“We are all of Ethiopian origin. Whatever hardship and disappointments we faced, life in America holds the brightest possibility of prosperity and freedom.”
-Kebede Haile, Author
There is much to be said about Ethiopians and the journey we take between living in America and returning home to Ethiopia. The journey is often turbulent and can get lonely. Nevertheless, it is a story that has to be told and one man is up for that challenge. Meet Kebede Haile.
Kebede came to the United States during the 1970′s as a student. After graduating from college, he went back to Ethiopia where he worked. He later returned to the U.S. to pursue his studies. As a former columnist for an Atlanta based magazine, Kebede wrote about the lifestyles of Ethiopian-Americans. When the magazine stopped its circulation, he continued working to study about Ethiopians in America. In addition, he traveled to Ethiopia many times to assess the general situations of the country. He also interviewed countless Ethiopian professionals, government officials, and Ethiopian-American returnees. In 2004, his first Amharic book titled ‘Ye Ethiopiyaweian Sidetina Nuro’ (The Migration of Ethiopians) was published. “The purpose of this book was to educate Ethiopians who wish to come to America. As we remember, we all thought that life in America was as easy as Hollywood portrays.” Readers of this book encouraged Kebede to write a similar book in English for the young Ethiopians living in America. “So in 2008, I published the first edition of ‘The Ethiopian Experience in America’ to pass history to the next generation.” In 2009, the revised and updated second edition was published.
In ‘The Ethiopian Experience in America’, Kebede’s intention is to enlighten Ethiopians and others about the lives of Ethiopian-Americans. “Most newcomers encounter so many social problems when they strive to begin new life. This book touches on those problems as well as the life adjustment newcomers have to make. So it is useful not only to Ethiopians, but also to other African refugees and immigrants.” The book reviews a variety of Ethiopian experiences from refugee camp life to permanent resettlement and covers issues that Ethiopians faces today and at the very least evokes others to do more research and pay attention to the immigrant plight and adaptation in America.
While similar books have been written, this one may be the first of its kind, highlighting the reasons why, and when Ethiopians came to live in the U.S. It also presents biographies of successful Ethiopian-Americans and summarizes the postwar lives of those who served in the U.S. Army. “Since the book covers the day-to-day life of Ethiopians from different walks of life, I think readers can get reasonable answers for questions they might have in mind.” The first three parts focuses on the history of Ethiopia, the culture, as well as past and present political situations so that foreign readers would have basic knowledge about Ethiopia. There is also a section ‘Disappearing Language’ which may hit home with the young Ethiopian-American generation. “Ethiopian children born and raised in the U.S. have distanced themselves from the language of their parents. Since parents are powerless to transfer their heritage to their children, they are in the process of losing their identities.” Because of this, Kebede has a high fear that in a few years, Amharic-Ethiopia’s official language-will disappear.
What happens when Ethiopians settle in America, their new home? They discover life in America is far from the Hollywood fairytale they might have envisioned while they were back in Ethiopia. The main challenges they face, according to Kebede, include language proficiency, fear of assimilation and culture clashes. “Those who are well educated, talented and experienced face difficulties of finding jobs in their fields. Because of this, they are forced to work in low-paying jobs.”
Ethiopian-Americans who return to their homeland do so while facing numerous obstacles. “The major problems of returnees are related to the economy, political instability, endless government red tape and high taxes. Other problems include housing, schools for children, lack of medical treatments, and finding jobs in their field.”
While there are many challenges Ethiopians face- as returnees and living in America- we must not lose sight of the big picture. In no other country can one experience the freedom and endless opportunities we are entitled to in America. “We are all of Ethiopian origin. Whatever hardship and disappointments we faced, life in America holds the brightest possibility of prosperity and freedom. After all, what America has done for us is unforgettable.”