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Respecting Our Eritrean Identity In Diasporas

Eritrean flags - Credit: Winta

Dr, Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, West Virginia University

National Identity is the extent to which one belongs to and identifies with a particular sect of people or nation which has its own history, language, tradition, social norms, and cultural heritage. It refers to the part of one's way of thinking, perceptions, feelings, behavior, and belongingness that the individual person or persons develop from the social membership or affiliation to own people. No matter who we are and how highly we may or may not think of ourselves, relationships and affiliations in decent forms with our own people are critical to our existence as human beings. The Almighty God created us to have relationships with one another in the most profound and decent way possible. Every one of us need to be connected to our own people who have the same Eritrean identity. If we are not connected or do not have a solid social relationship with our own people, we will likely develop a lack of self-esteem and experience a state of uncertainty, confusion and insecurity in our interpersonal interaction which can be detrimental to our lives. The following story of a baby eagle living with chickens is a typical example to explain the importance and social values of respecting and honoring our own Eritrean identity. The greatest thing in life is to know who we are.

Once upon a time, there was a nest in a tree holding a baby eagle on a large mountainside. The mother eagle left him at his nest to fetch food. One day, an earthquake rocked the mountain causing the nest with the baby eagle to fall and roll down to a chicken farm located in the valley below. Since the eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of the nest and glided down to the ground because he was not yet able to fly. A chicken farmer found the eagle and put him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The chickens protected and raised the baby eagle as their own. The baby eagle learned to imitate the chickens, scratching the ground for grubs and worms too. He grew up thinking and believing that he was a chicken and doing everything that the chickens were doing. It was surprising to observe an eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking grains at the ground, acting and living very much like a chicken. The eagle loved his new home and family, but it seemed his spirit cried out for identity, more than being a chicken. One day, the baby eagle looked to the sky above and noticed a group of mighty eagles soaring. “Oh,” the baby eagle cried, “I could soar like those birds.” The chickens roared with laughter, “You cannot soar like those birds. You are a chicken and chickens do not soar.” The baby eagle kept dreaming that one day he could be like those birds. For the first time in his life he wanted to attempt flying like those birds he saw in the sky. He managed to climb to the top of the fence of the farm and jumped in an unsuccessful effort to fly. In disappointment, the baby eagle went back to scratching the ground like the chickens and believing that he would not be able to fly. It was sad that he continued to behave like the chicken he once thought he was. For some time the baby eagle stopped dreaming and continued to live his life as a chicken. Yet, one day to his surprise, another mighty eagle flew over the barnyard. The baby eagle looked up and wondered, “What kind of animal is that? How graceful, powerful, and free it is.” Then he asked another chicken, “What is that?” The chicken replied, “Oh that is an eagle. But don’t worry yourself about that. You will never be able to fly like that.” Each time the baby eagle talked about his dreams even though he was constantly discouraged by the chickens that his dream couldn’t be done. He kept his dream alive and hoped to fly by trying again. This time learning and knowing that he did belong to the sky and not to the earth, he tried to fly for the second time. He stretched forth his wings and prepared to fly. The eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew away and never came back to the chicken farm apparently, he managed to join and stick to his own flock of eagles. It is always a blessing to know and respect own identity.

The moral lesson of the story is that we can all use a little encouragement from time to time to know who we are as a people and as a nation, especially when we begin to have feelings of self-doubt and/or a weak sense of identity. If not addressed, these feelings of self-doubt can get in the way of us achieving our goals and dreams. An awareness of who we are is essential to the establishment of our identity. According to Samuel Smiles “Self-respect is the noblest garment with which a man can clothe himself, the most elevating feeling with which the mind can be inspired” As the story indicated, the baby eagle was captivated, by the flying birds for a long time, knowing that he did not belong to the chicken family. When he saw the eagle above him in the blue sky and was able to fly as well, his spirit encouraged him to join the eagles who became his real family. It was then that he became what he believed he was by following his dreams, not listening to the words of the chickens.. Likewise, Eritrean children in Diasporas are encountering similar, if not the same fate, as the baby eagle. Eritreans have migrated in great numbers mainly to many countries in Western Europe, United States, Canada, and Australia. Most of our children were born and grew up in those countries with varied culture and social values. Regardless of where we live in this world, chances are eventually we have to interact in some way with people of different national identities .It is important we do so by being who we need and ought to be, that means, by respecting our Eritrean identity which has a unique culture and history. However, nowadays, our ethnic identity as Eritreans is aggressively disappearing among our younger generation. It has been commonly observed recently that our children are getting married to non-Eritreans and their children (our grandchildren) may not identify with their Eritrean ethnicity. The youth have indicated that their parents have neither facilitated opportunities nor prepared settings like community centers where they could come together and develop social relationship among themselves. Just like that baby eagle who kept his spirit alive as an eagle, not as a chicken, so also our children need to develop the same spirit that they could only be Eritreans, not anybody else. In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity. The older generation need to work together to make our children aware of their Eritrean identity by bringing them to the Eritrean communities and religious institutions and by preparing programs that reflect cultural heritage and ethnic identity. It is also time for all the Eritrean scholars and professionals to take that first and important step to become good role models for our younger generation. It is essential to realize that what happens in our everyday life can affect our sense of self. This is because identity is nurtured and continues in social relationships with our own people. Even seemingly unimportant day-to-day contacts among ourselves have important effects on our sense of who we are. Our self-identity (how we see ourselves) and our social identity (how others see us) can be uplifted, confirmed or undermined by what happens around us. Thus, it is important to create an environment conducive and comfortable for our younger generation to create enriching relationships among themselves. In our social interactions our unity and integrity as Eritreans can be secured and strengthened only if we profoundly respect and empower our own Eritrean identity and maintain peace and harmony in our Eritrean society. It is evident that as an eagle can only be an eagle, so also an Eritrean can only be an Eritrean, no more and no less, No one else can respect us, if we do not respect and cherish our own Eritrean identity. Never spend time with people who do not respect your Eritrean identity. ‘Respect yourself and others will respect you’ (Confucius).

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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