Editor’s Note: Tereneh Idia’s column will appear twice monthly on the second and fourth Wednesdays.
I am a Black woman who was born in a South Side hospital and whose design studio sits across the street from said place of birth — the exact birthplace. It’s surreal/so real. I was born where I now birth creative thoughts.
After graduating from Taylor Allderdice High School, I flew away from Pittsburgh to become another dragon in Philadelphia at Drexel University. From there I went to Washington D.C., Baltimore and New York City. It was Ft. Greene and Williamsburg to be exact — where the coffee shops just sold coffee and donuts, where you could go to a Dominican Chinese restaurant and probably not find a piece of kale anywhere.
I continued on to Seattle and experienced white supremacy of the liberal persuasion. I was the token Black friend: “No I will not be the only naked Black woman in the pool and no I don’t like the Grateful Dead.” Chicago followed and I realized I was an East Coast-ish-bougie-arty-atheist-black-intellectual. I was not popular, but, I never really have been. I was an outlier, a floater between groups. If I was a character in Freaks and Geeks … oh wait no, that would have never happened, never mind.
Graduate school and fashion dreams were made real in Africa — Kenya. I met the Maasai, Kikuyu, Samburu, Indian-Kenyans and white Kenyans. I learned about climate change in real time — not on our grandchildren’s, but the time of someone’s child living right now.
There were European trips — Paris, Milan, Rome, Florence, Madrid, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. I soaked up the culture and wondered how much of it was built on the riches of the transatlantic slave trade. Did my great-great- great grandmother’s labor pay for that fine house on the canal? Did it help you buy that painting in the Louvre?
I taught in Malaysia, Bali, Indonesia and Singapore. No, not English but fashion, as a senior lecturer and professor. There were trips to India met with stares and questions that began with “You must be from,” and end with anywhere but the United States. In Laos and Cambodia though, I “must be American,” because they know black Americans exist because they saw us thanks/no thanks to the American War/Vietnam War. Japan came next and only the children stare. I decided I would never leave Kyoto. But I had to return to the United States and begin the next chapter of my life — designer, artist, creative community builder.
So, who am I? I design, read and I love to write. I think, travel, say a lot and take up space. In the coming weeks, in fact, I’ll be taking up this space with my thoughts and words.