Bethelehem the Star

A First-Generation American Handling a Cultural Balance

January 23, 2022

Bethelehem in Ethiopia in July 2016

Bethelehem in Ethiopia in July 2016

The Star of Bethlehem shined luminously on the night of December 24, but Bethelehem the Star shines brighter.

Abiye was born and raised in Laveen, Arizona, but her heritage roots in Ethiopia. She is a first-generation American along with her two younger siblings. 

“It’s like a weird dynamic because it’s like, you have to figure everything out yourself. My parents’ experiences like we are very different because I grew up with, you know, a blend of cultures whereas they already had their culture established,” said Abiye. 

The combination of American and Ethiopian culture created an unorthodox household and childhood for Abiye. She learned how to code-switch when talking to people from her church and her friends at school. 

“I think there’s a lot of traditional values that go into like a foreign person’s mind and things you grew up with that are just kind of unwritten rules and here I feel like you know, you can just kind of do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t affect other people,” said Abiye. 

She is rich in culture, and her favorite expense is the historical elements. There is always something expressive that Abyie can connect to and learn about. In Ethiopia and growing up in an Ethiopian home, there is a certain pride one gains in their practices and religion. 

“One holiday is called Meskel which translates to cross and Demera where we burn a tree,” said Abiye. 

In Ethiopian-Orthodox Christianity there is a story of King Constantine and a missing cross that he wanted to go find. The king’s mother began looking for it and ended up finding multiple. To test which one it was they attempted to heal people. 

“Some of that cross is still at Ethiopia today, and basically the whole thing goes they burn the tree right? They put it on fire. The smoke is supposed to represent the direction of where the true cross is and you know, you just sing around the fire,” said Abiye. 

When celebration comes, so does food. Ethiopian cuisine typically has injera (flatbread made with teff), meat stew, onions, foreign spices, and a vegetable side (either cabbage, collard greens, or beets).

“I like Doro Wot. It’s a chicken-type stew thing. My favorite part about it is that it’s spicy. I love spicy food, and that’s probably the spicy one there is so yeah. And you typically put boiled eggs in it. I’m just a fan of boiled eggs,” said Abiye.

She has this meal very frequently when she is in Ethiopia after traveling on an 18-hour flight. The time zones are widely different, Ethiopia being 11 hours ahead. Abiye shared a glimpse of a normal day in Ethiopia. 

“Well, like when I went to Ethiopia is different in the sense that I feel like every day is very structured and everyone has a specific thing. There’s like coffee ceremonies with every meal like there’s always people over at your house no matter. And also there I think the way that work is laid out for women is different as well. I know my grandma she would wake up literally at 4 am Just to start her day,” said Abiye. 

By living in America and traveling to Ethiopia, she views herself as a mix of two cultures. These different lives tend to have overlap in her relationships. 

“Sometimes I do American things with my Ethiopian friends, sometimes I do Ethiopian things with my American friend Julia. I eat my food with her. She’ll come to our you know, holidays like Meskel. So it blends wherever it wants to blend really,” said Abiye.

Being different and having two realities is not an easy thing, but Bethelehem wouldn’t wish upon any star to change her birthright. 

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