2022 – Black Americans living abroad consider celebrating June 16th away from home: “I realized we really need a community.”

Children watch a Juneteenth parade in Galveston, Texas.

  • After George Floyd, many black Americans chose not to return to the United States from abroad.
  • Many celebrate June 16 in other countries such as Japan and South Korea.
  • In Bangkok, a group called Ebony Expats organized a silent film screening.

BANGKOK – With the United States marking its second officially recognized day on June 16, black Americans living abroad have used the holiday as a day of reflection and an opportunity to educate people in host countries about black history.

President Joe Biden moved quickly last year to nationally recognize the day black Americans celebrate since the last slaves were told they were free on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln declared slaves free in 1863.

In Liberia, Saqar Ahhah Ahershu, 45, of Jersey City, NJ, is organizing the country’s first Journey Home Festival.
“Because this is part of this hidden African-American history that has not yet been fully deconstructed,” he said in Monrovia.

Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, was founded in 1822, exactly 200 years ago, by freed slaves brought back to West Africa from the United States. This weekend’s event includes a trip to Providence Island, where former slaves settled before moving to what is now Monrovia on the mainland.

Although there are no official statistics tracking black Americans moving abroad, many are discussing it more candidly in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. As a result, many African Americans saw the United States “abroad” and chose not to return.

Latonia Whitaker and her husband David attend the Juneteenth event at the Tokyo American Club on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. About 300 people celebrated June 16 in the luxurious club on Saturday with speeches, a spiritual dinner, prayers and dance music.

Tachina 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 with a group of cyclist artists at a fundraising lunch for the Marsha B Johnson Institute on Sunday, June 16.

She is looking forward to another federal holiday with mixed feelings.

“It became the commercialization of Gwyneth, ‘Put it on a T-shirt, put it on a sundae,'” she said. “But as a black person within the black community, I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s celebrate.'”

She said only a big change would make her go back to the States

Krishan Wright in New Jersey speaks regularly to black Americans who are planning or have previously been moving abroad.

Wright, 47, hosts the Blaxit Global podcast and said many of her guests are sick of the U.S.

β€œThey have done everything they can to achieve what the American Dream should be and this standard going forward. They don’t feel like they are on solid ground when it comes to comfortably retiring, paying off student debt, or just paying their bills.”

Wright plans to move to Portugal in 2023. Through her podcast, she already knows the June 16 celebrations this weekend in the capital, Lisbon.

In some locations with more black Americans, Juneteenth is already part of the program.
Latonia Whitaker from Mississippi has lived in Japan for 17 years. She is the executive director of the Legacy Foundation Japan, which hosted a gathering on June 16 attended by about 300 people at the luxury Tokyo American Club on Saturday.

She and her husband, David, did not intend to live in Japan.

About 20 African-Americans gather for dinner at a Jamaican restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand to celebrate America's newest federal holiday, June 18, on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand.
About 20 African-Americans gather for dinner at a Jamaican restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand to celebrate America’s newest federal holiday, June 18, on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Like Whitaker, many of the black Americans at the June 16 event came to Japan almost by accident as Christian missionaries or Peace Corps volunteers. But they made Japan their home.
She now wants to raise her son there because she is concerned about gun violence in the United States

β€œI realized we really needed a community,” Whitaker said.

Michael Williams studies African-American history at Temple University in Tokyo and left the United States at the age of 22. He is now 66 years old and has lived abroad for most of his adult life but has returned to the United States for graduate studies in Boston and Baltimore.

America has changed so much, and he feels like a tourist when he visits, he laughed.

Williams said he knows Juneteenth from history class.

β€œI always finished my presentations with the hope that one day this would be a national holiday. Now it is, it feels great.”

In Taipei, Toi Windham and Casey Abbott Payne are hosting several events to celebrate June 16th. The two, who are part of Black Lives Matter Taiwan, host shows by black artists and musicians.

Both celebrated with their families long before the National Day.

Wyndham has lived in Taiwan for five years and has always celebrated June 16 growing up in Texas. For her, it’s an opportunity to educate people about a different part of American culture, even the darker parts.

“A lot of people tend to enjoy hip-hop culture, clothing, and certain parts of our culture, but I think it’s important to acknowledge all parts of black culture,” she said.

Payne, an organizer, has lived in Taiwan for 11 years and said he also celebrated June 16 growing up in Milwaukee, which has one of the country’s oldest festivals.

β€œAs a child, I remember the street lined with street vendors, music playing, and the June 16 parade through,” he said.

Michael Williams, who studies African-American history at Temple University in Tokyo, speaks during an interview at the Juneteenth event in Tokyo on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Michael Williams, who studies African-American history at Temple University in Tokyo, speaks during an interview at the Juneteenth event in Tokyo on Saturday, June 18, 2022.

For others, the day represents an opportunity to happily sit back and relax.

In Bangkok, a group called Ebony Expats organized a silent movie screening, a bike ride in a nature reserve, and dinner at a Jamaican restaurant with jerk chicken feet and pumpkin soup.

Restaurant owner Colin Clifford McCoy served 20 years in the US Army before opening his restaurant in Thailand during the pandemic. He said the June 16 holiday is a chance for blacks to share their culture while away from home, whether American or not.

“Overall, it’s about gathering no matter where we are and showing how much blood flows deeply as a community to come together and have fun,” he said.
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AP writers Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Christa Larsson in Dakar, Senegal, and Jonathan Bay-Lily in Monrovia, Liberia contributed to this report.

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