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Identity matters

I am currently in the middle of a book entitled in Amharic ‘Ametseganw Kiliss’ which literally translates to ‘The rebellious mixed-race boy’. And I am loving it! I recommend this book to all of you book worms out there who are interested in biographies. I am actually quite surprised how I never heard about this book before. But I learned later on that the story was broadcasted in the media some time ago. So this book is a biography of a man who is half Ethiopian and half Dutch born during the time the Dutch company named HVA came to Ethiopia to establish a sugar factory in Wonji. That was during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. So, this man was born to a Dutch father who came to Wonji to work in the factory and to an Ethiopia woman. The pregnancy, which happened accidently, was not well received by the father who decided to flee fatherhood by moving back to The Netherlands for good without his family. The book tells the story of the struggle the boy went through to reach out to his father and claim his Dutch identity. Life was not kind to the mixed-race boy who had to face identity crisis, rejection from his biological Dutch father, misery caused by his Ethiopian step-father and the series of very unfortunate events that followed in his life in Ethiopia. I still have not finished the book, but I could not to wait to talk about it. The book simply keeps you hooked for hours straight!

What I particularly want to talk about is the importance that identity has to us humans. I actually never really thought about identity. Maybe a little bit during my stay abroad for studies. This book shows how much one feels incomplete and maybe less human if completely disconnected from half of his or her identity. Not knowing who you are is apparently as painful as the inability to have a child for instance for someone who yearns to have one. The saddest and most depressing thing in the story of the book is the complete mismatch between the author’s eagerness, dream and life-time wish of meeting his father and getting to know about his other half identify and the indifference and denial he got from his Dutch father. And this is simply because the boy is half African. This was shame for the father. And the boy did not give up, even in the toughest situation his life was in. According to the book, his story is shared by nearly a thousand of Dutch-Ethiopian mixed raced children that were born from Dutch men working in Wonji sugar factory. Like the author of the book, a vast majority of these children were unwanted by their Dutch fathers.

This book is testimony that identity matters. In a way, it explains why we are increasingly witnessing in this country struggles to make one’s identity acknowledged, recognized and respected by others. The quest for identity of the mixed-raced boy in the book is of course different than that made by people from different ethnic groups in this country. He seeks acceptance from and knowledge about his Dutch side, while people in this country seek recognition, respect and fair treatment of people from their own ethnic groups. But at the end, the question is about identity.

I never really understood why people held on so much to their ethnic identities. With this book, I came to realize that not everybody is the same. People have their own stories behind their struggle for identity, which others may not fully understand. They would do whatever it takes to claim recognition for their identity. And this may involve violence. When seeing the violence, we rush to judgement before understanding the story behind. Maybe the solution behind the ethnic tensions we see in this country is as easy as trying to understand the personal stories that lie behind these tensions!

Contributed by Tsion Taye
Contributed by Tsion Taye