Sirens pierce the air. Cars screech to a halt. Phones buzz with mass Red Alerts — seek shelter, immediately. This ballistic missile drill is a sobering reminder that the threat of conflict is never far from people’s minds. As a foreign correspondent in Taipei, I’ve watched as Taiwan confronts an uncertain future. It is only fitting that I live on an island in limbo, still finding its identity and place in the world. I am a Nigerian-Vietnamese-American and I’ve lived my entire life on the hyphen — teetering on the thin tightrope between diverse, discordant cultures.
Being Black in Asia begets its own special kind of stress. The feelings of fear and uncertainty that come with being The Only Black Person in the Room are all too familiar. However, the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia (NABEA) allows Black professionals who meaningfully engage with Asia to take up more space in a world that often marginalizes people who look and speak like us. I joined NABEA to amplify voices like ours that are often left out of the larger conversation in policy and media. Indeed, our stories are part of the fabric of the Black community’s larger narrative, as we navigate the strange ether between acceptance and assimilation all across Asia.
As a roving journalist and executive speechwriter, I’ve conveyed both the big and small of the world’s most powerful, dynamic continent — exploring the future of feminism in China, getting a knife massage in Taiwan, interviewing banned political pop stars in Vietnam, and going under the needle to get a traditional magic tattoo in Cambodia. I have worked with major media outlets and the world’s biggest companies, including BBC, National Geographic, The Economist, Google, Airbnb, and the South China Morning Post. And through my work, I strive to spotlight Taiwan’s engagement with the international community and speak publicly about the complexity of U.S. race relations and the Black experience on nationwide television in both English and Chinese.
There’s a lot of work to be done. Yet the more time I spend in Asia, the more I realize the power that lies in un-belonging. After all, Asia needs more outsiders like us — we all need the judgment, perspective, distance, and wisdom of others. And as a storyteller, I believe that our narratives are the most powerful tools we have to understand one another, and ultimately that’s what inspires people to translate values into meaningful, concrete action.
You can explore Leslie’s work here: http://leslienguyenokwu.weebly.com/
If you identify as Black American or African-American, join our Slack community to connect with other Black Asia experts by filling out our Slack sign-up form! Also, fill out the Database sign-up form to be added to NABEA’s Database, a publicly accessible resource for institutions to find Black Americans across academia, government, and private sector industries who specialize in the Indo-Pacific.
If you do not identify as Black American, sign up for the listserv to receive newsletters and stay up-to-date on NABEA’s activities and programming. Also, please spread awareness by sending this information to any Black American, Asia specialists in your network.