Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Japanese Salsa with a side of Soul

No, I'm not talking recipes here. I'm talking about this great story from The about a Black-American woman who found her bliss teaching salsa dancing in Japan. Don't you love it?

About her reasons for not only going to Japan in the first place, but sticking around and making her home there as well, Ammenah Shareef Asante was quoted as saying:

"Japan is one of the few places in the world I can be respected for what I do. As a black woman when I walk out of my door, I’m looked at as a foreigner. I go into the store they aren’t looking at me trying to figure out if I’m going to steal something. It’s just curiosity about who I am as a human being, and it’s fabulous.

I was so angry growing up, with all of the racial garbage there is in the States and coming to Japan was so freeing

Interestingly, this is what I thought Spain was going to be for me. But for those of you who read my memoir know, "freeing" probably wouldn't be the word I would use to describe my experience. Well, in some ways it was freeing but there would have to be a caveat, in that it was freeing with a dose of "slightly annoying" on the side. But I digress.

My point here today is that I love hearing about where people choose to go in order to live the life they imagined for themselves. I'm not sure if I have the courage to uproot myself to find that place although I dream about it often or I just check in with some of my favorite bloggers, like Ragazza in Rome and My Girl in Barcelona and live vicariously through them.

So where do you think you would have to go to live your best life? Right now I'm feeling like the South of France or Portugal. But maybe Japan deserves my consideration. Hmmm.

I'm listening.



Dee said...

I'm not really feeling the Far East...but I've always wanted to go to Provence in southern France, very picturesque and quiet--away from the noise and hustle of the tourist-infested streets of Paris. Either there or Italy. I've always had a love for Italy, particularly the northern regions such as Val d'Aosta, where the inhabitants speak a French dialect. So cool! Liguria, the birthplace of Paganini, ravioli and focaccia. Trentino Alto-Adige, where inhabitants speak a German dialect and rarely eat pasta. Strange! I plan to travel all over Italy, but those are particular places I have in mind.

I've often had vivid dreams of shopping at those outdoor markets, locals smiling at me and waving hello. I even recall a recent dream (no lie!) where I was in Spain all decked out in traditional Spanish costume: mantilla, castanets and all, I met handsome young man in a dashiki who could only speak Swahili! Imagine that! A Spanish local who spoke a foreign language! As for me, I could only speak Spanish! Imagine that! But somehow, it worked! We understood each other. We had a love connection. As you know, love knows no language, it has no boundaries! Okay, maybe I should stop now before I get carried away!

I'm considering taking a job teaching English to French, Italian and Spanish students or an opera appreciation class! If not, there's Canada. The grass is always greener and the air always cleaner on the other side!

Was that a bizarre dream or what? If you were to tell this to your husband, what would he think? I'm curious!

LT said...

What a good memory you have for your dreams. I can't wait for you to have your European adventure and I hope it's as wonderful as your dreams!

ieishah said...

LT, i read your post and thought, 'what girl in barcelona??' lol.

i just wanted to address the freedom thing. it was something that struck me about your memoir, that we had completely different experiences of our blackness here. we could attribute it to some growth on spain's part since you were here as a study abroad student, but i think it's deeper than that.

i think in the end, those of us who love travel and culture recover pieces of our selves in the places we roam. you may not have felt the same sense of do-WTF-you-want freedom in spain, that i have. but you definitely found pieces of yourself here-- your partner, your writing. are those things not, in some ways, freedom? a life of more robust expression of self?

spain didn't give you these 'freedoms' in a package you expected, but it's pretty great nonetheless, isn't it???

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

LT - thank you for the shout out!! I'm a fan of Ms. Barcelona as well.

For me Rome was freeing in that as a first generation black America with strict Caribbean parents I felt stuck between two very different cultures.

Rome to me has the energy of a big city combined with the values of the islands. I finally found my home. It's about family here, not how much money you make. For the latter you need to live in Milan (just kidding).

That said, Italy does have it's issues. No place is perfect. Just when I've had it with a crazy frustrating day (what is up with the postal system?), something reminds me why I love it here so much. It could a small thing like my favorite farmer's market vendor giving me free basil or his father (or grandfather?!) yelling clear across the piazza, "Ciao Bella!" every time he sees me.

Andrea Lee had an interesting quote about being an expat in Italy:

What does it mean to be an African-American writer in Italy?
“It all comes together. In America, especially if you are a person of color, you feel apart from an ideal “American.” You feel a bit foreign. So it felt quite familiar when I came to Italy. Being African-American made me feel more comfortable as an expatriate. I knew what feeling apart meant. Being a writer also means feeling apart, because you have to take a step back to look. So it all ties together: being African-American, being an expatriate, and being an artist.” Andrea Lee

kate said...

Hmm, I can't say I am living the life I imagined for myself, but so far it's pretty good anyway!

And, I just finished your memoir-- what a great story! Very interesting.

ieishah said...


muah!! the feelings are definitely mutual.

and stitching that andrea lee quote onto a pillow right now.

JBH said...

I'm so biased since I lived in Asia for so long...but Japan could work (lol)!

My friends who are Black and were in Japan were treated like "royalty" because of the almost-innocent curiosity around Black Americans. For me, it was a different experience because I'm of Japanese descent...but I loved it there after I found my "place".

I would love to head to Europe or Africa...any recommendations for countries?!?

Rita L. said...

This is an older post, but I had to leave a comment about this. I am so happy that there are black women having the time of their lives living abroad. I tried to have the same experience recently. The last 2 1/2 months, I was living (or tying to anyway) in Madrid. I was teaching English to 1st graders in the small town of Alalpardo. The teaching experience was incredible, but living in Madrid was horrible for me. Aside from it being super expensive, no one seemed to want to speak Spanish with my friend and me. It seemed everyone there tried to speak the little English they knew, even though we insisted on speaking spanish. On top of everything else, we couldn't find housing; when we showed up to see the pisos, only a few actually wanted us to take a look. The stares, comments, and etc were just too much for me. I even talked to the principal and other people about my experience, and everyone would say "well Spaniards are not used to foreigners . . .". I ended up leaving Spain earlier than expected because I was so annoyed by everything.

Regardless of the experience, I still want to travel abroad to learn about different cultures firsthand and become fluent in more languages. However, this experience has me a bit jaded. I am going to apply to grad school in Puerto Rico to ease myself back in wanting to live abroad again. I really love the culture and the way they speak Spanish there, so I hope it will be a cool experience. During the trip there, I hope to visit the other Spanish-speaking countries nearby as well. I just pray this does not turn into another horrible experience lol.