“My dad moved to the US from Ethiopia in 1998 when the border war broke out between the two countries. At that time, Eritreans were no longer welcome in Ethiopia.
I was born in the US, but because I didn’t grow up there, I consider myself Ethiopian and Eritrean. My dad returned to the US with my siblings soon after the start of the war while my mom and I stayed in Ethiopia. It was difficult to leave her when I moved to the US in my late teens because I was the last one of my siblings to live with her. She refused to move because she was happy with her life in Ethiopia.
There wasn’t much of a culture shock moving back to the US because I had spent every summer and Christmas there. Washington DC also has a strong Ethiopian community, so I was never really far from the culture or the food. They even sell our food at 7/11, it’s that common. But I did miss my friends and the place where I grew up – my culture and feeling comfortable speaking my own language, Amharic. I was also used to middle-class life in Ethiopia, which included having a maid, a guard, a driver, etc. These things are considered luxurious in Western countries but it’s the norm for some in Ethiopia.
Balancing my Ethiopian and Eritrean identities was also difficult. Sometimes Eritreans can be anti-Ethiopia because of the war and what the Ethiopian government did to them. Growing up, as long as I hid my Ethiopian heritage I was kind of accepted. But at the same time, a lot of people spent the summers going to Eritrean youth camps as part of a government initiative, so they knew each other and spoke the language and I didn’t. I never felt like I belonged to the Eritrean community.
After my dad passed away, I wanted to be more Eritrean and bond with that culture more because I knew it would have meant a lot to him. The whole war was based on identity; that’s what Eritreans fought for.
It’s strange living in Belgium because most people label me as American. I never know which response to give when someone asks me where I am from.
I eventually want to settle in Ethiopia, especially after having conducted my field research on the driving forces behind the Ethiopian diaspora’s return from the US. I am essentially trying to find out what encourages people to move back home. There is a huge disparity between the poor and the 1%, but people now are working harder to close that gap. We are privileged enough to leave and get an education, have these different experiences in different cultures, and now we can contribute to the country’s growth and development in the long-run. If you have the right motivation, it’s a great time to be in Ethiopia.”