“Some things are better inside the store.” Admiring something that you don’t have and being disappointed once you get it. #FICKLE
“And not to mention people in Africa have internet, right Makeda?”
Saw the video on YouTube the other day and it got me thinking. Why don’t I document some of the interesting things my co-workers have said to me?
“So Makeda.. can you explain to me the health insurance system in Africa?”
Here is the video for your viewing pleasure.
My name is Makeda. Named after the Queen of Sheba who started the Solomonic Dynasty in Ethiopia.. a Les Nubians song.. Supposedly it means vessel in Hebrew..? Not sure. But that is my name.
A topic of conversation I seem to have with so many Ethiopians (or more generally ‘Habesha’ people) is that confused identity that several if not most are experiencing. Many of us were either born or raised here and therefore align ourselves more with American culture however; there is still that desire within all Habesha people to maintain their connection to home.
So let’s get back to my name. Spring of 2009, I sent a group message to my closest friends sincerely asking them to change the way they pronounce my name. It was an ambitious request and one that I knew was extreme but several thoughts led me to it. Growing up I had very few Ethiopian friends and even fewer family members close to me in age. I rarely associated myself with Ethiopia aside from the fact that my mom had an accent and I sometimes came to school smelling ‘foreign’. I was always aware of the obvious differences between my classmates and me, but it was something that never held my attention long enough. I assimilated. By assimilate, I mean blend… not standing out because of my appearance. It was all appearance because at that point I was very much ‘Americanized’.
While it wasn’t a conscious decision, I began to introduce myself as Makeda. Now since this post is pronunciation heavy, I will clarify what I mean. You can pronounce Makeda as Muh-kee-duh or Mah-kih-dah. Those familiar with the Amharic language will probably have a better time understanding the distinction, but basically Muh-kee-duh rhymes with Chiquita (banana) while Mah-kih-dah rhymes with nothing because it is the Amharic pronunciation. Now the fact that I had always gone by Muh-kee-duh never struck me as odd, or incorrect, although I was raised speaking Amharic fluently at home. I knew Mah-kih-dah was the actual pronunciation but it just made sense to me to keep it as easy as possible.
Of course they say college is where you find yourself, but in actuality it’s where I figured out that I had no clue. I got involved in the Ethiopian Student Association, made a few more Habesha friends and it was brought to my attention more than ever that I wasn’t pronouncing my name right. My initial thought process was, “Eh, whatever”. But then I began to really think about why this was an issue I needed to address. I wasn’t happy with that name anymore along with a lot of other things… who knows maybe it was a quarter life crises (insert sarcastic laugh).
I decided I wanted a change and going from Muh-kee-duh to Mah-kih-dah was part one of that change. I felt like Muh-kee-dah just represented me trying to blend in. I hated the feeling. That feeling of not knowing what is the right way to act in a given situation, not knowing how people perceive you, not knowing where you fit in between these two very different cultures and then not knowing how to stop over analyzing it all the time. Having a conversation with a black American about racial issues and they say to you, “And you aren’t even considered black.” Or joining an all white-male-Jew finance committee on campus and dealing with feelings of total alienation. Suddenly my identity became fixated on titles. Ethiopian, black, African, Americanized, westernized, immigrant… the list goes on. It felt like my name dilemma was a manifestation of that feeling of being “lost in translation”. These feelings are what made me want to cling even tighter to my Ethiopian heritage.
The Habesha experience is quite interesting here in DC. The DMV has about 150,000 African immigrants. 1 in 5 of those immigrants are Ethiopian. I’m pretty sure this is still the second largest population of Ethi’s outside of Ethi. With that said, there are several examples of cultures within cultures. It’s like an over exaggerated high-school filled with the many different cliques. That is our Little Ethiopia. One of the major divisions within the Habesha community is between the westernized folks and the folks who are not as westernized (insert politically correct term here). Observing the differences (and many similarities) between the two sort of outlines that notion of being lost in translation.
This name ‘change’ was taken differently by different people around me whether it was my friends, my co-workers, my classmates ect… Some were more understanding than others, some didn’t think I was very serious about it and some totally ignored it. I noticed this particularly last week during a celebratory birthday happy hour, when it came time to say my name during the song.. everyone’s voices sort of tapered off with slight mumbles here and there. The confusion is understandable when viewing it from an outsider’s perspective.
It’s funny that I’m talking about something so minor as if it’s so major. I mean it’s not like I’m trying to have a sex change or get breast implants. But what I’m saying is that it represents something so much bigger. It’s something that I feel is unique to our generation that was raised by traditional immigrant parents while creating a totally American lifestyle. It’s a total contrast that I know will disappear with the next generation.
My fear is that in a couple of decades, we won’t be any different from the Irish and Italian immigrants who came to America in the late 1800’s who have fully assimilated into America. The distinction is gone. I developed that fear once I started learning more about Ethiopia, visiting more and meeting with family members and developing that pride that most of us are known for. I’m not trying to pretend like I’ve “found myself” or that I know ‘The Way’. In fact I’m saying the opposite. (CLICHÉ ALERT) I don’t even believe in finding yourself but rather creating yourself. I just don’t want our generation to create this artificial identity and lose what our parents don’t even realize we are losing. This is my traditional side talking, but I want to keep those cultural nuances that my parents hold. The family values, the traditions, the morals and the RESPECT so inherent in our culture that we are losing.
While I know changing the pronunciation of my name will not solve any of these problems, I understand now more than ever why I wanted to make that change.
Makeda, Muh-kee-duh, Mah-kih-dah, Keda, Maki, Lilu