How Injera Kept Me From Erasing My Identity

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Having a name that is 22 letters long, big brown eyes and wild curly hair undoubtedly made me stand out from the other children at school. Although I was designed to stick out, I tried my best to fit in. After seeing the stress it put on my teachers to try to pronounce my name, I started going by “Meki.” Pretty soon, that was what everyone called me and my classmates forgot about my real name, which was a relief. After seeing how much a difference changing my name made, I became adamant to fit in even more. I refused to wear my hair curly and begged my mother to put my hair up in a sleek ponytail. Before long, I forgot my language and focused on perfecting my English. By the time I finished fifth grade, I Americanized myself so much that my idea of a typical evening was eating TV Dinners and watching reruns of I Love Lucy.

After the eight hours of fitting in at school, my act would cease whenever my mother made some of her home cooking. Injera, which is essentially a giant flatbread with a spongy texture, is the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It comes with various types of stew called wet, and the injera is used to scoop up the wet. The wet can be made out of chicken, beef, lamb or chickpeas. I remember coming home and smelling the distinct aroma from down the street and being unable to control myself until the dish was in front of me. Seeing how injera could be eaten with so many different types of colorful wet always intrigued me as a child.

I gave up everything I could about my culture, but my love for injera and wet was something I was not willing to do. I used to want to look like all the other girls at school and was willing to do whatever it took. Had it not been for injera, I would have erased my culture completely. Looking back at my childhood, I appreciate what the dish did for me without even realizing it. I’m grateful to injera for allowing me to preserve my culture when I was too young to understand how important it was. At a time where immigrants are being under attack, it is essential to find strength in our identities. I’m sure my mother will make many visits with some home cooking to always remind me.


Meki Shewangizaw