Celebrating Black History Month by Honoring Black Voices at Remote Year
Written by Joshua Best
As we celebrate Black History Month, Community Manager Joshua Best shares how traveling to Remote Year destinations in Asia and Latin America has shaped his perspective of the Black experience.
This February we’re honoring Black History Month by highlighting personal stories from across our Remote Year community. While acknowledging that Black History Month is rooted in the African-American struggle, Joshua shares how this month-long celebration is ultimately interlinked with communities across the world, as he’s seen firsthand in Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, and Mexico.
Meet Josh: Joshua has worked with Remote Year over the past 3 years and lived in 15 countries! He started as a Community Leader for the 12-month program Curie, affectionately known as the “Curie-ous Cats”, who did everything from making music videos to creating their own start-up incubator for a social enterprise in Mexico City. In his spare time you can either find him on a rooftop drinking an old fashioned or on a quieter night enjoying his CrunchyRoll subscription.
Hear directly from Josh on his journeys around the world
It is my personal belief that the Black experience is a global construct with both a shared struggle and a common revelry of spirit emulated in a myriad of rich cultural ties around the world. As a Black man in the position to share his voice, I hope to highlight the personal and global connections of the Black experience through the lens of my time at Remote Year.
Black History Month has its roots in the African-American civil rights struggle by starting off as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. Carter G. Woodson is also a prominent member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., a historically African-American fraternity founded at Howard University in Washington DC, that I myself became a part of in 2009. Today, the observance of Black History Month has been globalized as it is now also observed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada, and other countries such as Peru have their own respective celebrations during different months of the year.
The definition of what it means to be Black is a nuanced conversation. One could ask individuals from the US, South Africa, Australia, and Panama and will get very different answers based on the social constructs their governments placed on its people. Additionally, taking individual experiences into account can make this conversation very personal. As someone who was raised by Panamanian immigrants of West Indian descent in a predominately White-American neighborhood and later studied Anthropology - I definitely developed my own interpretation, which continues to be refined by my travels around the world.
Here are some highlights of how Remote Year destinations have played a part in that process:
After someone discovers you have traveled to 35+ countries you are often asked, “What’s your favorite place?” I usually give a fluctuating list of 3-5 cities and Lima, Peru always makes that list. I immediately felt a sense of belonging, even during my first time ever visiting Peru. If home is where the heart is, then I have one in Lima.
The presence of our ancestors was heavy. I felt it in the air, I tasted it in the food, I noticed it in the swagger of the whole city. Even when unspoken or unseen, I immediately felt the presence of my people honored and respected in ways, unlike any country I've been in.
I arrived in Lima at the end of June, the same month as National Afro-Peruvian Culture Day. This day is celebrated on the birthday of renowned Afro-Peruvian artist Nicomedes Santa Cruz. I knew the people respected him when Remote Year’s City Coordinator rattled off his poem "La Pelona" from memory. This would become a month-long trend continued by Remote Year’s local City Manager, who later invited me to her Afro-dance workout dance sessions, me learning to play the Cajon by an Afro-Peruvian musician, and having random heartfelt interactions with other Latinos who looked like me.
Simply put, I felt more myself, I felt more alive, and I felt more connected to my ancestors. That is how Lima made it to the top of my list as my favorite Remote Year destination in Latin America!
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
We all have a pandemic story. Mine is about Thailand. In March 2020 after global travel came to a halt, I decided to set up shop in Thailand. Like most people, I thought things would blow over in a few months, and then I’d be able to leave again. Also, like most people, I was terribly wrong. The silver lining in this story is that being wrong led me to live in Thailand for a totally unexpected 1.5 years, where I learned so much about Black nomads and ex-pats.
Here’s a fun fact - Soi Cowboy, one of Bangkok’s most famous part districts, is named after an African-American entrepreneur and veteran nicknamed “Cowboy” who opened a bar with his Thai wife in the 1970’s. Today the entrepreneurial spirit of Black veterans abroad still thrives in Thailand and has been an essential part of me being able to find my local community while living there.
When I was first in Chiang Mai as a Community Leader, Spike Lee was there speaking at a Black-owned coworking space to talk about a movie about Black servicemen he was filming in Thailand called “Da 5 Bloods”. In April 2021 when I wanted to have an intimate gathering in Bangkok for my birthday it was at a Jamaican restaurant called The Frying Pan, opened by a former veteran and his Thai wife. Eventually, I would find myself at a soul food restaurant in Pattaya also opened by a Black veteran. Interestingly enough, Black people are overrepresented in America’s military service.
Mexico City, Mexico
Although I was aware of the Afro-Mexicans that existed, I felt there had to be an African-American connection to Mexico because the countries were so close. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a little-known “underground railroad" that ran south to Mexico and Mexico didn’t agree to return fugitive slaves (unlike “free” Northern American states).
For those that don’t know, Juneteenth is an American holiday that commemorates the emancipation of African-American slaves. Its inception is based on the fact that the slaves in Texas did not become free until June 19, 1865, nearly two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
I distinctly remember the holiday developing mainstream attention when it became politicized during the pandemic and finally recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.
What does this have to do with Mexico? Well, like many people during the pandemic I consumed a lot more social media than usual. Because Mexico was an easy place to travel I saw post after post of people in Tulum and Playa del Carmen, especially within the Black community. One post, in particular, showcased a Black community in Playa del Carmen having a massive Juneteenth celebration in 2020. I will never forget the moment thinking, “not only is there a Black digital nomad community in Mexico, but they are showcasing Black holidays.”
I made the decision then that I had to go check it out myself, and now I am here in Playa del Carmen writing this post from Nukholo Cafe, a black-owned coffee shop and coworking space.
From helping slaves be free to fulfilling dreams of Black excellence as a result of that freedom, Mexico now holds an endearing place in my heart worthy of a Black History Month shoutout.
World-renowned Black nationalist Marcus Garvey inspired Vietnam’s former Prime Minister Ho Chi Minh and namesake of Ho Chi Minh City. In 1924 Ho expressed his compassion for the Black struggle in the US in a pamphlet titled “The Black Race” (translated from French) by writing, “It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family.”
Black activists would later return this compassion; most notably when Muhammad Ali famously quipped "I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a (n-word)" when he took a stand to protest the Vietnam War.
I believe the reason it is especially important to highlight the solidarity between Marcus Garvey, Ho Chi Minh, and those of African and Asian descent in general is so that we have more solidarity between the races for movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate. Division is often put on the front page but love is more powerful, and I believe that by broadcasting these examples we can organically encourage more cooperation amongst one another.
A final message from Josh
Whether one's Blackness is determined by an arbitrary racial classification of their society, simply based on their Nationality, or derived by their ethnic ties; people around the world all have some form of connection or understanding of what it means to be Black. Stepping out of my American bubble and seeing the other lens people have viewed Blackness in their countries has afforded me not only the opportunity to receive compassion in places I have not expected - but to also find compassion with other groups I had not originally been aware of. It is one thing to read a book to find out how other nationalities abroad have been inspired by the Black plight. However it is a far deeper thing to be in an uber in Melbourne and have a Lebanese driver your age tell you himself that he and other activists have been studying BLM to gain insight how they can overcome the discrimination they face in their city.
Traveling and experiencing the world while Black is a unique experience. The aspect of this I like to highlight most is how impactful this has been for not only myself, but for the world at large. Whether it’s leaders in Vietnam sourcing inspiration for their own fight for sovereignty, or TikTokers making South African music go viral, Black influence cannot be denied and is decidedly global.