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

November 8, 2009

Volunteering Within The Community

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 11:17 pm
Tags: , ,

Greetings everyone,



I was recently contacted by the Atlanta Ethiopian Community Association which has recently been re-organized and is under new leadership. The organization is trying to make it easier for volunteers to work with the organization to address a multitude of identified needs in the community. They asked me to prepare a talk on how to make their organization attractive to volunteers. Half of my presentation is information on best practices in recruiting, managing, and retaining volunteers. In the second half I hoped to provide feedback about common problems encountered when trying to volunteer within the community whether in Atlanta or in other parts of the country/world. If you have the time please consider the following questions and send your responses back to me via email (  I will compile the responses and present them to the organization (without identifying sources):

A. If you have volunteered before (esp. with an Eritrean or Ethiopian organization) what helped make the volunteering easier/more fun? What barriers did you encounter?

B. If you tried to volunteer but intentionally drew back from doing so what stopped you?

C. If you wanted to volunteer with an Eritrean or Ethiopian organization but were not able to (due to factors outside your control) what got in your way?

D. If you do not have an intention to volunteer with an Eritrean or Ethiopian organization, why do you not want to do this? Have you volunteered with non-Eritrean/Ethiopian organizations before?

E. What have you heard about volunteering with Eritrean/Ethiopian organizations?

Your honest responses will greatly help the Atlanta ECA better reach out to their community. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. If you know of someone who could provide valuable feedback please feel free to forward this to them. If possible, please send your responses to me by Wednesday November 11th.

Thank you for your consideration,



November 6, 2009

You Are

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 9:32 am

Buna Bean

You are

You are my

Injera be kitfo

Lazy afternoon beneath

the Chis Abbay

Dabo ina shiro

You are

What sustains me

The carbohydrates

Of my amino acids

My lil’ Buna Bean

You are my

13th month of sunshine

Stop at the Cake Bet

Stroll down Bole road

The siquar in my wine

You are

Wind in my lungs

Malchilewn desta

Michilewn ambesa

My essence, my nefs

You are my


Build me up

One smile at a time then

Scramble again, wey ye libe gwada

You are

Rising plains

To Mountain tops

Rivers winding

My country’s veins

You are my

Lalibela meskel

Libe indetesekele

Be Egzihaber

Anjete indaykatel


November 4, 2009

African Vs. African American Vs. Black Vs. Habesha – “What” Are We Again?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 12:27 am
Tags: , , , ,

marathon runnermarathon winners

Background info:  For those of you not into sports or who are disconnected from the Habesha community and somehow missed it, two Habeshotch won the NY marathon this past Sunday.  Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu and Eritrean born runner  Mebrahtom Keflezighi were the female and male winners respectively.

Mr. Keflezighi immigrated to the U.S. at age 12 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998.  He represented the U.S.A. in this race as well as during the 2004  Olympics where he won the silver medal.  According to Wikipedia, the silver medal was the first placement by an American in the event since 1976 and the NY marathon win represents the first American win since 1982.

To the point of this post:  So a colleague and I have a twitter account (we call ourself “cultural health”) and recently gained a follower who has a blog by the same name as our twitter account.  He asked if we would be interested in writing for his blog and so I went to check out his page.  The first time I saw it I was quickly drawn in and enjoyed what I saw.  Then yesterday I took a look again and saw his latest post is called “African American Wins NYC Marathon.”  I had this immediate viceral reaction and I actually said out loud, “He’s not African American!!!!!”  And with that I was drawn in to the long standing debate of culture bound racial constructs…a debate that no one side will ever win just because it is just that…a “construct”:

con·struct: n. (knstrkt):  1. Something formed or constructed from parts.  2. a. A concept, model, or schematic idea:  a theoretical construct of the atom.  b. A concrete image or idea: “[He] began to shift focus from the haunted constructs of terror in his early work” (Stephen Koch).

The problem with “A concept, model, or schematic idea?”  Each person could potentially define it differently.  For example:  ask 5 people to describe the construct of love and you could get 5 different answers.  Since love is not an actual physical thing that everyone can look at and which exists in of it’s own right each person can have a different view of what it is.  Now if you had 5 people looking at the same table they are likely going to give you 5 very similar descriptions.  However like love, race (as scientists have shown) is a social construct rather than a concept that exists in it’s own right.

As controversial a construct as race is, I am not sure why I was surprised when I got to work, opened up the New York Times online and found this article on how many Americans are rejecting the title “American” winner for Mr. Keflezighi.  Here are some of the words cited by the article:

The online postings about Keflezighi were anonymous. One of the milder ones on said: “Give us all a break. It’s just another African marathon winner.”

A comment on The New York Times’s site said: “Keflezighi is really another elite African runner by birth, upbringing, and training. Americans are kidding themselves if they say he represents a resurgence of American distance prowess! On the other hand, he is an excellent representative of how we import everything we need!”

In a commentary on, Darren Rovell wrote, “Nothing against Keflezighi, but he’s like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league.”

Keflezighi said on Monday that remarks about his heritage were not new. “I’ve had to deal with it,” he said. “But, hey, I’ve been here 22 years. And the U.S.A. is a land of immigrants. A lot of people have come from different places.”

The NYT article presents these reactions as racist but I am not sure that all people who agree with the above do so based on racist views.  Let me share my experiences.  I am American by papers but I would never consider myself American despite culturally being so assimilated that I could “pass.”  I remember being in Sri Lanka in 2005 and being asked where I was from.  My first instinct was to say Ethiopia but I quickly learned to add that I currently reside in the U.S.A.  It was interesting to note the questioning looks turn to nods of understanding when that last bit was added because they knew what “Americans” look/act like but had no idea what an “Ethiopian” was supposed to be like.

So here we have it.  Many Americans don’t consider him an “American” runner, both Ethiopians and Eritreans herald him  gladly despite his official citizenship status, but politically correct society says he has to be seen as an “American” athlete.

As this book project continues to ask – who is it that gets to define you again?

November 2, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 12:20 pm


Social context. That is the key to defining human behavior. Some action can seem ridiculous at one time and location but seem perfectly acceptable at a different point in space. This is how we define beauty; through social context. In the earlier centuries, chubby was ‘in’ here in America. Now, stick skinny seems to be a fading fad from the 90’s.

It happened again this weekend. I was in Miami and meeting people from around the world when ethnicity came-up in conversation. You’ve heard the whole “East African look” comment, I’m sure. I have to wonder what people from West or Central Africa are told. Are they told the same thing? “Oh, women from <insert country here> are so beautiful.” Either way, these comments make me uncomfortable. Personally, I think people from all over the continent are beautiful. Different regions have different features and one should not be valued over another. That just creates more animosity between countries. I think women from the west stereo typically have a beautiful, rich skin tone and bangin’ curves that are severely underrated by people who make these comments to me.

This man literally said “I like women from East Africa because you have narrow features.” I wanted to be like, “Did your narrow behind really just say that?” Instead, I just nodded and smiled and excused myself from the scene. <smh>. I feel like the current world needs to open-up its definition of beauty. I aint sayin’ but I’m just sayin’… know what I’m sayin?

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