Always remember that someone is going to ask you where you are from

Mahlete Teketse

I was born in Sudan in 1996 and moved to New Zealand in 1997. My name Mahlete means praise or worship in Giz and my dad, he is a really smart man. His name is Dawit and he named my brother Mezmurate which, means psalms in Ahmaric. Basically, my name and his mean the praise of David and his name and my brother’s name mean the psalms of David. 

I mention my dad’s smartness because it is only in hindsight that I realize my dad’s influence on the person that I am today. Growing up in a family of five and being the second oldest, when my brother and I were growing up, my dad wanted us to speak our language so we could remain bilingual. As a result of that, I am fluent in Ahmaric, a beautiful phonetic language where everything is written as it sounds. I have no difficulties being bilingual, and at one point I used to get so annoyed when I would speak in English to my dad and he would revert to ahmaric. Now that I am much older, I have grown to appreciate it, it enables me to remain in touch with my culture and it has given me roots. 

One thing my dad said that I find profound is no matter how much of a Kiwi I think I am and no matter where I go people are always going to ask “where you are from”, because I look different. He said, “you need to answer and say I am Ethiopian.’ If I was to analyse myself, the way I talk, my ideals and the way I think, I am a Kiwi but as soon as I look in the mirror it’s like I don’t look Kiwi. It almost feels like you are always torn between the two cultures especially because you don’t have the lived experience of the other culture. When I last went home 10 years ago, I felt at home, like I belonged because I spoke the language and the people looked like me but then again it hit me that the way I was raised was different and therefore had a different impact on what I valued. 

Having those roots of speaking my language enabled to me embrace my ethnicity which all began with finding myself. After high school, I started finding out who I was because to be honest I found high school to be this place where you put on this façade. It’s quiet funny looking back that I didn’t realize what a big influence my dad was. I was too busy growing up and trying to fit in, you know wanting to assimilate myself but once I left high school, I realized that my dad had been this broken record who had been saying all these things about being proud of who I am. 

In the last couple of years I have come to a place where I am proud to be black and where I am proud to be Ethiopian. Any feelings of inferiority are no longer there. What helps to keep me grounded is the grace of God. To me God is everything, the creator of heaven and earth, He is just this loving God that cares about me in the same way He cares about 7 billion people on this earth. I have been blessed that it has never been so intense that I have to actively ground myself but that has come from being aware of my surroundings and acknowledging that yes I am living in a Kiwi culture and I am African. 

Being raised by someone who is proud to be Ethiopian has resulted in me not getting offended when people ask me where I am from. I know that I look different so that question is going to be asked. In fact I get excited to educate the other person about where I am from.