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Updated: Nov 16, 2023

By Alyssa Diaz

Many American celebrities were born or spent time living abroad in countries with completely different cultures and languages before breaking into the entertainment world and becoming the icons they are today. Immersing themselves in cultures that were different from the U.S. impacted their ambitions to make it to the big screen. Many of these stars are African Americans. Some spent time all over the globe before making a name for themselves stateside. Here are a few icons in Black culture that may surprise you.

Martin Lawrence; Germany

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

Lawrence was the fourth of six siblings to be born on April 16, 1965, in Frankfurt, Germany. Lawrence was eight years old when his father, John Lawrence, a member of the American military, relocated the family back to the country and settled them in Maryland. As a young man, he followed his passion for boxing while simultaneously showcasing his comedic talent, according to Lawrence's debut as a comedian was launched after an instructor persuaded him to check out an open mic event at a nearby comedy club. He is most famous for creating his own FOX television comedy series in the 1990s. He later transitioned to performing in movies like “Big Momma's House” and “Bad Boys.”

Kobe Bryant; Italy

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

Following an eight-year NBA career, Kobe Bryant's father relocated their family to Italy in 1984 when he was six years old. Reported on Life in Italy, Joe Bryant, who formerly played with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets, had received an invitation to join Sebastani Rieti, a team headquartered in the town of Rieti. Within weeks of relocating, Kobe and his elder sisters began speaking Italian with ease at their new school. However, Kobe's early years in Italy contributed to his development into a legend where he picked up his first moves.

He then enjoyed a 20-year journey with the Lakers, earning more than $320 million, according to the New York Post. Bryant became an 18-time All-Star and a five-time NBA champion. Bryant married in 2001, and the two went on to have four kids. Then, tragedy happened in 2020 where Bryant's aircraft collapsed in Calabasas. His daughter Gianna and seven others died. His basketball journey and legacy will be remembered forever.

Lupita Nyong’o; Mexico

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

She is an actress who has been successful in Hollywood and who many know from the cast of “Black Panther,” a Marvel franchise. She won an Oscar for her role in the film “12 Years a Slave.” Not many fans are aware that she is fluent in Spanish. She was born in Mexico City after her parents, who were of Kenyan descent, sought asylum there, according to Mexico Daily Post. Nyong'o's Mexican connection was disclosed after she received the Oscar in 2016, but she chose to focus on her Kenyan heritage instead of mentioning it as she accepted the award. Her dad was a guest teacher at El Colegio de México.

Her parents moved her to Mexico while she was sixteen to study the local culture after raising her in Kenya. Although numerous visitors find it to be a wonderful opportunity to live in Mexico, Nyong'o did not. According to Mexico Daily Post, Nyong'o stated in a statement that she experienced racism when living in Mexico. In 2019, Nyong'o appeared in “Little Monsters” and “Us.” Today, she demonstrates her Spanish-speaking abilities in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Naomi Osaka; Japan

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

In the Japanese city of Osaka's Ch-ku, Naomi Osaka was born in 1997. Her dad Leonard Francois is Haitian while her mom Tamaki Osaka is Japanese. Her dad urged her to start playing tennis. Osaka trained in tennis throughout the daytime and attended school at home in the evening, according to Newsweek. Her immense popularity in Japan has contributed to the country's long-standing notion of ethnic and cultural identity being questioned. Osaka was the first person from Japan to win a Grand Slam singles championship. She also made history in 2019 when she rose to the peak of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) global standing for the only time ever, according to Britannica.

She is also renowned for being a social justice fighter. In March 2018, Osaka won the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, earning her maiden WTA Series victory. She defeated Serena Williams, a role model of hers since childhood, during the U.S. Open final in consecutive sets and the only female to win back-to-back Grand Slam singles titles. In 2019, Osaka formally surpassed all other countries to claim the top spot. She became the 16th female to win four Grand Slam singles trophies during the open period - since 1968. After that, she had a four-month rest before returning to compete in early 2022.

Josephine Baker; France

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

Baker has been referred to as an advocate and a world-renowned entertainer. Baker's journey as the most prominent African American artists in French history serves as an example of how celebrities may utilize given positions to impact social change. Baker was born in Missouri in 1906. Her parents, who were also performers, frequently took her on stage where she eventually attracted a theater group, according to the National Women’s History Museum. She relocated to NYC where she was involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Years later, she visited Paris thanks to her achievements.

Baker became one of the greatest in-demand entertainers. She also starred in several movies that were released in Europe. In 2015, Josephine Baker's participation in the French Resistance during the 1940s was honored in an exhibition at Paris City Hall. Baker came back to the U.S., but she frequently objected to performing for segregated crowds. Even until the 1970s, she persisted in this campaign against racial injustice. She adopted 13 children from different nations during her career. Baker gave her final performance in 1975 before passing away in France that same year.

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