After about a month and half into our semester in Jerusalem, my friends and I found ourselves seating in the cafeteria of our school and reminiscing of things we missed about America. The school was built of Cenomanian limestone with Crusader arches, which gave the whole building pleasing aesthetics. Our school was located right next to the walls of the Jerusalem’s old city whose streets we roamed after classes. Our eyes grew tired of even this spectator site and soon we began to dream of home, a place which overwhelmed our hearts with feelings of nostalgia.
Each one of us had things we admired about the place from which we came. For some it was the principles of freedom, which was the premise of countless discussions during the early GOP debates. For others, it was the simple things like Starbucks and holidays only found in America such as Black Friday. For others, it was things I thought were absurd like the flatlands of Indiana. I became a victim of nostalgia and started to miss the changing colors of the leaves, or the drive through fast foods which satisfied a college student’s hunger with very little money while spending little amount of time.
The yearning to return to the US was not a feeling, which I expected to occur to me since America was not a place I considered home. I was born and raised in Ethiopia, located in the horn of Africa. The struggle to assimilate and fit in to the American culture was my high school experience. Attending a white majority college, home or fitting in were not descriptions I would use to describe my experiences.
Upon my arrival in Israel and my encounter with Ethiopians outside the context of America was itself a reality check. The assumption my identity and personality will be the same as any other Ethiopian broke right in my face. My attitude, thoughts, and priorities were very different than the Ethiopian I interacted with. I felt much more comfortable with my American friends than I did with my Ethiopian counterparts. At first, this troubled me. Have I lost my Ethiopian identity? Have I assimilated so much that I have let go of my core? Comments were tossed around by my classmates such as … “you are just like us.” I would have adored this observation a couple of years ago in high school but now this only raised questions of my identity.
I felt lost. Where was my home? An answer that I struggled to articulate and respond in my mind was answered simply by my heart. Nostalgic. My heart longed for my return. From snow that once was foreign to me to the endless amount of lakes in my home state of Minnesota. Pride of my state, city, and region, which are all forms of patriotism, was what I experienced. Defending American from foreign criticism but also willing to point out its flaws was the position that I constantly found my self in. This conclusion was bitter sweet. If I take upon my self this American identity will I have to forgo my history and heritage?
Maybe this is the beauty of America. That the Irish can sing their pride songs in the pubs of Boston and I can hold to the history and culture which made me who I am while still being an American. Maybe these are the aesthetics my eyes and the eyes of its inhabitant will not grow weary of. Everywhere we travel and all the miles we cover, we know we can come back to this, a place that made a place for all immigrants-including me.
Yaphet Tedla is studying Economics with a minor in Math and International Relations at Wheaton College. He was born in Ethiopia and raised in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. Currently, he is a junior studying Economics and minoring in Math and International Relations at Wheaton College. He is very interested in where Politics and Economics intersect. After graduation, he hopes to pursue post-graduate study in Public Policy to further his understanding of how these two fields interact with one another.
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