This is the first in a series of community profiles, expressing the stories, opinions and perspectives of Cambridge residents, in their own words.
Samuel Gebru, 18, Youth Leader
I was born in Sudan, in Khartoum, in 1991. My parents met up in Sudan. They were both Ethiopians--actually not refugees. They were there living, trying to improve their lives. She came to Sudan when she was 17 or 18 years old. She was young, my father was there too. So that’s when they met. My father with a relative of ours had a shoe shop. They would fix shoes, clean them, and they would do other things with the shoes. My mother was just a housewife, she lived home.
When I was born they came to America for better opportunities. I was 3 when I left. I’ve been back 5 times. I travel back every 2,3,4, years. I was back last year, 2008, and plan to go back this year again, in 2009.
I’ve been living in Cambridge ever since, with my mom. She works now at Tufts Medical Center as a phlebotomist. Those are the people who draw blood and they process that in the lab.
In Massachusetts its estimated there are 10,000 Ethiopians... most would live in the Boston area. The highest concentration is in Cambridge, and I don't know if this is true, but I've heard that anywhere between 3 and 4,000 live in Cambridge, it could be true. Especially if you drive by North Cambridge, you see a lot of Ethiopians there.
I have roots in two cities, one is Hawzen and the other Wukro. 85% of Ethipians live in the rural countryside. Only 15% live in urban areas. Only 10 or 15 cities have population over 100,000. So Ukro and Hawzen are not that many, a couple thousand I would say, at the most.
Ethiopian culture is very community oriented. The social aspect in an Ethiopian’s life is very important. Society-wise, it’s a very social country... from your family to your friends, to just anybody. It’s always respecting people and greeting people with open arms. The tradition is very welcoming. When you go to Ethiopia they make you feel right at home.
In Ethiopia its not uncommon to see an Ethiopian family taking care of others. Most likely in Ethiopia they’d let you live with them. They’d find ways and avenues to support you and put you back on your feet.
Here in America you kind of lose sight of that because we’re so individual. Individualism is such a major part of what defines an American. I really admire the amount of resources that there are in this country. No one can deny that. What has always encouraged me is that here in the U.S., if you have a goal, if you have a vision, you can get it done, there are so many avenues to accomplish your dream.
I attend the Ethiopian Orthodox Church here and I actually teach. We have chief cantors, they do a lot of solo chants. The chants within the church are very ancient, its a mystery within themselves. We call these cantors Merigeta. They are highest you can get, being non clergy, because a Merigeta is practically a doctor of the church. I was joking with a friend the other day and he called me a "Merigeta-in-training," because of the things I know and the things I teach. Being an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian-- it kind of takes over your life sometimes, because it's who you are.
People say that to be an American is to speak one language, not to know anything about other people but yourself. There is lack of a cultural identity, because it’s such a melting pot.
You kind of just assimilate and kind of blend in as one. You make this American culture but there’s no unique aspect to it. You loose your culture. I’m all about culture. I always telling myself, I’m an Ethiopian because of the identity I hold with me, even in an American society.
I just really want to pursue higher education... people always ask me, "What do you want to major in?" and I say "I want to major in political science." But at heart, I don't know, and the reason why is because what I want to get into is politics, but I want to do everything, I want to get my hands into everything, because I feel so passionate about everything. I want to go out with a law degree but I want to take courses in Africa, politics, religion, and anthropology perhaps.
I eventually do want to go back to Ethiopia and yes, for somebody my age, I know an good deal about Ethiopian culture and I could probably teach classes on it, but at the same time there's way more to know and If I want to go back and take an active role in Ethiopia's affairs then I need to understand the cultural context of my people a little more in depth.
I want to go into service in Ethiopia and I've been cited on many occasions as saying that I want to end up as Prime Minister but that's at minimum in 20-25 years from now ... that's certainly something I 'd like to do because
I know of a lot of problems in Ethiopia.
To be a leader of a developing nation is by far harder work than any other occupation, really, because you have to deal with developing your country and moving your country ahead at the same time... so it's challenging. It takes your life, but it's something I find interesting and something I'd like to do.
I tell people my legs are in America but my hands are in Ethiopia. What that means is that I’m in America physically but I’m also at 2 places at once. My culture is both in America and Ethiopia.