Ilfenesh Hadera attends the 'Baywatch' Photo Call in Berlin on May 30, 2017.
Ilfenesh Hadera attends the 'Baywatch' Photo Call in Berlin on May 30, 2017. Franziska Krug—Getty Images

An Actress Advocating for Refugees

A Perfect Blend

Growing up in New York City helped Hadera embrace her identity as the daughter of an acupuncturist and an Ethiopian refugee. “I identify as half Ethiopian, half white. I’m equal parts. I hear so many biracial people say, ‘I didn’t know where I fit in.’ But I grew up in Harlem and went to school on the Upper West Side, where half the students looked like me. I consider myself lucky to have lived in this bubble.”

Learning to Give Back

“When my father came to New York as a refugee, he immediately started the African Services Committee to help other displaced refugees with legal services and to give them a sense of community. They were so fearful of being sent back to war-torn countries. I had my first summer job there doing paperwork. You meet the clients and you hear the stories. So I know how vital the work has been to the lives of thousands of people over the years. We’ve got to look out for one another.”

The Limits of Social Media

“I’ll post the link to fund-raising events and hope a few people will donate or participate. But a post on Instagram is not going to help sustain a movement. Action is not a tweet. I think about my Instagram followers: If all of them donated $1 to ASC, they’d be funding five clinics in Ethiopia for a year.”

Family Pride

Hadera laughs at how her parents react to her rising fame. “We’ll be at a fund-raiser, and my dad will ask someone, ‘Have you Googled Ilfenesh?’ I’m like, ‘Dad, maybe in Ethiopia it’s cool, but in the States you can’t tell people to Google your daughter!’ It’s embarrassing. But it’s just because they’re so proud.”

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