Imagine coming to America away from your family, but being able to escape the war, the death of your brother, and the strictness of your family from back home. Leaving the country you have known your whole life in the hope that your new life would be better than the one you had before. In hopes of education, freedom, and rights. Well that was the mentality of my mother. My mother was born on May 5th, 1958 in Asmara, Eritrea. She is currently 58 years old and has been living in the US since she was 17 years old.
My mother currently lives with me in the Bay Area, but misses Eritrea every so often thinking of the nostalgia. I believe that my mom has had an interesting life and is an amazing person, I choose to write about her because I hope that those reading this feel the same way as I do.
When my mother was very young the doctors realized there was something wrong with her legs. My mom was then diagnosed with Polio. While the “rest of the” world had already discovered the vaccination, Eritrea had not yet been giving it to its toddlers. The children were open to get the disease. My mother’s left leg was not as strong as her right. While the health care in Eritrea was okay, it was not good enough for my mother. But again something else happened to my mother’s health. When she was 8 years old she was hit by a car. This caused her left leg to be completely damaged, she needed to have metal inserted into her leg because it was so badly hurt in the accident.
Yet as my mother continued to grow older she felt as if her disability did not harm her. I quote, “It didn’t affect me in any way, I had problems, but I would hurt myself doing a lot of things, but I would try to live a normal life.” My mother went to an international school in Asmara, taught by Italian nuns. When I asked how she dealt with the challenges of her disabilities at school, she felt that that going to school was fine.
Also while growing up, my mother loved to read. Once she lit a candle at home in order to read The Exorcist, but she started to feel really tired as she kept reading. My mom was so encaptured by the book that she read late into the night, but she began to feel sleepy, eventually falling asleep. When she moved at night the candle fell onto the bedside. This almost burning down the house, but luckily her brother was there to stop the flames. She looks back at it now with humor, but when she was younger she was so scared and embarrassed.
My mom loved school, and loved to learn as well. Her school was internationally diverse with 80% of the students coming from different countries. Life was going fine until the Civil War. My mother was technically Ethiopian until the Civil War broke out. My mother had to leave the city for the countryside with her family (13 brothers and sisters, plus mother and father). There my mom saw dead bodies littering the streets, the gunshots, and bomb sounds. Once my grandmother was almost shot in the head as a stray bullet hit their house. The war got so bad that my mother’s brother Petrose had to fight in the war and their other brother Kendanye was taken by the Ethiopians and was never found again. To leave the war my mother traveled to America to escape, but she also left because her health was declining.
My mother never really thought about America before she arrived there. On the plane ride to the US, she made a lot of friends because the plane was from Italy to New York. Her school was taught by Italian nuns, so she spoke (and still does speak) Italian fluently. Her new friends tried to convince her to move to Italy because it was more fun, but she did not want fun, but an education. The very first day of arriving in America my mom said, “I got sick. The air was very dirty. “We barely had any cars of industry where I grew up, so I was like sick for a year.” She moved in with her eldest brother, (who I call Tez) and his wife and children. There her brother almost expected her to be a maid, to clean up after his kids and wife. Not only was her brother strict and did not allow my mother any freedom, but his wife was mean to my mother and treated her like dirt. The whole premise of coming to America was to be free, to test life. She was sheltered her whole life in Eritrea by her father, now her brother was doing the same thing.
To rebel, my mother got a job at 19 in order to be more independent. While she was working, she was also taking classes at San Mateo College trying to learn more. There she met her first friend in America. She had to go to classes because English was her second language. At the class there was this Italian girl who was the same age at the time as my mother. Sadly the girl did not last long in America and she went back to Italy. But my mom had to continue. She rented out a place with another brother who was in America at the time. But there too, her brother tried to control her and my mother was just not having it. In fact she openly talked back and told them they weren’t the boss of her. So she put her money where her mouth was and rented her own apartment by herself when she was around 20 or so.
America offered her the freedoms, but there was also a bit of a culture shock. My mother could not understand the Americans when they spoke English because their accent was so strong, but she also feels as if there is no actual American culture. “There are so many cultures. I’m fine with it. I grew up with many cultures. In my classes there were Jewish, Slavic, Persian, Italian, German, and French.” My mom enjoyed her freedoms, but she missed her family back home, especially the little sister she was so close with. But she had to make sacrifices in order for her life to change for the better.
Currently my mother watches her only daughter go to boarding school in California, but comes home on the weekends. She misses home, but she cannot go back and live there because of her medical issues. The one thing she does miss the most is the people. “In my country I am a first class citizen, vs, what [in America] I’m a fifth. I miss being number one in my country. Well, in America what are we?” My mother references a little on some of the racial problems she faced in America, but she is still grateful that the US has been very generous and helped her a lot.
This story was written by Miriam, a student at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, CA.