As a coda to our series on black expats reflecting on their time abroad, this reader builds to an essential point:
Just for the sake of perspective, I wanted to weigh on my experience as someone of Asian appearance traveling to Africa. I visited friends working at a school for AIDS orphans and locals stopped and stared at me too, sometimes laughing while pointing and calling out “China! China!”
My brother travelled off the beaten path in Switzerland and kids would gather in groups around him and touch his skin too. They were fascinated.
There is much racism in this world, but also much genuine interest and curiosity. The use of “cultural appropriation” saddens me, as I see the world as so much richer as the result of cross-cultural pollination.
Speaking of such pollination, in the video above, a young Barack Obama at a book reading talks about the “hybrid culture” that sets the United States apart in so many ways, adding: “The truth of the matter is, American culture at this point—what is truly American—is Black culture to a large degree.” (Cue the pathos from Trump supporters:
But the best moment of the Obama video, and the one most relevant to this expat series, is when he recalls traveling to his family’s Kenyan village for the first time with his wife. “She’s a very beautiful, regal-looking, African-looking, brown-skinned sister,” he says of Michelle. “So we get up there [to my grandmother’s village] and my little cousins, they all start pointing at her and saying, “Look, the wazungu—which means, ‘the white lady’! Now, for a girl from the South Side of Chicago … ” Heh. His broader point: “What she realized was that she was an American—very profoundly she realizes.”
Back to our readers: Brenda, also of East Asian appearance, shares an anecdote similar to the previous reader’s:
Some years ago my husband and I went to Crete, to see the Minoan ruins. Knossos is near the coast, and well frequented. But then we decided to drive into the interior of the island and see the Cave of Psychro, where Zeus was allegedly born. (There are actually two sites on Crete where he was born—we went to the closer one.) It is all the way up in the mountains. This was before the days of cell phone and internet, so it was pretty remote. I am of Chinese descent, and when the Cretans gathered to stare at me I realized that they probably do not see very many Asians in central Crete.
Kyle broadens the discussion a bit more:
I am a white man who has worked around Africa for the past ten years and lived in Haiti as a child. I think that most expats, especially ones in areas that are not cosmopolitan in nature, have a similar experience, regardless of race.