We Went Out for Ethiopian Food Last Night
and had a great meal at a local place we’d been to once before. The owner also serves the meals and so as we gushed over the food we got talking. I asked where he was from and it turned he himself is from Nigeria, an Ibo, while it is his wife — the chef — who is Ethiopian. He’s an engineer by day, runs this bustling, growing restaurant in the evening — last time we were there his wife was in the kitchen minding their baby while stirring the pots, now the baby is 2 and there is a staff working the stoves. In a strange way that enterprising couple reminded me of an experience last spring, when I visited a school in a African-American and immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn. In that school the deep divide was between Caribbean and native-born-US blacks.
For much of our history, we defined this country as bi or tri-racial: black, white, red — even though there were Asians here from the 19th century on. Ever since 1965, when we re-opened the door to immigration from all over the world — we’ve added shades of brown — South Asian, Latin American — to the spread of colors and peoples. But my experience with the Nigerian-Ethiopian couple, like my visit to the Brooklyn school, is a reminder that those older groupings themselves are breaking apart, shifting, taking on new meaning. African immigration is not African slavery — and so all of our identity associations are shifting. Of course this came up with Obama, but it is one thing to talk about a single prominent person and another to really grasp how dated our conception of our population is, and how much it is changing right now.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, America was born in 1965, not 1776 — and we are only learning how much that is true every day.