Elsa Redi Medhin
I want to share the stories of my people through my lens-whether that be through my hairstyle,
my clothes or my jewelry. These are just the physical ornaments of my culture but hold
important meaning and history.
Both my parents are from Eritrea, my father is from the city of Asmara and my mother is from
the village of Aseb. I would be considered first generation Eritrean American. To me that means
as much as I am American, I am Eritrean. Geographically speaking, Eritrea lies in the Horn of
Africa right above the more commonly known Ethiopia. Eritrea comprises of nine ethnic groups
and we represent Tigrinya. Each group has a certain style or colors that pertain to them.
The gabi (clothing) draped over my shoulders and hair is called a netela, habesha women wear
this to cover their hair during church service, on holy ground or in celebration, it’s also an
addition to the 3 part formal wear, and a staple in older women’s everyday wear. Gabi’s are
large and typically have tibeb (colorful and intricate designs). Kidan habesha (Eritrean/Ethiopian
dress) is a traditional dress in our culture. It’s handmade out of cotton and also worn to
weddings or church services. This particular dress I wore is what Tigrinya women would wear,
quite conservative but I put my own lil twist by pairing some creepers and adding gold werki
(jewelry) to stand out. The colors red, green, yellow and blue not only represent our national
flag, these colors are valuable individually. I wear at least one of these colors daily and I feel as
though I have a little piece of my country with me at all times.
But I’d also like to point out that although I have all the privilege and opportunity that comes with
being an American I oftentimes find myself more comforted with my own culture and surrounded
by my community. I grew up with the values instilled by my Eritrean parents and those same
values instilled by theirs. We are truly people of resilience and beauty. Growing up I did not
have spaces where I could embrace this outside of my home or with my own people. I was
taught to be prideful in private. I’m a bit older now and I’ve taken upon myself to reclaim my
roots.I’m Eritrean and I don’t give a fuck about the standard of beauty in this country and I don’t
want to hear what you have to say unless it’s coming from a place of love. I will wear these
clothes in public, I will rock my mother’s jewelry and wear my braids in confidence. I am a
multidimensional woman balancing both of my identities, and I will not be put into a box.
I don’t believe I have to choose when I accept I’m multidimensional and I embrace my two
This is my culture and I want to share it.