What I’ve Learned from my Ethiopian Heritage

I’m Ethiopian, but I was born in Swaziland. My parents fled Ethiopia during the communist revolution. They left at separate times, leaving behind everything – their profession, their possessions, and their friends. It was a very dangerous and difficult time to immigrate, and they had to travel lightly. They couldn’t even bring photographs with them. Many share a similar story.

My parents reunited and later married in Swaziland, and later worked to establish a community of Ethiopian immigrants who’d also escaped the war. Together they’d heard the sound of bullets, witnessed routine death, experienced the military curfew, and been made to stand silently as the military invaded their homes and took away their loved ones. They bonded over the atrocities they’d experienced.

Later my parents immigrated to Canada with us (me and my brother), and some people who my parents had met and connected with. Although we’re not all blood related, we consider each other family. 

My Ethiopian heritage has taught me a lot. I’ve tried to narrow it down.

  1. Family is not just defined by blood, but by relationships.

Because of circumstance, I learned how to care deeply (as if they were family) for those I'm not actually related to in the stricter sense. This widened my understanding of belonging.

  1. There’s tremendous value in being authentic.

I grew up with some very vocal and transparent people. You always knew where you stood. Even if it was a hard thing to hear, their comments and advice have always come from a place of love. My belief system is different from that of my family, but acceptance and love is something unconditional in our household, because we needed to create our own community.

  1. Give back. Be grateful for what you have, and the choices you can make in your life.

I’m consistently reminded of how fortunate I am to live in Canada, and the privilege of choice I have available to me. After immigrating, my parents struggled because they weren’t able to work in their intended fields. In Ethiopia, my dad had run a telecommunications company, and my mom had been a pharmacist and owned her own pharmacy. They had to start from square one after immigrating to Canada, and it was difficult. Despite this, they are grateful for what they have.

I feel very lucky to live in Canada, and for the many ways I am provided for because of where I live. Those in my family (the people who moved here with us) care immensely about giving back. Growing up, I helped my parents in their own fundraising efforts by washing cards and cooking. Now those in my family work as a nurse, a cop, and all of us care about giving back . Through this collective, I try to give back by supporting the creative work of artisans in countries like India, Guatemala, and Indonesia.

I’m grateful this value was instilled in me at a young age. It’s added so much to my life.

  1. Be curious. Learn about your culture, and other cultures. 

I’m Ethiopian, but I wasn’t born in Ethiopia. My parents encouraged me to learn about where I’d come from. I followed their advice, later opening up my curiosity to include other cultures – especially those which feel especially foreign or different from my own.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, and my unique place in the world in this way.