Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp, held this past weekend in Harrisonburg, VA, was wonderful. Dozens of families (Ethiopian, and adoptive families with Ethiopian children) enjoyed camaraderie, delicious meals, dancing, music, stories, games, crafts, and the delightful warmth of Ethiopian culture. I wrote about the activities and energy here.
The camp is designed to be, primarily, an opportunity “to connect, to educate.” We were to meet and learn about each other, as much as about Ethiopian culture.
The children of most of the adoptive parents there were young, toddlers to 10 years old, I’d guess. There were some older kids, as well as siblings of younger Ethiopian adoptees. They were gloriously cute, all those kids.
Here’s the thing. Little children, if things go as they should, grow up. We have a tendency in adoption to think only about children at the time of placement, and marginalize the reality that they become teens, then young adults, then adults, then old adults. The adorable little girl grows into a young woman who receives racist insults when she is with her friends waiting to enter a nightclub. The shy little boy grows into a young man who people move away from on the subway, or follow around in a nice store.
This year at camp, three courageous young women spoke their truths about “Growing Up Ethiopian In America.” I know two of them–my daughters Aselefech and Adanech–well.
NuNu Wako is the host of the NuNu Wako Show on EBS TV Global broadcasting internationally via Arab Sat and nationally on Dish Network. Born in Ethiopia and raised in the United States, she has been a model and spokesperson featured in print and other media. She is currently studying at the University of Maryland toward a degree in international studies. She is 26 years old.
Aselefech Evans is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in Family Sciences. She plans to get her MSW, and wants to work with children and families,perhaps in post-adoption services. She has presented numerous workshops and workshops on adoption-related issues (racism, identity, hair care, and more). She is a quarterly columnist for the new adoptee-centric, on-line magazine, Gazillion Voices. Born in Ethiopia, she was adopted as a 6-year-old along with her twin sister in 1994. She is 24 years old.
Adanech Evans is a rising senior at Bowie State University, finishing her degree in psychology. She was chosen to be a Teaching Assistant for freshmen psychology students starting in Fall 2013. Adanech is an avid traveler, from when she spent 3 weeks in high school going to school in Japan and touring the country, to her recent trips to Italy and England. She hopes to teach English in Korea or Japan when she finishes her degree, and especially to continue traveling. Born in Ethiopia, she was adopted as a 6-year-old along with her twin sister in 1994. She is 24 years old.
These 3 talented young women spoke eloquently and movingly about their love for their families and about the pain of racism. NunNu recalled seeing KKK while attending a West Virginia boarding school as a young girl, reflecting through tears the pain and confusion that caused for her. Aselefech talked about going recently to a predominately white DC club with her black girlfriends, and being taunted and insulted as they waited in line to get in.
All 3 spoke thoughtfully about whether they considered themselves black, African-American, Ethiopian, Ethiopian-American, or something else. How they see themselves and how the world sees them can often be at odds. They responded to questions from the audience members (primarily adoptive parents) about how having brown skin translates into being black, about the artificiality and the reality of the terms “black” and “white,” about how Obama’s election may have had great symbolism but that racism permeates our American culture as much as at any time in our history.
They talked about being proud of being Ethiopian, though much of the world does not understand more than stereotypes. They talked of the heartache of not being “Ethiopian enough” or “black enough” in certain contexts. And they talked about dating.
We in the audience both teared up with them and laughed out loud together. I hope that in the next few weeks to have one, two, or all three of them “guest blog,” because their words, their voices, matter most. Listening to them speak so beautifully from their hearts was powerful, and a privilege.