What would motivate Black women from English-speaking countries to move to Asia to start new lives?
Toronto-born T.K. McLennon examines the migratory movement in her debut book, Trailblasian: Black Women Living in East Asia, which will be on display at the Black Arts & Innovation Expo on February 28 at Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie St.
An educator and world traveller, McLennon conceived the idea for the project while vacationing in Thailand three years ago.
“A friend sent me something about a call for authors with an interest in anthology writing,” she said. “The first thing that came to my mind was trying to find out the reason for Black women moving to Asia. I was curious about the stories that brought them there.”
McLennon was an assistant professor in the University of Ulsan School of International Studies in South Korea for nearly 30 months.
“There was a Black teacher who was teaching at that university for 10 years and she had no plans to leave and go anywhere else,” she said.
Leveraging social media tools to seek out Black women in East Asia who would be interested in sharing their stories, McLennon stumbled upon 16 females who were willing to participate in the project.
“I saw a gap in modern literature and wanted to fill it with a creative book that could be lent, borrowed, passed on or discovered by a little girl or boy in search of new possibilities,” she said. “Our stories have importance and if we don’t tell them in our words, who will know the real richness and full humanity of our lives?”
The 240-page anthology challenges readers to re-examine their views about race, culture and globalization by following these courageous women on their journeys of culture shock and reflection to arrive at insightful discoveries. The stories originate in China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
McLennon and Simone Flynn – an English religion teacher with the Seventh-day Adventist Language School in South Korea – are the only Canadians profiled in the book. The others are Americans – some of them with Caribbean roots – and a South African.
Flynn’s sister, Dr. Karen Flynn – an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of African-American Studies Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a former Share columnist – wrote the foreword.
Graduating from North Albion Collegiate Institute after attending Georges Vanier Secondary School and the University of Windsor with a communications degree, McLennon – the daughter of Jamaican immigrants – worked as an administrative assistant in the Toronto Star’s Electronic Publishing department and with the CBC business affairs department composing contracts before landing a job as an editor at Ernst & Young Centre for Business Knowledge.
Seeking new adventures, she spent a few months in England on a working holiday and travelled to Cuba to learn Spanish before returning to Toronto a decade ago.
After coping with the loss of her mother in 2005, McLennon returned to England to complete a Master’s in Business Administration.
Her arrival back in Toronto in 2008 to complete her dissertation and seek job opportunities coincided with the global financial crisis. Fortunately, she secured a position as a global management instructor at Ryerson University.
With tenure-track positions challenging to score, McLennon decided to pack her bags and head to East Asia.
“A friend of mine had brought up the topic of me considering working and living in Asia and I had said why the heck she would do that because that’s the craziest thing I have heard in my life,” she said. “She told me the transportation was really great but the thing that grabbed me was when she said I could get my hair done there. I remember saying maybe I need to look into this thing.
“I spoke with a British friend who is over there, her family is from Hong Kong, and she provided me with a lot of really good information and advice which I followed and was rewarded with multiple job offers. The position at the University of Ulsan was really great.”
After leaving South Korea in the summer of 2013, McLennon spent a few months in Nanaimo, British Columbia before coming back to Toronto. She gave birth to her first child nine months ago and in October 2014, founded Culturiousity, which provides organizations with research based and/or theoretical lectures, speeches and workshops to support training or as stand-alone education modules to contextualize experiential learning.
McLennon will sign copies of her book at the Black Arts & Innovation Expo that runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The cost of the book is $14.95 plus tax.