When moving abroad, you know you must accept the differences that come with your new country. After all, you came prepared to leave your customs behind and learn new ones, right? Embracing differences, opening your mind, broadening your horizons... all of that. Great. BUT: what can you do when the holiday that exists to celebrate who you are, is nowhere to be found in your host country? How can you cope when it's February, Black History Month, and no one around you knows... or cares.
It's not easy being the only one around who has heard of the people you grew up learning about, and know as icons in the United States. Here are a few ways to keep on keeping on during Black History Month abroad.
That's right. Channel your powers of Google-Fu, and use them to find the community (and trust me, it exists) of Black Americans in your new country. There are several blogs, Facebook groups, internet forums, and articles at your fingertips, full of people just waiting to connect and welcome you. Some of the strongest friendships I've made in Spain are with people from similar groups I found on Facebook. There are people all over the world who bond over this month. Go out for a drink or coffee with your new friends, and talk to your heart's content about current affairs in the U.S., the upcoming election, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In February there may be music festivals, poetry readings, and other activities that celebrate being black. Black history is more than Black Americans. There are brothers and sisters in every country you can think of. Use this time to meet Black people from other places, learn their stories, and really get to know what it's like to be black in another culture from people who grew up there.
Read a book, read a book, read a … (You know the rest)
There are so many books written by black authors that we don't always hear about. How about killing two birds with one stone? The book 'black and (A)broad: inspiration to travel beyond the limitations of identity' by Carolyn Vines, is both entertaining and relatable. Ms. Vines, a Washington D.C. native, writes of her journey from New Orleans, LA (where she lived for a year), to Holland with her Dutch boyfriend (now husband). Ms. Vine's stories of living in Spain, honeymooning in Cuba, and getting lost in Holland will make you laugh, and realize that you are NOT alone! Being black in another country is something we are all going through. You will laugh, and you will cry, but you either make it work or go home. Which does Ms. Vines choose? You'll have to read her story to find out.
Get up offa that thing
Yes, go forth and hit the clubs. With all the nightlife in your new cities, there is bound to be ONE place that has a club that plays RnB, hip hop, soul, funk, reggae, you name it! Or get together with your new friends, and do your own thing. Grab some wine, make a Spotify playlist, and host a dance party. You're guaranteed to show off your moves, have a sing along, and irritate the neighbors (or maybe they'll be down to join in!).
Choose your own Adventure
If you can't find an event that touches you: Make your own! Get in touch with local bookstores or coffee shops, and see if they're open to hosting an event (If you don't have the language down yet, find someone who does... or get your translator app ready!).You can have your own poetry slams, get a dance crew together at a local park, challenge the break-dancers at the Metro to a dance off (preferably to Beyoncé's new cut 'Formation'), meet other writers at a coffee shop for a writing challenge, throw your ghetto blaster over your shoulder and strut down the street playing 'Say it Loud (I'm black and I'm proud)' – the sky is the limit!
And the most importantly: TEACH
Living abroad exposes us to so many people who are curious about us: where we came from, how we got here, what brought us to their country, etc. What better chance to share such a vital part of who we are, than Black History Month? We are the ultimate teacher's book! This is an amazing opportunity to teach others about what it means to be a black American. Talk about our heroes, or leaders, our unsung champions. Share videos of important movies, have a Jackson 5 dance party with your classes, make projects about diversity. Read articles from the U.S., introduce black poets, dancers, or sports icons. Take the chance to share things that will not be found in history books outside of the U.S.A. By teaching about black lives, you can open so many minds, and help others learn about a part of our culture.
What are some of your ideas for celebrating Black History Month where you are? I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions!
Khephra is a New Orleans native, who re-located to Madrid, Spain at the absolute end of 2013. Some of her favorite things are: food, Theatre, yoga, tinto de verano, and traveling through the country she's only seen in dreams. She can usually be found wandering through the streets of Madrid [because she's lost... again], or at an intercambio. When she's not accidentally cursing at old ladies in Castellano, or wading neck-deep into the dreaded dating pool, she spends her free time working to be a better writer, teacher, and dancer.