Ieasha G (pt. 1)
Could I ask you to do a bit of introduction?
Sure. I’m Ieasha and I’m from New York. I grew up in Long Island and I went to school in Manhattan. I lived in Queens for a bit in the Bronx for a bit. Most people when they think of New York they only think of Manhattan.
So how did you end up coming to Japan?
I applied and got into the JET program. So that I live in Queens with my aunt for a little bit before saying “OK bye guys, I’m going to Japan!”
What was the process of applying to the JET program like for you?
So, originally when I first applied to JET I was just doing it to do it. My husband helped me with my essay and everything, but when I was looking and researching stuff, I noticed there’s not that many black people on JET. And I thought, “They’re not going to pick me. What’s the point of doing all of this work?” Actually, I ended up missing the deadline. But I got an email saying that they had extended the deadline. And my husband (my boyfriend at the time) was like, “You’re doing it! The worst they can do is say no.”
At the time I was a preschool teacher and they had lost a teacher so they were overworking me and there were safety violations. And a kid could get hurt, I was working in midtown Manhattan, so if their kid got hurt they would’ve gone crazy.
So eventually I did it and I was googling being black in Japan and all the other stuff, and some of it seemed really outdated. So, I didn’t know how it would affect me. But I applied and I got in and then I was like, “well, I guess I’m going to Japan.“
What a whirlwind. When was it that you applied and got accepted?
2015, because I came here in 2016. I was telling people at work, “Hey heads up I might be going to Japan. Might not. You should probably get a new teacher though.”
So I’m at work and I get an email from jet and all I can think is “Yep, here it is. I didn’t get in.“ And I’m reading it, nodding my head, and I finally see that I got in. And I’m like, “Really? I got it? Even after the interview?”
So, for me, for my interview, I thought I had bombed it.
Why do you say that?
Well I was nervous. And I was worried that I used to much Japanese in the interview because I had studied Japanese so I could do the interview.
And then there were some of the questions that the panel of three interviewers asked. Like, “How would you react to being called the n-word?“
They asked really you that??
Yeah. I think it’s mostly because of my personal statement. Because in my personal statement I straight up said “growing up as a black woman…” and there’s no way that you can not have my picture. You’re going to know it’s happening.
So in my personal statement I said I grew up as a black woman, I know that America is not all this one monolith, I’m going to talk about this, and I’m going to tell people what’s wrong and what’s right. So, deal with it. If you take me, we better be able to do this because I’m not stopping. That’s another reason why I thought I wasn’t going to get the job, because I said I’m vocal about this and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So in the interview they said let’s talk about the elephant in the room. What would you do if someone use this word with you? And I said “Well, I’m black in America and my family is from the south. It’s not the first time that’s ever happened.”
So I said that I could use it as a teaching moment, depending on who it is but if someone else we would have to see how it goes.
In the back of my head i’m like, they can catch these hands though.
I’m glad you said it. Because I was about to say, that’s the professional equivalent of “y’all can catch these hands”. Was it an all-white panel?
The former JET on the panel was east Asian. And then there was as special guest who came to do my interview. She was the consulate general, I think? I don’t remember the exact rank. And then there was a white dude who teaches at a university in the states.
But I think that if it had been a panel of all white people who asked me that question, I would’ve left.
I think I would too. I just wonder how you are supposed to respond knowing that you are receiving additional scrutiny because you are a black woman that other applicants would not have received.
Yeah, that’s exactly why I thought it wasn’t going to get in. And I asked people in the waiting room after if any of them had gotten these types of questions and none of them had. They were all white.
So you said in your cover letter that you would be vocal. How was that played out now that you’re actually here?
I’m still very vocal. Especially at work. So, I teach at a private academy kindergarten, elementary, junior high school, and high school. And for elementary, junior high school, and high school they have two sets of students: the domestic students and then the international students. So, even if you’re not in the international student you can get into the international English program.
So in those classes they do literature like a regular English class back in the states. And when I arrived I noticed that all of the literature was just old white man. Shakespeare, a lot of the canonical literature, Faulkner, Orwell, etc.
But at my high school growing up, which had a low reading level, the way that they got us to read was to have us reading authors of color. I think the only white literature that I read in high school was Romeo and Juliet and the Gift of the Magi. The rest was people of color.
So sometimes when they talk about literature here I feel out of place. I have anxiety already and sometimes I can feel like I don’t belong.
Yeah, feeling like “how did I get here? I don’t belong here.“ Especially when we have these conversations about this literature that I didn’t read.
At first they said to sit there quietly. I don’t have any authority to speak on this, because I also don’t have any official teaching degree. But some of these people have a PhD. Who am I to talk about this when I don’t have that same level of education? But then after a while I realized no, this isn’t fair. What they’re talking about is what they're teaching to our students and many of our kids are hafu, and a handful of those students are half Japanese and half black. And they need representation. They need to learn about other perspectives.