A Sense of Home Everywhere
In our report Navigating Injustice, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) young people shared stories about the racial prejudice and discrimination they’ve experienced due to their ethnic-racial identities (ERI) and how this affected their mental health. Yet, despite these hardships, BIPOC young people said their ERI is a great source of joy and meaning in their lives, and often gives them a sense of purpose, pride, and hope. This supports prior research showing that having a healthy ERI—one that is meaningful and positive—is associated with greater self-esteem and fewer depressive and somatic symptoms.
July is BIPOC Mental-Health Awareness Month,, and this blog features the stories of young BIPOC and how their ethnic-racial identities contribute to their mental health. In this post, intern Tsion Agaro shares how her identity provided a sense of belonging as she made a major life transition.
I take immense pride in two significant aspects of my identity, which beautifully intertwine: my upbringing as a Black Southerner and my Ethiopian roots. Both of these aspects have shaped my mannerisms, aspirations, and morals. The love of community and music within the Ethiopian community was mimicked in the Black Southern culture that surrounded me. These two communities also value something that has been a cornerstone in my life: faith.
Within the Ethiopian Pentecostal community, lively worship and praise serve as important ways of blessing and thanking God. Ethiopian gospel music, known as Mezmur, has always been a sense of home for me and a way of embracing my Ethiopian identity. In fact, I credit my early love for Mezmur as the driving force behind my proficiency in speaking Amharic today. I was so enchanted by the melodies and rhythms within the music as a child that I would record the music on my Nintendo DS so that it was readily accessible. The Mezmur made me so proud to be Ethiopian and Christian.
Last year, I embarked on an exciting journey of moving away from home to start my first year at Yale University. I had mixed feelings as I prepared to leave behind the vibrant Black Southern and Ethiopian culture that had enveloped me throughout my life. It left me wondering: Would I be able to feel a sense of home in a place that does not reflect me? While adjusting to my new environment, I encountered occasional challenges and academic pressures that tested my mental well-being. During those times, I found solace and support in something that has always been a source of comfort for me—Mezmur. The very same Ethiopian gospel artist whose melodies I captured on my Nintendo DS during my elementary years continued to be a source of peace and inspiration, accompanying me through challenging exam seasons throughout my first year.
In a similar vein, during challenging moments and while being immersed in a different environment, I found a comforting sense of familiarity by listening to the uplifting melodies of renowned Black gospel artists from the South, such as Kirk Franklin and Maverick City Music. Immersing myself in gospel music that resonated with the core aspects of my identity significantly enhanced my overall mental well-being. The soulful melodies of Ethiopian and Black gospel music provided me with a comforting sense of home, even while being hundreds of miles away.
Although I pursue my education in a different culture, my ethnic and racial identity (ERI) has continued to shape my life’s purpose and curiosity. Whether it’s writing a college paper or engaging in a seminar, my experiences in Georgia community organizing and my deep passion for Ethiopian history continually influence the ideas and perspectives I bring to my academic work. For instance, I have had the privilege of immersing myself in Ethiopian archival material during my time at Yale, which has provided invaluable insights into the nation’
‘s complex history and its implications on current relations. The exploration of my ERI has also kindled a desire within me to pursue a career as an attorney, driven by the power of litigation that I witnessed during my engagement in organizing efforts.
Overall, my ERI has intricately woven itself into the fabric of who I am today and how I navigate the world. It has shaped my aspirations, instilled a strong sense of community, and provided me with a comforting sense of home, even while I am physically distant from the familiar cultures that have enveloped me throughout my life.
As I embark on my journey as a Springtide Research Intern, I am eager to delve deeper into the intricate connections between ERI and the sacred, further exploring the profound impact that our identities have on our spiritual lives. Through embracing and celebrating my ERI, I have discovered a profound sense of purpose, a deep well of resilience, and an unwavering commitment to bettering my community.