Stories from New Americans | Part Two

words and photos by Zaina Salem


*Note: This is a two part series. To view the first part, click here.*


Nardos Street

“I was born and raised in the capital of Ethiopia —a city called Addis Ababa. I came here right out of high school, 14 years ago. I just decided that I want to go out into the world and explore life. I just had that feeling, like, ‘I gotta go.’

In my culture, we’re big on coffee. I started a business called Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony Company, catering Ethiopian cuisine, and we do coffee ceremonies. The idea came when I had taken my husband and my family to Ethiopia to visit and they saw how the coffee ceremonies work. He loved what he experienced. My husband one day said, ‘you know, if we can’t bring everyone we know to your country . . . why don’t we take the culture to them? I need to show people what I’m seeing.’

This business gives people the opportunity to have a cultural experience. We let them eat food, drink coffee, ask questions. It helps us educate people and bring people together. When you are in a group setting for two to three hours, it’s going to force you to talk. Doing this coffee ceremony business allowed me to see that people are afraid of the things that they don’t know. They didn’t know anything about my culture until they sat down and learned about it. It teaches people a lot about going to the source and the roots . . . knowing what you’re consuming. I think raising awareness is everyone’s responsibility.

If people mistreat me as a black person, I see it as the person having an internal conflict or issue that’s not resolved within themselves. People do experience pain on so many levels at so many different parts of life. Trying to understand what everyone is going through helps us to coexist. Hate doesn’t get us anywhere. Nobody’s perfect, but we can always try to make the world a little bit better each day.”


The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony Company is based in Akron and has recently hosted ceremonies at the Green Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library and Cascade Auto Group. To learn more about the company, find The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony Company on Facebook or call 330-321-7142.


Natalia Amaya Bedoya

I moved here with my mom almost 15 years ago from Colombia. It was so weird but it was so exciting at the same time. I remember one girl was so mean to me on the bus because I didn’t speak English. I definitely had moments like that. But at the same time, there were so many people that were so open and so excited to have someone else here.

At one point America was the worst thing that could’ve happened to me. It was the most horrific place to me. But as my life shaped and everything fell into place, I realized how lucky I am to be here. I didn’t realize the opportunities I had here, I didn’t care about them, and I just hated it so much. But these last few years of my life have been amazing. I’m so lucky to raise my son here.

Currently I work somewhere where I get to use my Spanish and my Colombian background. I get to use that and I get to speak to Spanish clients. And little by little, the people who you think wouldn’t appreciate the Latin culture, they do. Because they get to meet you, get to understand you and get to like you. It’s very important to be able to open up to people. To show them where you come from and what you do so they can understand you and appreciate you.

America is so big. It’s so important to be proud of who you are and where you come from because anybody who has left everything behind and came to a new country and create a new life is incredible.


Lourdes Montes

Both my parents are from Mexico. I kind of almost wish I lived there, even though I wasn’t born there. It’s just a different atmosphere. And I feel like I belong there, unlike here. A lot of people don’t want us here. They just don’t see what we value, what we bring to this country, and it hurts me because people like my parents worked really hard. They just don’t accept who we are.  

There’s this program I’m a part of, called Proyecto Raíces, for children who are 4 to 14 years old. We talk about these kinds of things. I know when they’re younger, they’re affected by these kinds of things because either their mother or father are being deported and they don’t know what to do. It’s scary when you have your family torn apart.

I find that we’re shut down as kids. Adults can be condescending and patronizing because they’re older. It gives off the impression that they know more, and I get that they have more experience, but that shouldn’t invalidate the stories that children have . . . Because they go through really tough stuff. When you can relate to their struggles, that can break the barrier of being ignorant. Young people can be leaders. They are America’s future.

Seeing my people struggle, you can’t just stay silent. And if you do, you’re kind of enabling all this hatred. I try not to belittle people for not speaking up, because I’ve been there. But we just all have to work together. I think locally we can make a difference if we show up to vote. I know it seems like your vote doesn’t count, but it’s your right. And for those who can’t vote, be active in any way you can. Let your voice be heard.

I think it’s important to jump out of your comfort zone. Reaching out to people who don’t look like you is important, because you never know how similar you might be. Take a moment to talk to an immigrant and know their story, because people can be really quick to assume what their background is. Just be a little more open-minded. Try to get to know them better so you can break stereotypes and form a relationship and friendship.


Proyecto RAICES serves children of Latino and Hispanic families, “facilitating their integration into the local community and the maintenance of their cultural heritage.” The group meets on the first and third Saturday of every month in the gym at St. Matthew Parish School, located at 2576 Berne St., Akron.


Terms to know:


Immigrant: Any foreign-born person who is permanently living in the United States.

First-generation immigrant: Those who are foreign born.

Second-generation immigrant: Those with at least one foreign-born parent.

Third-or-higher generation immigrant: Those with two U.S. native parents. Culture: learned traditions, principles, and guidelines of behavior that are shared among members of a particular group.


(Featured photo is of Suri Patel, who’s story appeared in the first part of this series. To read about Suri, click here).