Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

October 21, 2009

Raising Your Child in America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 10:37 pm
Tags: , , ,

mother_of_Ethiopia

As mentioned in our About Us page, I left Ethiopia at age 4 and grew up across the Netherlands and the USA.  I remember as a child having some difficulty reconciling the differences between the two cultures I lived on the daily.  On the one hand was talak makber, doro wot, Amarigna, etan on a lazy afternoon, buna, buna, and more buna.  On the other side was the Dutch, the English, Sinterklaas, Santa Clause, nursery rhymes, and french fries (among other things).  In my mind these vastly different worlds blended together seamlessly. 

There was no rift where one ended and the other began and I traversed the two worlds with ease blending them into one in my mind.  For some reason, though, those non-habesha around me always seemed to trip each time they caught a glimpse into my Habesha world.  Questioning looks when they come by and find the house filled with etan smoke, when they see injera for the first time, when my mother gives last minute instructions in a strange tounge.  After some time I learned it was best to not allow them into my Habesha world.  Initially it was not shame that led me there, but an inability to explain this other side in a way they could understand and value it as much as I did. 

After some time shame did creep in – for example after getting tired of smelling like wot each time I left the house.  I was never really harassed for being “African” though I vaguely remember the term “African Booty Scratcher” being thrown around.  I don’t remember anyone looking down on me as far as I could tell.  This, despite the fact that some of my most impressionable years came during the 80s famine which permanently imprinted the fly covered starving child with the distended stomach as the staple image of Ethiopia.  Yet, the constant differences between my two worlds gently lapped away at my confidence and sense of belonging – key components of a healthy childhood.

Over time with the maturity that comes with age, after spending time learning about my culture, after getting to befriend age peers with similar backgrounds that shame turned into tolerance, acceptance, and eventually pride.  There is no treasure in the world that could get me to change my culture and heritage. 

As I think about my future children (God willing there will be at least 2 🙂 ) I wonder what their experiences will be like.  How do I – a woman who grew up in two worlds help my children equally embrace and value the worlds that will be home for them?  What obstacles will they face that I never had to endure as they try to make their place in the world – or as they try to just be another kid in the class? 

My sister and I have met many interesting people through this book project and one such person is Ayanna Nahmias.  Ayanna is a woman who has traversed many worlds culturally, physically, and spiritually.  Here are some pictures of her that she has agreed to share with us: 

I recently ran across a blog entry Ayanna wrote about helping her 7 year old son overcome racism and anti-African reactions he experienced while in school.  I was touched by his confusion and frustration as that was around the same age that I first began to understand I was different from my peers.  I am inspired by the strength and conviction Ayanna and her mother tackle this difficult dillema.  She shows that it can be done and done well at that.  As a psychologist who has studied immigration and it’s impact on families I can spout out all the shoulds and shouldn’ts in raising a healthy bicultural child.  Hell, I do this on a regular basis for the Ethiopian Magazine Dinq and occassionally on the Ethiopian radio show Admas.  But inside I am afraid that when it gets to be my turn I will make too many mistakes.  My biggest fear is that my lack of “full Ethiopianness” will hinder me from being able to help my child connect to his or her Habeshanet.  Will it be the end of the world if my children area bit more American than Ethiopian?  No, of course not.  I just know I will be a bit sadder if I don’t at least provide the opportunity for them to connect to that side of themselves.

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7 Comments »

  1. This article is so sincerely written that it brought tears to my eyes. I appreciate the sensitivity you bring to this issue, both as a trained psychologist, and from the perspective of a person who has lived in and traversed two worlds and cultures. It is one thing to have someone write about a posting to your blog; it is quite another to have a trained professional applaud the gargantuan tasks my mother and I undertake in raising my son to be proud of his heritage and to have high self-esteem.

    I have no doubt that you will make a wonderful mother when you are so blessed; and I appreciate the recognition and encouragement that you have given me as a mother. Your blog is an inspiration to me, and I hope to all African women and Habeshanet. I look forward to reading more from you and will definitely pick up a copy of Ding.

    Thank you for featuring my blog and pictures so prominently in this post. I wish you continued success with all of your endeavors.

    Be well,
    Ayanna Nahmias

    Comment by Ayanna Nahmias — October 21, 2009 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  2. […] To read about how other Africans, particularly, Habeshanet, are balancing the complexities of raising children in America, please visit the blog Habesha Diaspora. […]

    Pingback by Combating Racism Against Africans « Memoirs of a Cipher — October 22, 2009 @ 8:27 am | Reply

  3. There is no such thing as “full Ethiopianness”! Ethiopia is made of different cultures and traditions, who is considered Full Ethiopian Amhara, Oromo, Tigraya, Gurage or …. In my opinion, everybody who is born in Ethiopia or raised by Ethiopian parents can claim to be Ethiopian and they can express it however they desire.

    Comment by AfroQious! — October 22, 2009 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

  4. I want to start by saying great article. It felt like a very honest description of your fears and concerns about motherhood/parenting. I think you would be a great mom to your kids (x2)just because you care enough to go ahead and discuss these concerns. I want to tell you that you are not alone questioning your “Full Ethiopianness”. I believe you are what you feel inside regardless of what that is. What matters to your kids is how much you love them and how well you provide and protect them. Who cares if you are “Full Ethiopian” or not if people have issues with that then forget them.

    Comment by Henock — November 2, 2009 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  5. Hi AfroQious and Henock – you’re right about there not being one “true” Ethiopian way. I guess what I meant was to say was I want my children to be perfectly at ease in both the Habesha world and the American world. I know for me this is not always the case and I want them to have more room in both. Part of that means they need to have a solid understanding of both worlds in order to have the comfort. You guys know that our people aren’t always the most welcoming and sometimes our way of “helping” is by telling others what they do wrong (“why don’t you speak your language?” “why don’t you know how to cook wot?” etc, etc, etc.) I want my future kids to be comfortable enough with who they are to stand up to that without giving in to the urge to run away from the culture. Know what I mean? Any answers on how to do that?

    Comment by Mahlet — November 17, 2009 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

  6. Yes, I agree with you making the distinction “Habesha”, because Ethiopia is (thank God)so ethnically diverse, and Habesha’s tend to think that Habesha (aka ethinic Amhara and Tigre)culture is THE only true “Ethiopian” culture. In fact my family is in exile because of the persecution we face for being conscious Oromo’s in Ethiopia, and my relatives back home are suffering till this day (long story, no short).
    Peace

    Comment by OromoInDiaspora — November 23, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Reply

  7. Welcome OromoInDiaspora,

    You are very right – though we all get lumped when we arrive in a new country, each of us brings a unique background with a unique heritage and culture. I want to say thank you for visiting us and thank you for leaving us your perspective. My sister and I very much want as many different backgrounds as possible to be represented in this project (as part of that the title of the book is going to be changed to remove the term “habesha” since it is not representative of all people of that part of the world.) Do you think you could help us be more inclusive in this project. We have yet to receive a submission in the book from someone who identifies as Oromo. Would you or someone you know be interested in writing a piece for the book? This piece can be published with or without a name attached (to protect the writer’s privacy.) What do you think? Any feedback you have for us would be very welcome and helpful.

    Thank you again and please visit with us more,

    Mahlet

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — December 5, 2009 @ 4:43 pm | Reply


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