When I turned on my computer to settle into work, the morning of April 21st, I was not expecting to see such a familiar face. Pictures of a man were plastered on every news website. He held the US flag over his back, had a halo made of golden leaves placed on his head and looked to be praising the heavens. Tears sprang to my eyes because I truly felt as though I knew this man, from nothing more than his face. Then I saw his name and everything made sense, the man was Eritrean and the photos taken were of him crossing the Boston Marathon line. His face was so familiar because he shares the same native homeland as that of my parents and the blood that runs through my veins. People belonging to the Habesha community have a very distinct look, which is why, when I saw Meb Keflezighi, I thought I was looking into the face of one of my uncles or a friend’s father. His face ever etched with features I grew up around.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one filled with pride. My Facebook and Twitter timeline’s were filled with congrats for Meb on his victory! I wasn’t shocked, Eritrean’s rush to the aid of others in help as well as to celebrate in any victory. In our minds we are all one. But as I looked at my timeline the posts and tweets were only from my fellow Habesha friends. None of my Caucasian or Asian or even fellow African’s of other countries was showing praise, just the Eritreans. I followed suit, I gave a great shout out to Meb and to the winner of the ladies: Rita Jeptoo of Kenya. My victory was short lived. I had called Meb an Eritrean American and said that it was a great day to be East African and a friend of mine commented and said something so ignorant that I had no choice but to speak up. He generalized the win as a win for Africa and that “my boys” were known to be great runners. Um, I don’t represent the continent of Africa. When I pointed this out he remarked that I had mentioned Kenya as well. We went back and forth until finally he said I should be proud and that technically Meb was American so it was a victory for everyone. I scratched my head when I read that. When did I argue that he wasn’t? In fact I said Eritrean American; it was he that decided to make it about Africa in general. My mind reeled as the events that took place kept replaying in my head. I started to really take a look at responses to posts and I realized that we have a tendency, in this country, to support or claim when it’s convenient. I was in no way, shape or form, taking away from the fact that Meb was an American citizen; I just asked that we acknowledge the fact that he is both American and Eritrean. He embraces both sides to him so why couldn’t we? Don’t belittle others victories. Embracing both sides of who a person is doesn’t take away but instead adds.
I’ll leave you with this last thought: would the nation be as quick to claim Meb (or someone like him) if he had done something negative or would we then begin to categorize them everything else but American? Puts a great deal into perspective.
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