My name is Deborah and I was born in Linköping, Sweden – what?! I know, I know what was a black girl doing in Northern Europe? Well in order to answer that I have to share a bit of my parents’ story. My mom and dad were both born and raised in Ethiopia but after a dictator, a famine and civil war ravaged our beautiful motherland, they sought refuge in Sweden. So there you have it, my parents were refugees who sought asylum in Sweden and eventually had me. Just before my 4th birthday my mom decided that she could not keep raising me alone, so we moved to America to join my father who was pursuing his education and who we eventually joined in Texas.
I don’t remember Sweden. Not the snow or the IKEA furniture, but I do remember being made fun of for only speaking Amharic and Swedish as my parents enrolled me in a Texas school. I remember being told by my teachers, friends and parents not to speak Swedish anymore because I needed to learn English. As I got older I remember being told to change my clothes, my mannerisms, my speech, my ambitions to match that of their expectations. Expectations which were constructed without any understanding of what my experiences were. Society wanted me to be more American or at least African-American. So I would overcompensate by changing small parts of who I was, to which the immigrant community responded by saying I’d forgotten where I came from. I was never American enough. I was never immigrant enough. I was never Ethiopian enough and I’ve certainly never been Swedish enough.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned of my legal status or lack thereof and little did I know what role it would play in leading me to my current circle of friends–my chosen family and my organizing experience. I was grateful for the opportunity to attend The Undocumented & Black Convening, where people with similar, but very different experiences were able to share their stories so we could heal together. Where being me was enough.