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A page from the managing editor’s diary

Portrait of Bana in traditional formal clothing

By Bana Yirgalem

Natsnet. This means ‘freedom and independence’ in Tigrinya—my mother language. It is a word deeply rooted within Eritreans’ history whether you live back home in a village like Mekrem—where my dad is from—or a big city like Toronto.

When I think about myself, I think about how I’m a fourth-year journalism student who is the communities editor at The Eyeopener and a member of the Black Business Student Association team. Yes, not to flex, I’m very involved within my school, which makes me proud. But, I also take immense pride in being the youngest child of two of the most inspiring people in my life.

My parents are from Eritrea, a small country in East Africa, right off the coast of the Red Sea. Many people may not know about it due to the country only recently gaining its independence 31 years ago. Eritrea and Ethiopia were at war as Eritrea was seeking to be a separate country and eventually became one on May 24, 1993. You might think, ‘What does that have to do with Bana?’ 

The war was something both my parents experienced, my mom being an innocent civilian and my father was a member of the group that put their lives on the line for the future of Eritrea. While living in Canada, I never had to experience the fear of losing my freedom—a privilege my parents didn’t have in their home country. 

They had to flee the country separately to avoid the harm plaguing their home. This led them to immigrate to Saudi Arabia, where all three of my older sisters were born. After living there as a family of five, my mother decided to move to Canada alone with my sisters in 1990, while my dad stayed in Saudi Arabia for work.

 A young woman immigrating with three young daughters under the age of six, while speaking zero English and having no job lined up was challenging to say the least. However, my mom, being the superwoman she is, ultimately made the sacrifice and found her lane. She worked two jobs, night and day, to ensure my sisters were always financially and emotionally supported. My sister would tell me about the times when my mom was treated poorly due to her being an immigrant—but that never stopped her from doing what she needed to do.

My father still provided for my sisters and mother from 10,711 kilometres away. Imagining that my dad had to be away from his wife and daughters for so long makes me sad but it shows what a selfless man he is—the man I’m proud of.

11 years later, My dad eventually made his way to Canada in 2001, a year before I was born and finally reunited with my mom and sisters for good. Not much happened until Sept. 7, 2002, when little old me was finally here.

I’m the only one in my family that was born in Canada. I was born in the West end of Toronto. My experiences growing up were much different from my family’s. My mom became a mother at 21—the same age I’m finishing my undergraduate degree. 

My sisters are closer in age and grew up together before I was born. The massive age gap between us made me feel like an only child at times. Although I may have had a different upbringing than my family, I never felt like an outsider.

From my cultural days in elementary school to listening to Eritrean songs on my way to campus, embracing my culture in any way possible makes me feel more connected to my beautiful heritage. 

My mom always told me: “Bana, I gave you your name because you’re the light in the family that shines within the darkness.” 

I would believe those very words she said to me. But now, when I think back on my parent’s experiences, they’re the light within my life. All the blood, sweat and tears they have shed throughout their journey to where they are today is a prime testament to why my parents are my greatest heroes. 

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students, whether you’re a first-generation Canadian, an international student, an immigrant or from an immigrant family, the experiences of you and your families deserve to be celebrated.

As you turn the pages of The Diaspora Diaries, remember it’s not just any diary. It’s a diary filled with beautiful images and heartwarming stories of students from different walks of life gracing the pages. This year’s communities special issue is where we dive deep into the beautifully diverse student body at TMU. So, let’s dig in. 

Read all the stories from the issue:

The Realities of Identity Loss

Dearest diaspora: I don’t have to choose

Knowing I belong in two different worlds

Why Canada?

Appreciating food away from home

The battle between the mind and heart: A student’s dilemma

From culture to counselling: Navigating mental health in immigrant households

Cultural heritage echoes through songs from the student’s homeland

Styles from around the globe

Behind the Flags

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