Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Everybody Has a Story

Many months ago I read a great book called Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey From A Refugee Camp To Harvard. It was written by a young man that immigrated to the US from Ethiopia at the age of 8 or 9. I was interested in experiences since he grew up literally around the corner from where I will raise my children. Below is an excerpt from a recent interview.

In the case of Mawi Asgedom, when he was a young boy he made ‘it’ out of Adi Wahla in Tigray with his family and into neighboring Sudan when countless thousands didn’t. From there again his family made ‘it’ out of Sudan and immigrated to Wheaton, Illinois.

Living in America, how do you feel about identity and how do you identify yourself?

Mawi: Well that is hard. Identity is a very American thing, and often times it is assumed for you before you can consciously do it for yourself. I would say in the past I thought of myself as part African-American, part African, Ethiopian and Eritrean and so on. At Harvard it was difficult to fall into one group because I would hang out with African-Americans. I would also be around white students because growing up in suburban Chicago (Wheaton) I was always around white people. Slowly I began to see that America was built on classifying people as this or that race. Today I feel like I belong both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I don’t feel fully abesha, because growing up here, there is somewhat of a disconnect. (Laughs) I like basketball more than soccer. I feel like I am beyond simple classification now. As a speaker, strictly identifying yourself in one particular way closes you off to many potential audiences. It’s an advantage. As a speaker, I feel I can identify with diverse groups. I recognize cultural differences and can adjust to them.

Your book deals with the experiences of you and your family after emigrating to the U.S. Why do you think family is important and why did you choose to make it the theme of your book?

Mawi: I just felt that my story could not be isolated out of my familial experiences. Though I have experienced many things as an individual, the elements that shaped me the most were those that I had at an early age with and within my family. Also it was a story that needed to be told. That is not mine specifically, but it was the first book by a black immigrant refugee. It offers a different perspective than typical memoirs because I wrote it at a relatively young age. (Twenty-three)

Since your first book was published, you’ve also become a sought-after motivational speaker. How did it all come about? Have you always had public speaking aspirations?

Mawi: No way man. I was one of the shyest kids. I didn’t want to share my story with anyone because I was worried people would make fun on me. But as I matured, I saw my family and myself in a different light. I realized not only did I love my parents, but also I was also very proud of them. I would have never thought I would become an author or a speaker. But I love what I do. It all started after I graduated from college and was living in Oklahoma. The youth pastor at the church I was attending couldn’t make it one day and I took his place. The kids really seemed to enjoy my story and received it warmly. That’s how I got started.


Robbin said...

Great post. I want to read this book, have you bought it?

DWS said...

I have it. It's a quick read. I enjoyed it.

As I read his words I thought, many people would prefer not to be "classified" but also struggle against the tide.

Watt Smith said...

Very interesting! You might want to check out this place when you make it to Addis Ababa.

Watt Smith

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]