As an Ethiopian-American I have a unique opportunity to embrace two cultures. In my situation the two complement each other like injera and wot. When I was younger I felt there was an internal conflict. How do I embrace one without acknowledging the other? I spoke Amharic but sometimes Ethiopians, would highlight my Ferenge accent or assume I am “Americanized” without even meeting me. At the same time I didn’t quite fit all the way into the “American society”, growing up in a household where I was raised with Ethiopian ideals and culture. I didn’t fit that mold either. As I got older I realized I have to embrace both because it’s what makes me who I am. My background placed me in a distinctive situation as a volunteer and audience member at the 2nd Annual Tsehai Conference. I was exposed to not only renowned Ethiopian doctors, writers, professors, artists and activists but to young Ethiopian-Americans making a mark in the world not only in their respective careers but in their communities as well.
As I listened and reflected on what the elders spoke about during the Conference I was able to make connections to names and ideas that my parents talked about. The issues took shape and form and became real for me. I had the opportunity to become exposed to Ethiopian trailblazers both on the platform and in the audience and listen to the heavy burden they are carrying, as Ethiopia is entering the new Millennium. In addition the generational gap between the elders and the new generation also became very apparent. When the younger generation of Ethiopian-Americans like myself who loved their culture, spoke about what they’ve done and what they are trying to accomplish both here and in Ethiopia, I was extremely impressed and proud of them. At the same time I asked myself: What am I doing to contribute? Silence was my answer. In retrospect, I try to tell myself that one has to crawl first before they walk. It takes small steps first, perhaps this was what I needed, exposure to an event of this magnitude and potential to grow, to get me moving. Perhaps I can start in some small way by making sure that I continue to help in some shape, way or form every year to help Tsehai Conferences expand. I would like to see more Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopia and Ethiopian-Americans have the opportunity to participate in Tsehai Conference like I did. Another point that I enjoyed was the workshops which took place after the conference because it was a little less formal. The workshops were even more conducive to intimate dialogue with the audience and the speaker because of the smaller group. I hope to one day in the future see Tsehai Conferences become a well known name not just in the Ethiopian community but to all those interested in Ethiopia as well so that I can at least know that I played some small role in the early days of Tsehai Conferences.
I took away two things from Tsehai Conferences that I wanted to do. The first was to spread the word about Tsehai Conferences. It is unfair to put all the work on our brother’s shoulders to do everything, we have to find a way help lighten the load. One person had the brilliant mission, now we have to help him carry it out. The second was to become active in my community, to find some way to continue to give back whether it is for Ethiopian causes here or in Ethiopia, because I consider them both my home.
- Naomi Tessema, (MBA 2006) Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC