My father was born in the small village of Hamre Hamereb in the northern region of Eritrea, a small nation along the Red Sea. The exact date of his birth and all others of his generation and older are unknown, and so he assumed the date of September 12, 1960 upon his arrival to America. My father has lived more life thus far than most do in all their time on this earth. He has seen and experienced the best and worst of human nature and was more than happy to sit down with me to rehash the same stories I’ve heard since I was a little girl.
My grandfather Ghebrendrias and my grandmother Hiwet had seven children: Wizinet, Teklit, Timneet, Berhe, Guoye, Teklia, Abadit, and Mungesteab. As third youngest, my father Teklia spent much of his childhood without the guidance of his older siblings, and instead was responsible for the care of his younger siblings, aging parents and the expansive farm. As a young boy, he hiked for over two hours to reach the primary school atop the mountain behind his village. Once home, he had to herd the cattle and the goats. During his summers he would travel for days on foot as a peddler. It was an exhaustive life for a child with little to eat, and the constant threat of violence at the hands of the brutal Ethiopian troops who were rapidly expanding their ruthless regime into the rural areas. Once my father graduated primary school, he was sent to the city of Keren, where he was to complete his secondary education. Unfortunately, the Ethiopians mandated many of the schools to close, and so after the eleventh grade my father decided to join the armed struggle. In 1980 he and some friends traveled to the city of Elabored to pick up weapons and receive military training. General Efrem who was in charge of managing recruits had left the city and my father was instructed to visit another city for instructions. At this point in the revolution, there were so many volunteers there weren’t enough resources, and my father was told to stay home, help educate locals, and wait to be recruited. In 1982 they came for him but he no longer wanted to fight and left the training camp one week into his military training and eventually traveled to Sudan two months later.
While he worked excruciating hours in a tire factory in Sudan and searched for a sponsor, my mother and my eldest sister prepared to leave the country as well. My father married my mom at the age of twenty in 1980, after their fathers arranged the wedding. They met on their wedding night and have been married for over 30 years now.
My parents and sister were sponsored by a Eureka based Methodist church, and stayed with a host family for six months. They then moved into government housing while my dad worked full time jobs and attended school. He initially went to Eureka Adult school while he worked as a paper boy and assistant in a nursing home for six months. He transferred to the College of Redwood in 1985 followed by Humboldt State for two years where he worked in the campus science labs feeding the animals and cleaning lab equipment. From 1989 to 1992 he attended pharmacy school at the University of the Pacific. While his initial dream was to go to medical school, he had responsibilities at home, mounting school loans, and a strong desire to be completely independent and off government assistance. I was born in Stockton in 1991, and my father moved the family to Fresno in 1993 once he secured a job as a pharmacist in local Wal-Mart stores.
Once in America, my father never considered returning to Eritrea permanently because of the never-ending war with Ethiopia. Instead, he worked tirelessly to support not only his family here in the States, but also the many people back home in Eritrea who were dependent on him. He and my mother have visited Eritrea sporadically over the years, the most recent trip was this summer and included both my dad and myself.
There are many stereotypes of Black men that plague this nation. The common one revolves around the deadbeat father who is in and out of prison and reliant on government handouts. My father’s story contradicts each of these stereotypes and his life serves as a prime example of how people of color can transcend the barriers placed before them.
He abandoned his dream of becoming a doctor to provide for his family financially, emotionally, and physically be present. Pharmacy allowed him the ability to monetarily support our family abroad and help to repay the many loans he accrued as a college student. Growing up, we didn’t see our father as much as we all would have liked because he worked so hard, traveling from city to city in the central valley wherever a pharmacist was needed. He wasn’t always available, but not because he was a deadbeat dad, which is a common stereotype of Black males. There are many men who are not only doing the job of the father but also the mother as well, and oftentimes their struggle is overshadowed by the media’s portrayal of what a Black American male is.
Not every African American is on assistance; the vast majority of people on government assistance are not doing so by choice but by circumstance. There is a general misconception that immigrants, particularly African immigrants, reach America and immediately assimilate into the negative aspects of black culture and become a drain on society. My father and many others like him have maximized their potential in this country. While there is a portion of the immigrant community that does turn to the gang lifestyle, on the whole immigrants like my father show the world that any Black man, when given the opportunity, can be successful.
The benefit my father had, was that his mind was never tainted by the segment of American culture that denies young Black boys the opportunity to dream more for themselves. America for my father was the land of opportunity, but because of rampant stereotypes and prejudices, Black boys grow up with a slanted view of themselves and their potential. To be a strong Black man is deeper than the superficial images we see in movies and on T.V. My dad is a strong Black man because he chose to be more than what his circumstances dictated he could be.