The small, flat building they called an airport reeked of African spices. “Welcome to Asmara,” a man in a vomit green colored jumpsuit spoke coldly. I laughed at the way his heavy accent prevented him from appropriately pronouncing the word “welcome.” I was on my way to finding out who I truly was.
For most of my existence, I considered myself to be an American whose parents originated outside of the United States. I tried relentlessly to make this distinction clear to anyone I came across. The way I dressed, acted, talked, and even ate was my way of asserting that I was an American.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Hence, I was a young girl, struggling to come to grips with my cultural identity. My moral mistake, however, was not that I had lied about my identity. Legally, I was an U.S. born citizen. Instead, my wrongdoing came from my unintentional need to separate myself from a country I felt was lesser than what I desired to claim. For all my life prior to my trip to Eritrea, a small developing country located in eastern Africa, I tried strongly to disconnect myself from my cultural roots. When asked about my ethnicity, I would claim Eritrea only because I have all the typical physical characteristics of an Eritrean girl. Even if I tried, my huge forehead, gigantically round and dark pronounced eyes, and colored skin, the shade of slightly-burnt caramel, would have given me away.
Thus, when I finally arrived in the place I referred to as “my mother’s country”, I spent a whole week trying to declare the superiority of America to anyone who would listen. When my cousin would blast traditional Eritrean music through the house on her little battery operated radio, I would go get my mp3 player, in which I stored only songs by English speaking artists. When my aunts and uncles would ask me which country I preferred, expecting me to reply with Eritrea, I would shamelessly and without a doubt answer, “America.” When my whole family ate traditional foods together on one large platter, I went through the trouble of making my own dinner to eat by myself, on my own plate.
It wasn’t until the third day of my second week in Eritrea did I came to an important realization. While sitting at one of the tables of an American style restaurant waiting for my burger to arrive, my uncle revealed to me an honest concern. He asserted that he understood my admiration for the United States and he knew it was the first time I’ve traveled out of the country. He also said that he appreciated how well off the U.S. is economically and their large role in the world. “What I don’t understand,” he said thoughtfully, “is your need to ignore your origins in Eritrea. We may not be as rich and may not live the same way you do, but at the end of the day, the blood that runs through you is from Eritrea.”
It was at that point in my life that I realized who I was and who I wanted to be. I ignored my Eritrean heritage for seventeen years of my life because to some extent, I was ashamed of it. I didn’t want to be associated with the “uncivilized” people of Africa. I was ignorant and uninformed. However, my trip to Eritrea served as a revelation. I learned that in order to understand who I am today, I must understand past. It is only after one accepts their personal history that they are able to live an honest and fulfilled life.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.