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  • Writer's pictureShashay Tadesse

Juneteenth 2021

Connecting with my identity as a black woman has been one of the most intentional journeys of my adulthood thus far.

I think most first-gen African Americans go through an identity crisis whether they are equipped with the language to identify it as such or not. Being caught in the middle of not being African "enough" and not being black "enough" is something that sits in your subconscious. The first time I can recall naming that insecurity was in college at a dining hall table (queue Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum).

Most of my friends in college were black and one day we were all reminiscing on being woken up on Saturday mornings to the sound of vacuums and music as our mothers were subtly nudging us to wake up and help. They honestly probably just downright didn't care about waking us up because they had a task to accomplish. I fit here. I had a shared experience where people from different states could revel in a commonality that transcended our black experiences from childhood. Our experiences began to diverge as my friends started to talk about the music their parents would play as they cleaned. I no longer fit here. My mom played Ethiopian Orthodox gospel songs called mezmur when she cleaned, which I didn't understand. So, I didn't fit there either.

I can now name the feelings I felt in those moments - home-less, community-less, out of place. But at the time they were just feelings of insecurity that I hoped no one would catch onto. That was until they were pulled out of my heart and onto our table as tangible as the food we were eating with the comment, "You don't know XYZ ?!". I don't remember what song or who the artist was. I just remember wanting to melt away.

The trauma of that day was something I can still point to as the driver of my journey to understanding my black story. This journey isn't one that is the path less taken. It's just the path that I couldn't find on my own. I wish someone could have just told me that learning about my past, acknowledging how it affects the present, and dream about what the future could look like would help me unpack my ethnic identity. I stumbled through this learning process and finally found it when I accepted I am not an OR. I am not Ethiopian OR black. I am Ethiopian and black.

Slavery has always been a part of my black identity that I've felt disconnected from. My ancestors were in Ethiopia where the use of plants in their lives were for medicinal purposes. Cotton, tobacco, sugar, etc...were not commodities that their homes were ravaged and their family members enslaved in hell on earth to harvest. Working with plants has created a tiny portal into trying to connect with this side of my ancestry as a black woman in America.

The way I'm celebrating Juneteenth today is by acknowledging the reckoning that is presently happening 155 years later as more black people reclaim their relationship with the labor of growing plants. There is healing and restoration that exists in the choice to bring these living things into one's home. Similar to how Jewish people light yizkor candles in memory of their deceased loved ones, I believe caring for plants into your home serve as reminders of where we've been and help focus us on how far we've come even though there is still a long way to go.

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