friends and family in Ethiopia.
She scans videos for signs her mom is alive
Su Solo says she hasn't heard from her mom in months. The wait for word, she says, is agonizing.
Solo lives in Atlanta and traveled to Washington for protests last week. Her mom lives in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, where communication has been cut off during the fighting.
With no way to get in touch, Solo says she and many others with roots in Tigray find themselves scanning the few emerging videos of the violence and its aftermath to see if they can spot their loved ones.
"I don't know if my mom is hungry. I don't know if she's in control of her body. I don't know if she's at home, or if she's running. I don't know where she is. And that goes for all of us," Solo says, pointing to a large group of demonstrators gathered beside the Washington Monument.
Solo says she wants US officials to label attacks in Tigray as genocide and do more to crack down on the Ethiopian government. Sanctions are a good start, she says, but not enough.
The 35-year-old radio host says the conflict has left her rethinking her identity. She was born in the United States and always took pride in her Ethiopian heritage. But now she's changed her on-air tagline from "your favorite Ethiopian" to "your best friend." And she's stopped going to some of her favorite Ethiopian restaurants.
"You can't coexist with someone who doesn't want you to exist," she says.
"You start to wonder, where are your friends you grew up with? How do we all of a sudden just hate each other?"
He's fed up with the Biden administration's response
Besu Feleke says he just did something for the first time since he came to the US to escape political persecution decades ago.
He voted for a Republican.
Standing in front of the White House Monday, where a large crowd of protesters waved Ethiopian flags and chanted their support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Besu, 42, says he feels President Biden and other Democrats who've criticized the Ethiopian government are undercutting democracy.
Ethiopian Americans like him have long supported Democrats, he says, but now they're organizing and starting to throw their support behind Republican tickets.
Besu, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, says he voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin in last week's Virginia governor race. And that first Republican vote won't be the last for him and many other Ethiopian Americans, he says, if Democratic officials don't change course and voice support for Ethiopia's government.
"We mobilized our Ethiopian community," he says. "We are literally switching parties."
For Besu, the reason is simple. He says he came to the US to escape political persecution when the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was in power. He sees the former ruling party as terrorists, just as Ethiopia's prime minister declared when he recently urged citizens to take up arms against Tigrayan forces.
Besu says by criticizing the Ethiopian government, which has been engaged in a year-long battle with Tigrayan rebels, the US is enabling the very persecution he fled and undercutting Ethiopia's elected leaders.
"It's sad," he says. "Ethiopian Americans are very disappointed."