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New Yellow Wiggle Tsehay Hawkins On Her Multicultural Family + Life As A Teenager On Tour

Family

In five years of publishing Family interviews on The Design Files, this is our first time telling a story from the perspective of a teenager…That’s partly because Tsehay Hawkins is no ordinary teenager!

Instead of high school or catching up on homework on weekends, you’ll most likely find the 16-year-old on tour with her bandmates: 59-year-old Anthony Field, 50-year-old Simon Pryce, and 36-year old Lachlan Gillespie. You might know them as The Wiggles!

Tsehay became an official Wiggle this year, replacing Emma Watkins in the yellow skivvy to become the youngest and first Black member in the band’s 31 years. 

Her family story starts in 2006, when Tsehay was adopted from Ethiopia, followed by her brother Kendly six years later from Colombia. We joined Tsehay with Kendly and their parents Reg and Robyn Hawkins for an intimate chat about intercountry adoption, embracing her Ethiopian culture, and navigating an untraditional teenage life. 

28th July, 2022

Tsehay Hawkins with her brother Kendly (10); parents Reg and Robyn; and dog Spud. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

The family live in Bargo, a small town about 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney. Photos – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Tsehay and her brother Kendly were adopted: Tsehay from Ethiopia, and Kendly six years later from Colombia. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

The siblings are best friends. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Tsehay with mum Robyn. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Tsehay’s family are behind her every step of the way in her role as the new Yellow Wiggle. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

After joining The Wiggles as an ensemble member in 2020, Tsehay was promoted to the main band from 2022. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

‘My parents would always make sure to take us to Latin and African festivals where we could be immersed in our culture; and celebrate and meet/create bonds with people that were the same nationality as us. Because of this, we have created many friendships throughout not just the Ethiopian and Colombian communities but the African and South American communities also,’ says Tsehay. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

‘Ethiopian and Colombian culture was always a part of my life growing up. We listened to Ethiopian and Colombian music; ate traditional dishes; and have artefacts and objects around the house that play an important role in our heritage.’ Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Before her life as a Wiggle, Tsehay was a champion Latin dancer. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

‘Intercountry adoption has been a wonderful experience for my family and me. Being able to witness my brother’s adoption opened my eyes to how complicated and lengthy the process can be but the outcome is awesome,’ says Tsehay. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

‘My parents don’t dance, but my brother definitely can groove!’ says Tsehay. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Tsehay and Kendly. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files

Amelia Barnes
Thursday 28th July 2022

‘Being able to witness my brother’s adoption opened my eyes to how complicated and lengthy the process can be, but the outcome is awesome.’

Tsehay Hawkins is used to a busy schedule. A dancer from two years of age, the 16-year-old’s life has long consisted of Latin dance competitions (she’s a five-time world champion), seven day a week rehearsals, and remote schooling to support her demanding lifestyle.

It’s not so different today, just with a far bigger audience.

After joining The Wiggles as an ensemble member in 2020, Tsehay was promoted to the main band in 2022.

It was a huge step up for the teenager. As the youngest Wiggle in history, some questioned her ability to deal with a gruelling performance schedule, not to mention the pressure of replacing beloved outgoing Yellow Wiggle, Emma Watkins.

On a personal level, Tsehay was conscious of her limited singing experience and how her dancing would translate to a children’s audience. ‘I didn’t have much experience in children’s entertainment beforehand, and singing was always a step out of my comfort zone,’ she says.

They needn’t have worried. Unsurprisingly to those who know her, Tsehay quickly rose to the occasion with her talent, stage presence, work ethic, and natural charisma.

Supporting her every move is a remarkable family: building designer and dad Reg Hawkins, early childhood teacher and mum (and chaperone!) Robyn Hawkins, and Tsehay’s 10-year-old brother, Kendly. Both Tsehay and Kendly were adopted as babies from Ethiopia and Colombia respectively. 

We visited Tsehay in the Hawkins’ Bargo home (a small town 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney), to learn more about her inspiring family and performing life to date. 

What’s been your experience growing up adopted in Australia?

I’m super proud to be adopted; it is part of my story. I love my Ethiopian heritage and I absolutely love the beautiful country that I get to call home.

I never needed to really ‘process’ anything. For me, it was really quite easy to understand and I loved sharing my story and educating people on adoption.

Your brother Kendly was also adopted, from Colombia. Has embracing Ethiopian and Colombian culture been part of your lives?

Ethiopian and Colombian culture was always a part of my life growing up. We listened to Ethiopian and Colombian music; ate traditional dishes; and have artefacts and objects around the house that play an important role in our heritage.

My parents would always make sure to take us to Latin and African festivals where we could be immersed in our culture, celebrate, and make bonds with people that were the same nationality as us. Because of this, we have created many friendships throughout not just the Ethiopian and Colombian communities, but the African and South American communities also.

Where does your love of dancing come from?

I started dancing as soon as I could walk, and classes at two-years-old. 

I love that I can express myself in a way that is unique to me — it’s like a safe space. It also brings joy to not only myself, but everyone, in some way, shape, or form. It can bring people together, forge a connection, or just provide entertainment. It will forever be my passion.

My parents don’t dance, but my brother definitely can groove!

Has dancing also helped you explore your Ethiopian heritage?

Yes! My beautiful parents put me in Ethiopian dancing lessons so I could identify and embrace my culture as I grew up. Learning various African dance styles help further my knowledge and discover the beauty of the rich cultures.

Intercountry adoption is increasingly rare in Australia. What are your personal feelings about the program and process?

(Ed’s note: Tsehay was adopted in 2006 when intercountry adoption was peaking in Australia, but has since declined due to the country’s compliance with international conventions to reduce illegal and unethical adoptions, and the development of local adoption programs. As a result, Ethiopia is no longer an Australian ‘partner country’, and of the 42 intercountry adoptions finalised in Australia over 2020-21, only four were from Colombia.) 

Intercountry adoption has been a wonderful experience for my family and me. Being able to witness my brother’s adoption opened my eyes to how complicated and lengthy the process can be, but the outcome is awesome. I love Kendly so much and we have a great relationship.

Obviously our family isn’t the most common type, so we would get a lot of looks and questions. Most were quite innocent from people who just wanted to learn more. There were definitely some negative encounters, but these didn’t really affect me.

Have you been able to visit Ethiopia since or meet your birth parents?

I unfortunately have not been back to Ethiopia since being adopted and coming to live in Australia. It just hasn’t been the right time to go yet, but I am looking forward to when that time comes (hopefully soon).

I would love to meet my birth parents. My parents have travelled to Ethiopia multiple times to try and find information on them and my back story, but so far haven’t been successful. It would be super amazing for me to meet them, but it wouldn’t affect me if it never results in that outcome.

What’s life been like since joining The Wiggles?

It’s ever-changing! There’s always something new and exciting happening whether it be touring, performing, filming, interviews, or meeting new families and wonderful people. 

I’m loving every minute of it: learning how producing music works, interacting with children, how to keep an audience engaged…All advice and experience that can help me grow as an artist. 

Is it important to you that The Wiggles reflect a diversity of families, genders, races, and ages?

I definitely believe it is important for The Wiggles to reflect diversity in all forms, as Australia is such a large multicultural community with people from all walks of life. For the children that may be different to what is commonly portrayed on screen, it is vital they see someone that they can relate to; it helps inspire them, feel somewhat included, and know that they are accepted in modern society.

How do your family and bandmates support you as a performer?

I still live at home and when I tour my mum always comes with me. Every now and then my whole family will join for a little bit, so I definitely feel emotionally supported. I love touring with my family!

The entire cast and crew on tour are also an amazing group of people to work with, and the dancers are closer to my age, so I definitely feel supported and I am having a blast. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net