Bi-culturalism- Am I More or less Ethiopian?

Biculturals take part, to varying degrees, in the life of two or more cultures. They adapt their attitudes, behaviors, and values to these cultures and they combine and blend aspects of the cultures involved (see here).

It has long been known that there are many advantages to being bicultural such as having a greater number of social networks, being aware of cultural differences, taking part in the life of two or more cultures, being an intermediary between cultures, and so on. Recent research shows that biculturals are also characterized by greater creativity and professional success.

– Advantages of Being Bicultural by Francois Grosiean, Ph.D.

As an Ethiopian American I find that the way I express my culture is a sort of a fusion between American culture and Ethiopian culture.  I recently discovered the term bicultural perfectly describes my cultural experience.  Biculturalism goes beyond blingualism.  Blingual is speaking two languages, but biculturals live in both worlds culturally.

I grew up in the United States, however in my home amongst family it was like I was in Ethiopia.  I understand and feel the culture.  I speak the language, I love the food.  I take the values of my culture out into the world with me.  On the same note, I live in America.   American culture is a part of me, I speak the language, I eat the food, I listen to the music, I subscribe to many American values.  At times these two worlds collide. I find myself living somewhere in the middle, trying to figure out where I actually belong.  Sometimes my connection to either culture is challenged.  Am I “Ethiopian enough” or “American enough”.  My values are challenged when I claim to follow certain Ethiopian customs and simultaneously follow American customs.  I fuse the two together, forming my bicultural world.

People that try to look down on Ethiopians born in America, yet do everything in their power to live the American dream amaze me.

True story: One day I was sitting amongst a group of acquaintances, all born in Ethiopia.  I was the only American born out of the bunch.  One of the women said “Thank God I wasn’t Born in America” and made a very nasty face along with the comment.  I sat there and looked at her, and said “O you were born in Ethiopia?” She said “Yes, Thank God Im not one of these kids born here.”  I couldn’t bite my tongue that day.  This woman speaks English without an accent, clearly attended high school and college in the U.S. and continues to live her life in the U.S. as an adult.  I responded to her in Amharic, to make my point even clearer: “Ena eze ager teweleja min honkon? Ye honkoot neger alle? Anche eze eye norsh, mindeno ye me leyen?” translation “I was born in America, what happened to me? Is there something wrong with me?  What makes us different , you growing up and living here me being born here?”  She was shocked, and speechless.  I put my case to rest and she apologetically said, oh nothing is wrong with you, you are different.   My question to you my readers is this: What makes us different, if I embrace my culture just as much as those born in Ethiopia what makes me different?  I say, nothing but mere coincidence of birth.  Besides, Ethiopians in Ethiopia even have disagreement about which tribe is truly “Ethiopian”.

I will confess, I do understand what she meant.  She was having a prideful moment in Being Ethiopian.  However, she unknowingly offended and attacked my pride in being Ethiopian.  By inflating her own culture, she attacked mine.  I challenge you all to do this, one is really not better than the other.  I feel blessed to be born in America.  However, if I were born in Ethiopia I would feel just as blessed.  It is not up to us to assign judgment, rather encourage any opportunity to exposure or embracing cultural background and heritage..  Exposure is the key to biculturalism, then the individual can choose which cultural norms suit him or her best and live life aCultural Identity Stagesccordingly.

Coming full circle: The article I quoted above, I suggest you all read, says that people that have the opportunity to participate in multiple cultures benefit from larger social networks, greater professional awareness. Biculturalism should in fact be embraced.  In whichever form it is: whether the Ethiopian born who has migrated to America, or the American born embracing her Ethiopian roots. Biculturalism benefits us all.  If I were to run a business, I prescribe to both American and Ethiopian culture: that widens my base of customers or clients.  I can easily identify with whomever walks into my door, because I have a wider understanding of two different worlds.  It also makes it easier to work with people outside of my own cultural group because there is a level of understanding that comes with having lived and grown up in a bicultural world.

My advice: Parents do not be afraid to expose your children to your culture, let them embrace , love it and understand it.  In the long run you are helping them more than you could ever imagine.

Those are just my thoughts, Please feel free to comment.

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