Dinaw Mengestu on why his family left Ethiopia

Dinaw Mengestu: When we came to America—and my father came to America in 1978, just before I was born and we joined him two years later—at that point there weren't many African migrants coming to America still—that African migration to America began fairly recently and really the Ethiopian migration to American began after the revolution in 1974 and really picked up throughout the '80s and '90s. And so when we arrived in America our story was quite particular and quite strange and the only image or news that people ever had of Ethiopia was of course of the famine, and so when we arrived there was a sort of narrative disconnect between the lives my family lived in Ethiopia and the dominant narrative of what Ethiopia meant in America. And so growing up the stories that we always heard—or the stories that we always heard on the news about Ethiopia—were of course of famine and, to some degree, the civil war that was happening at that time. But by and large Ethiopia was a sort of place of immense poverty and desperation, almost hell-on-earth-type narrative, versus the story that my father and my mother had of a country and a home that they loved, of family members that they grew up with, of this beautiful countryside that my father had been born and raised in. And so our experiences in America were quite strange, to say the least, at the very beginning.

Dinaw Mengestu talks about why his family left Ethiopia, and how America's perception of Ethiopia contrasted with his own.