Middle America

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It is the fourth of July. Independence day. On this day, my mind instantly thinks of a divide. Now, this divide can be applicable to many different cases in this country and the many layers that shape this nation from coast to coast. But I’m talking about an identity divide, within myself. I’m 23 years old, recently graduated, and have never felt more solid in who I am ever before in my life. Yet I still feel myself split into the two labels that I consider myself to represent – Ethiopian-American. I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I claim this label, there is always a third part of me that questions which side I belong to the most. I feel as though I carry a cloud of neutrality and I have done so most of my life. But the more I inquire why this is the case, the more I think about fear. Sometimes I think I’m afraid to claim who I am because I don’t want to let down or confuse others around me. I can’t help but admit that no matter how many times I say to anyone that,“I’m Ethiopian-American” a part of me seeks validation in their reaction. Then my mind goes straight into wondering what they’re thinking, “Oh wow that’s cool,” “Why can’t she just say she’s African American,” “She could just say black.” A frenzy of thoughts. But another voice chimes in from time to time, a voice that has motivated my unique experiences to initiate a new norm.

A professor of mine mentioned a phrase called “third culture kid” (TCK). Essentially it means a person who has grown up in a different culture than their parents or has grown up in multiple cultures. I was completely unaware of this but realized how much I relate to it. I’m growing up within two different cultures constantly being exposed to different customs, traditions, and languages. I stay representing a fusion of cultures as many of us do. And while I’ve never been ashamed of that, I’ve just been preoccupied with how to handle it.

While I believe I will always wonder how I balance the worlds I’ve grown up in, I’ve noticed a skill I’ve gained from it. I see myself as a bridge. It’s like a superpower. It’s actually the worst sounding superpower but its very valuable because I feel as though I can’t wholeheartedly claim one identity over the other but celebrate them both equally. I want to bring together both sides of my identity as well as others for that matter and acknowledge our differences and our similarities in our human being-ness. Maybe this is a tad idealistic and corny but let’s be real, at the end of the day what are we really? What do these labels mean at the very core? We all find ourselves slipping into the middle of our identifiers, but let that not be a moment of panic for not feeling whole. Let that be an opportunity to find the middle ground with others in similar situations. It’s a remarkable feeling to connect with people and find the commonalities. We celebrate who we are, but we continue to build ourselves within the communities that support us and beyond.


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