Digital Diplomacy

September 9, 2023 | | 3 Comments

There is a proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. In Lancaster Pennsylvania exists my village. And yet if I told this to most people from the United States their first response would not be to object to the fact that I called Lancaster, a county of almost 1,000 square miles and a population of 600,000 people, a village. Instead, they would object to my claim to it–to my belongingness. Their objection is not mean-spirited. Lancaster, Pennsylvania evokes a certain image in the American psyche. This is reflected in the questions that they would ask: “Do you live near the Amish?” “Do you see the Amish all the time?” “It must be pretty rural?” and so on. These questions and the subsequent images that they evoke come from a kernel of truth but it remains, to me anyway, reductive. What makes a place home? Who gets to decide what is home? These reductive ideas also don’t account for my experience nor the experience of many others in Lancaster’s diverse population. Yes, Lancaster is home to the Amish which can not be disputed. However, Lancaster is also home to so many other kinds of people. It’s made up of a diverse population. It’s a metropolis, maybe not to the extent of New York City, but a metropolitan area nonetheless. 

 The Ethiopian Orthodox community in Lancaster was my village. Of the many groups of refugees within Lancaster exist Ethiopian refugees and migrants who left their homeland from 30 years ago to as recent as a couple of months ago. For me, they were like time capsules that stored within themselves stories of my homeland. My family and I had left Ethiopia when I was only six so any memories that I had were actively being weathered away. But because of my community, I was able to preserve my preexisting connection to the place of my origin from the language and culture and also forge my own understanding through interacting with media and cultural rituals. I feel a deep sense of pride for my community for shaping me into what I am today. 

Which is why when asked to share about a cultural object with my exchange partners living in the United Arab Emirates I shared an incense holder carved with the image of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus Christ. This object, given to me by my parents, represents the cultural tradition of the coffee ceremony, the many memories I attribute to frankincense, the passing down of knowledge from my community, and the feeling of home. 

I found that my exchange partners living in the United Arab Emirates had objects that were also given to them by their families or communities. They revealed that they felt a deep sense of pride in their people and culture. They also shared the cultural practice of making coffee at home, which was very similar to the Ethiopian coffee ceremonies I took part in when I was in Lancaster. But what spoke to me the most was their appreciation for the people in their community. I could tell there was a deep sense of pride in their people. I am excited to learn more about them and their surrounding through this experiment that is digital diplomacy. 



3 Comments so far

  1.    Ed Webb on September 9, 2023 3:54 pm

    It is fascinating to me, given the current alignment of a lot of the Evangelical Christians in the United States with anti-immigrant politics, how many people don’t realize the strong support of refugees and migrants by other faith communities here. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers who insisted on religious toleration which is why it has long been a religiously diverse state. That’s why so many Anabaptists—Amish, Mennonites, and others—fled persecution in Europe to settle in places like Lancaster county. In turn, Lancaster has been one of the most welcoming small cities in the United States to refugees and migrants, not least due to the efforts of faith-based organizations there. Among other things, this makes it a great food city!

    I am not at all surprised that you consider it home. But I agree that many around the United States and beyond might indeed be surprised.

  2.    Moustapha on September 9, 2023 10:00 pm

    As someone who lived and grew up in Ethiopia, I understand many of the points you brought up. The Ethiopian community is one of the strongest and most unified communities I have ever seen, especially when it comes to religion. Wherever they may be, they are always together, making it seem as if they are at home. I find it impressive, and this is largely attributed to their unity and their strong sense of pride in their culture. They can make any place feel like home, and usually, they are in the same place, (districts, neighborhoods, cities etc..); so, it makes sense if some consider that place their home away from home. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3.    Griffin Moore on February 20, 2024 2:12 am

    Thank you for sharing an insightful reflection on your experience in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Your narrative illustrates the essence of the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” showcasing how the Ethiopian Orthodox community in Lancaster served as your village, nurturing your connection to your homeland, culture, and identity. Your story underscores a crucial point: the concept of home and community extends far beyond geographical boundaries and simplistic stereotypes. With its diverse population, Lancaster embodies this complexity, challenging the reductive perceptions many might hold due to its association with the Amish community. It’s enlightening to hear how Lancaster, while home to the Amish, is also a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, including a significant Ethiopian community that has enriched the area’s cultural tapestry.

    What has been the most surprising aspect of your cultural exchanges with people from the UAE? How do these interactions have shaped your understanding of your culture and identity?

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