As early as 6 years old living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, my parents determined that I would have to be the best at everything I do. In doing so they made sure that I was enrolled in almost every extracurricular activity available. From horseback riding, to tennis lessons, to learning the Greek AND Amharic alphabet, they wanted me to be a well trained and well rounded little girl. This meant that I had to get a tutor in all classes by the time I was 7 years old.
This tutor, a middle aged traditional Ethiopian woman, was one of the worst if not most feared people I have ever met in my entire life. In this story we will call her Teacher Linda, and to sum it up , learning with her made me want to drop out of the second grade. At the age of 7, she had convinced me that I was one of the worst and most unteachable children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She would constantly berate me with comments about my behavior. Often telling me that I asked “stupid questions” and that I “babbled on too much.” To add to her terrible teaching habits, she made fun of me constantly. She made up a nickname for me called “Emama weryeh” which my grandmother later translated to me, meant “lady who talks” or better translated as “Loud Mouth”.
This nickname caught on in my family like a wildfire, everyone agreed and so for the past 15 years , they have labeled me as Emama weryeh, loud mouth, everytime I decided to talk back or even open my mouth. Now, being a 22 year old woman, I am a newly graduate about to begin my Master’s in the upcoming Fall semester. I am a well accomplished public organizer, speaker, and researcher. Yet I have found myself in heated debates with my family, where I would constantly approach them with questions and statements to be open and to understand them. However no matter how the debates went, whether they proved their point or I proved mine, it always ended with someone in my family calling me Emama weryeh.
Anger and frustration always rises within me the moment someone says it, the moment someone calls me Emama weryeh. It’s almost like I immediately get a flashback to my afternoon study sessions with Teacher Linda. Where no matter how hard I worked, no matter if I was right or wrong, she would laugh and belittle me. She would hover over my shoulder and tell me all of my questions, all of my talking, just made me look stupid, it made me look like I had nothing to offer, like all I knew was how to talk.
This happened so many times I was soon convinced, maybe I am a loudmouth. Soon after, I was convinced the only thing I could do was shut myself down. So I did. I told myself that biting my tongue was the only solution, that if I didn’t talk, then no one else would label me as Emama weryeh.
It didn’t take long to realize, no matter what I did I could not escape the labels.
Students, peers, and colleagues at my school and job label me as Yeab just because they can’t pronounce Yeabsera. My name being phonetically different from many in my small community of Massachusetts made it so no one knew what to call me. My name being so rare that it cannot be pronounced under their standards. People label me as just Black American, refusing to see how the cultural ties to my home country of Ethiopia personally affect me. They label me as one and deny me of my intersectionality because my identity does not meet their standards.
My aunts label me rude and unlady-like because I don’t bend to gender roles. They constantly ask me when I am going to find a husband, not acknowledging that I’ve been openly queer. They constantly remind me that I do not meet their standards.
My uncles label me useless because I don’t want to become an engineer like my father. Being his only child and wanting to pursue a career as an academic and organizer, they deem me as useless because I cannot continue the legacy that my father had started. Saying that I failed in my role as his only child, saying that I do not meet their standards.
People label me as naive and clueless, because I constantly approach situations with a positive outlook. Regardless of how chaotic times may come, I find myself always drawing attention to the good in situations, rather than still and let negativity consume me. My outlook on life being very idealistic and centered around radical self-care never seems to meet their standards.
People label me a lot of things…dramatic, loud, weird, smart, outgoing, crazy, Emama weryah. Constantly comparing me to their standards.
It’s truly surprising how they can call me all these things and refuse to let me go past their standards.
How come it is so easy for you to label me naive for being happy, but you never want to know what I overcame to be as strong and as happy as I am today?
How come it’s so easy for you to label me as clueless for not listening to your drama and chaos, but it’s never easy for you to call me a role model for choosing radical self- care?
How come it’s easy for you to label me rude and unlady-like, but you are never there to see me provide emotional and financial support for my family?
How come it is so easy for you to label me useless, but you never have time to hear me talk about my aspirations and accomplishments in life?
How come it is so easy for you to see my race, but never easy for you to trace back my roots?
How come it’s a requirement for me to know how to write and speak in your language of English in order to live and survive in the U.S., but it’s hard for you to even put together the syllables to pronounce Yeabsera?
How come you can call me loud mouth, but you never actually have time to hear what I am saying?
*Image courtesy of @pedronapolinario
Writer: Yeabsera Semere Mengistu