As the United States marks only the second federally recognized Juneteenth, Black Americans living abroad have embraced the holiday as a day of reflection and an opportunity to educate people in their host country about black history.
President Joe Biden moved quickly last year to federally recognize the day Black Americans have celebrated since the last slaves were told they were free in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, two years later. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
In Liberia, Saqar Ahhah Ahershu, 45, of Jersey City, NJ, is hosting the country’s first Journey Home Festival.
“Because it’s part of this hidden history of African Americans that hasn’t been fully exposed yet,” he said in Monrovia.
Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, was founded by freed slaves repatriated from the United States to West Africa in 1822, exactly 200 years ago this year. This weekend’s event will include a trip to Providence Island, where former slaves settled before settling in what is now mainland Monrovia.
Although there are no official statistics on black Americans moving abroad, many are discussing it more openly after the police killing of George Floyd. In the aftermath, many African Americans saw the United States “from the outside in” and decided not to return.
Tashina Ferguson, a 26-year-old debate coach, was living in New York at the time of Eric Garner’s death.
She moved to South Korea in 2019 and will celebrate June 19 Sunday with a group of drag performers at a fundraising brunch for the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
She has mixed feelings about the new federal holiday.
“The Juneteenth commercialism has become this kind of thing, ‘Put it on a T-shirt, put it on tubs of ice cream,'” she said. “But as a black person in the black community, I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s celebrate. “”
She said only a powerful change would make her consider returning to the United States
Chrishan Wright, in New Jersey, speaks regularly with black Americans who are considering or have already moved abroad.
Wright, 47, hosts a ‘Blaxit Global’ podcast and said many of his guests are tired of the United States
“They’ve done everything to achieve what’s supposed to be the American dream, and that benchmark keeps shifting. They don’t feel like they’re on solid ground to be able to retire comfortably, pay off student debt, or just cover their bills.
Wright plans to move in 2023 to Portugal. Thanks to her podcast, she already knows about the June 19 celebrations this weekend in Lisbon, the capital.
In some places with larger Black American populations, Juneteenth is already part of the program.
LaTonya Whitaker, from Mississippi, has lived in Japan for 17 years. She is executive director of the Legacy Foundation Japan, which held a rally of about 300 people at the Tokyo American Club on Saturday.
She and her husband David had no intention of living in Japan.
Like Whitaker, many black Americans at the Juneteenth event came to Japan almost by coincidence, as Christian missionaries or Peace Corps volunteers. But they have taken up residence in Japan.
She now wants to raise their son there because she worries about gun violence in the US
“I realized we really needed a community,” Whitaker said.
Michael Williams teaches African-American history at Temple University in Tokyo and left the United States at the age of 22. He is now 66 and has lived abroad for much of his adult life, but returned to the United States for higher education in Boston and Baltimore.
America has changed so much, he feels like a tourist when he visits, he laughs.
Williams said he knew about Juneteenth from teaching history.
“I always ended my presentations hoping that one day it would be a national holiday. And now it is, and it feels good,” he said.
In Taipei, Toi Windham and Casey Abbott Payne are hosting several events to celebrate Juneteenth. The two, which are part of Black Lives Matter Taiwan, organize performances by black artists and musicians.
Both celebrated with their families long before it was a federal holiday.
Windham has lived in Taiwan for five years and always celebrated June 19 growing up in Texas. For her, it’s an opportunity to educate people about another part of American culture, even the darker parts.
“A lot of people tend to appreciate hip-hop culture and dress and parts of our culture, but I think it’s important to recognize all parts of black culture,” she said.
Payne, an organizer, has lived in Taiwan for 11 years and said he also celebrated June 19 growing up in Milwaukee, which holds one of the oldest celebrations in the country.
“As a kid, I remember the street was lined with street vendors, and there was music playing and there was the June 19 parade,” he said.
For still others, the day is a time to relax and rest happily.
In Bangkok, a group called Ebony Expats organized a silent film screening, a bike ride through a nature reserve and dinner at a Jamaican restaurant serving jerk chicken and pumpkin soup.
Restaurant owner Collin Clifford McKoy served 20 years in the US military before finally opening his restaurant during the pandemic in Thailand. He said the June 19 holiday is a chance for black people to share their culture while being so far from home, American or not.
“Overall, it’s about coming together, wherever we are, and it shows how deep the blood runs as a community to come together and have fun,” he said.
Associate News Writers Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal and Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, contributed to this report.