#AmItheFilm Blog Series Q&A with Mayron Yohannes:
Question: Tell us some of your family background. What was reasoning for your family migrating to the US?
My mother was born in Decamere, Eritrea. My father was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My mother had an arranged marriage in the 8th grade. As a result, my mother migrated to Addis Ababa to be closer to her soon to be husband.
My parents were well off in Ethiopia. My father was a Hydraulics Engineer, and my mother worked in a German NGO office. When my parents got a separated, my mother quickly moved to the states to be further away from my father. A few years later, she brought me to join her. My mother settled in Washington, D.C., as many may know, there is a huge population of Ethiopians in the Washington DC metropolitan area. This is simply because there is a direct Ethiopian Airlines flight to Washington D.C., which makes it so much easier for many people to settle in this region.
Question: How would you describe your social class in America and how were you affected by it?
I would describe my social class in America as lower middle class. My mother had three jobs while raising me. It affected me greatly emotionally because I did not see my mother as often as I should; however I understood that she was only working this hard to provide me with a better life.
Looking back at my childhood, I use to attend a private school in Ethiopia; I got dropped off and picked up by a driver. In away, I was living the “good life.” Living in the states completely traumatized me as a child. As I started growing up, I realized all I had was my mother, and I was desperate to have a successful career so that I can finally give my mother the break she deserves.
Question: How has living in America affected your identity? How did you find ways to embrace your culture?
I find myself struggling with my identity in the United States. My solution in life has been catering my identity to my environment, which can be very confusing. If I had to define my identity, first and foremost I am an Ethiopian, then I am African. Life has matured my perspective on my true identity; hence I would never identify myself as an American. Yes, I am US citizen, but culturally I do not belong in this country. When I get the opportunity, I try to embrace my beautiful culture by showcasing my traditions. For instance, at Bucknell when the African Student Association hold their annual dinner to the community. I always made sure to incorporate my culture by doing a traditional dance each year.
Question: Describe how your parents taught you cultural practices in America?
In order to maintain my cultural values, my mother would always speak to me in Amharic. In addition, every Sunday when we go to church, I would have to wear traditional clothes. My mother stressed the fact that it is extremely important to continue to embrace my culture. Looking back, I truly appreciate her efforts to instill many traditional values in my life. Because of her, I can speak my language fluently, communicate with my grandparents, and blend in whenever I travel to Ethiopia. Luckily, I do not get seen as an outsider whenever I travel back home.
Question: How would you describe dating over the years? Were you ever worried culturally?
Dating can be very difficult in United States. I have never dated an Ethiopian man. All my relationships have been with African American men. It’s very hard to go in public with my significant other in my neighborhood because other Ethiopian men and elderly women would spot us, and would stare at us with a disgusted look. In fact, countless times I have been called a whore in my own language when I pass other Ethiopian men. Many of these men assume that I don’t speak the language since I am with an American. My own mother has told me that she would never come to my wedding if I marry someone other than an Ethiopian. I continuously worry about not finding a man that my family will accept.
Question: What are your religious beliefs? Do you they have anything to do with you cultural background?
The biggest influence in my life is religion. I was raised in a strict Orthodox Christian household. Being raised in an American society has questioned a lot of my beliefs as well as affected the way people of my culture view me. I’ll never forget a time, when I went to my Ethiopian church with pants on. A strange woman approached me, and expressed her disappointment in me. She said to me, “America has ruined our young ladies, how dare you wear pants to church.” As a result, I stopped attending that church.
Question: Having lived in both Ethiopia and the US, where do you prefer to live?
I moved to the United States at age 9, I would say that I have lived half of my life in Ethiopia, and little over half of my life in America. If someone were to ask me now where I would prefer to live, I would quickly respond Africa. I have several reasons for why I would love to move back. In the west, you work a lot and life is highly material. I know for a fact I will be able to find the balance between work and leisure in my home country. I plan to go back to Ethiopia because of Ethiopia’s increasing opportunities.
Question: Tell us about some of your accomplishments? Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
I have always been taught to be a hard worker, I have watched my mom work extremely hard to get where she is now. I knew for a fact, I had to make her proud. I have been extremely fortunate enough to earn a full-tuition scholarship to attend Bucknell University. Through my experiences at Bucknell, I have landed several opportunities such as Google Ambassador and full time permanent job with Noblis Inc. (IT consulting firm). In ten years, I imagine myself having a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health. I see myself working for the United Nations in Ethiopia or another African country. I am the product of an African education, culture, and household. I want to take my skills and expertise back to Africa to better the lives of many people.
Interview of Mayron Yohannes (Representing Ethiopia) by Nadia Marie
Note from the Editor (Nadia Sasso): In my research and documentation I plan to explore the preservation efforts made by generational immigrants in order to unveil some of the tensions made accessible via the stories of those participants interviewed in/for the film and this blog post series. One anticipated outcome of the film and blog posts would be to generate qualitative insights into the fusion of US and African experiences as well as new identity formations for those immigrants beyond the first generation. Support the Film: Am I The Film IndieGoGo