Ieasha G (pt. 3)
You mentioned that a point of growth for you is being able to ask for help. What’s that journey been like for you?
Well when I first got to Japan I had never been abroad. I had never been off the East Coast. And I had never been on a plane. Coming to Japan on JET was the first time for all of those.
But because my family had sacrificed so much and my husband (boyfriend at the time) helped me to get me here, didn’t feel like I was allowed to struggle. I couldn’t show anybody that I’m struggling right now because they did so much. And one thing that they say at JET is once you apply, start saving, start saving, start saving. But I didn’t have any disposable income that I could just set aside.
So when I first got here I just said I’ll figure it out. Until like one point I was eating onigiri (rice ball), half an onigiri for two days—and I really hate rice. and I contacted my husband and he said “I’ll send you money through Western Union.” But Japan had this new my number system so I couldn’t get the money.
I ended up going to this group called Black Girls Crisis and I was just gonna vent online. I said I’m in Japan and I can’t do anything and no one can help me and I don’t need help and I don’t know what to do. And then someone here, Ayana, she’s actually in that group and she hit me up and said “You don’t have to struggle. There’s other black people here. I got your back.”
So then we met up and she lent me money. And I was just like, “You don’t know me. Why are you helping me?” And she said, “We have to stick together.”
And that was the start if it’s OK to ask for help and it’s OK to be dependent on people, so long as you pay it forward. Are used to think that I had to do everything on my own and that I had to help others but now I know it’s OK to help others but also let others help me. I can’t give what I don’t have.
Just living and surviving as a black person alone is a revolutionary act.
Simply living unapologetically. That seems like a big part of your philosophy. How do people here react to things like that? Whether it’s you walking confidently in your truth or how you decide to do your hair or anything? Really I just want to talk about hair.
OK so when I first came to Japan I had the extensions of the Senegalese twist which went down to the middle of my back and they were like OK cool that’s black hair.
Little did they know: I only did this because I knew it would take some time to settle in and get my hair situation.
So, after I took them out I had afro. And it wasn’t just to soon as it was the teachers as well.
And I had an incident or some of my students were trying to grab my hair. And I had to stop them and say OK guys no his is not something that we can do.
So I was talking to the teachers and she asked why and I said that in the past black people were in zoos and treated as animals, so when you try to pet me you’re saying that I’m an animal.
So whenever I have a new hairstyle set aside about five minutes just explain. Most of the kids are just like, “Ieasha-sensei, how did you I do it??”
It’s kind of the point where I have a PowerPoint for the new year. This is my name, I am black, this is my hair. I showed them how I twist it and how I don’t need rubber bands because I have 4C hair. And this wasn’t just new for the kids, it was new for the white teachers too.
And so my first year here I had to teach this to everyone but now that I’m going to my third year something really interesting is happening. Because of the way that my school is set up, some new students join our academy at the beginning of junior high school or high school. And the students who I taught are now going in teaching the new students.
So at one point one of the new students try to reach out and touch my hair but another student caught her and explained “No, you have to ask permission because people aren’t pets.”
And for me, the foundation is laid. I don’t have to be the one who teaches everyone, but they can teach each other now.
How did you get this message out to everybody?
Well sometimes for topics like these I have an assembly. Like once I had an assembly to explain police brutality in the United States. That was to tell my kindergartners why it wasn’t OK to run around going “bang bang” at me with finger guns. And they said but that’s what they see happening on the news. All they know is that police kill black people. It was interesting because I had to explain that to a child but then I thought about how if I have to explain this to my little cousins, how come you can be spared this reality?
Now they ask permission to play cops and robbers.
So I had an assembly just on hair, maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and show them the different hairstyles that I do and some of the history of black hair. That was with seniors. And I could use some simple English to explain that a long time ago during the Jim Crow era black women weren’t allowed to show their hair so they wore scarves. And that in west African cultures, they wear scarves.
How long do you see yourself being in Japan and what would be your reason for staying or leaving?
Well this is my last year and because my husband is in the military we are going to back to the states. But also being here I realized that I wouldn’t want to stay here long term. For me, it’s really emotionally draining. I feel like I’m on all the time. And because there is a small community, I feel like I have to navigate a particular way. And I am still not used to that. I am used to being myself.
Also, the culture. The honne (the way one truly feels) and tatemae (the façade they put up). I’m from New York were really direct people. I’m also black and we’re direct, so for me I thought I had a lot of friends here before but I don’t know who’s real and who’s not. And that’s really tiring.