"Hi, what's your name?" I asked her in Amharic, thinking she was from Ethiopia. The little girl looked at me, confused, and smiled. I'm sure she wanted to befriend Isabella and not me (LOL), but Bella was too busy reading a book to talk to this sweet little child.
When she didn't answer, I smiled and said, "you want to see her book" again in Amharic, and also she looked at me, confused, then her father turned around and told me she didn't speak Amharic. There we were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, sitting together in Immigrations, both of us waiting to get some kind of visa, and staring at each other. I later learned that the little girl was from Asmara, Eritrea, and was moving to the United States with her father for a better life.
The minute I knew they were Eritrean, I started speaking to her in Tigrinya (the native language in Eritrea) and found out that she was in 1st grade and while she was excited to be going on a new adventure, she was scared at the same time. She missed her friends, her family, her neighborhood, her bed, and all the things that come with the beauty of being home.
That day replays in my mind quite often, I don't know if it was because she looked and acted just like Novena or if I saw myself in her, but my heart ached for all that she would be losing by moving to the States. I think, often, we are so consumed with the gains of moving to the Western World from Africa that we forget all the beauty we are leaving behind.
My story is flipped. I was 8 when my parents moved to Ethiopia from Maryland, USA, and just like that little girl, I had to leave behind my friends, my family, my life, and all I knew. I moved to a country where I didn't speak the language (only spoke Tigrinya and English at the time) and knew no one. I was scared, homesick, and angry at my parents for making life decisions without talking to me first (LOL). It took years and me becoming a mother myself, for me to appreciate my time in Ethiopia fully, and while I'm sure that little girl will start to love her new life here in the United States, I'm sure a part of her will always miss home. A part of her will ponder at the idea of what would have happened to her had she stayed in Asmara.
That little girl is in us somehow or another. While most first-generation American children get their families' immigration story ingrained in their upbringing, which then keeps them exceptionally close to their native countries, other generations do not. Moms, that's where we come in. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to raise our children deeply rooted in our culture. I talked about this subject briefly some time ago on my blog (Raising 2nd Generation American Children Rooted in Culture); it's something that concerns me as a mother because often I don't see myself doing the things my mother and father did to ensure I knew where I was from and quite frankly, I don't do them because they don't come naturally for me. The best thing my parents did for my sister and I moved us to Ethiopia in 1991 and then years later, in 1999, move us to Eritrea. We learned our culture, perfected our language skills, and became deeply rooted in our heritage during those years. I want this for my children!
While I know it's not feasible for us to take our children every year or move to our native countries, I think the least we can do as parents is teach them every day about where they come from. Tell them the stories you heard as a child about how/why your parents came, or if you are an immigrant yourself, tell them your story. Let them live through your words. Share it openly and educate them on the struggles you had to endure when you first arrived and maybe even while you lived in your home country.
If you take away anything from today's post, please let it be that your story is your power! It's what made you into the person you are today. Your kids need to know your power!!
As always, I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to share your immigrant story with us on the blog.