hey people, thanks to everyone who participated in Outbounding’s discussion on race and travel writing last week, even the ones who were annoying as hell. faithful readers of this site will probably recognize my old piece The Grand Canyon on Acid (about drugs, birthdays and backpacking) which was finally published on Paste Travel the other day. on the front page today is my destination article on Quito, Weekend Layover. most of you know that service writing is def not my style, but talking about where to eat and what to do in Quito is so easy for me that i said what the hell, lemme sell out. mama’s got bills to pay. click on the images to read the articles in full and share them if ya like.
Hey folks. Yesterday, a discussion on race, place, power and privilege and how they affect travel writing started on Outdbounding.org. I’m one of the panelists in the discussion and I have *lots to say* so I’d like to hear y’alls thoughts, questions and opinions. Start an account – it’s ridiculously quick and tell us what you think. Click here to read and join in the convo.
2015 has so far opened a door of opportunities. I received word that a piece I wrote on struggling with gender identity while on the road in South America made it into Brooklyn Boihood‘s forthcoming anthology Outside the XY: Queer Brown Masculinity. It will be available in print and some of it online by summer. I’m also taking part in an Outbounding.org‘s (liked reddit but for travel writing) discussion with some other dope folks of color on privilege, language, and the poc travel movement. Finally, I’ve been asked to join a Google Hangout on travel writing (more info forthcoming) which you could stream on All Digitocracy. But not all of the news has been good.
With new opporunities come new microaggressions. So I lashed out on Twitter and Storified it for the first time. Feel free to share far and wide. Read the original Storify post here.
What did you think? Share your thoughts below. Sharing links are below too, or share the original Storify post here. If you consider yourself an ally feel free to donate via the Paypal button on your right hand side or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dispatches: Conversations with Writers of Color on Race, Place & Adventure is a series of interviews with travelers and travel writers of color where we discuss navigating the writing industry and the globe as people of color. Read previous #Dispatches here and get involved here.
José G. González a.k.a the “Green Chicano” is an educator, environmentalist, artist and the founder of Latino Outdoors, an organization which serves as a storytelling platform for defining the ambicultural identity connecting Latino communities and the outdoors, among many other functions. Latino Outdoors exists to connect cultura with the outdoors.
Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?
José G. González: I would say I’m Mexican by birth, Chicano by identity, Latino by culture and Hispanic by census count. An educator by training, illustrator by interest, and conservationist by pursuit. I’m very much a mestizo and ambicultural in many ways.
What that looks like now with the Green Chicano identity and Latino Outdoors is to work on the storytelling of what these identities mean/look like and what they say about carrying these identities in relation to outdoor spaces, nature, and conservation.
So when I’m admiring the beauty of Grand Tetons National Park, I’m also thinking about the history and culture of the space in relation to who’s there, who’s not, and why that may be. I look at natural spaces with the eyes of a naturalist, artist, and historian.
Bani: Amazing. How did Latino Outdoors come about?
José: Latino Outdoors came about with several threads. During college I was an instructor for an outdoor program specifically for migrant students in CA, mostly Latino and English Language Learners. As a teaching team we traveled throughout the state and saw all these amazing outdoors spaces, from the desert to the redwoods, and I noticed how rare this “work” was in terms of the instructors, the students, and the places we were working. I thought, “Why aren’t there more programs like this?!” Basically, where are all the Latino outdoor professionals in this field and how they connect? How do they know about each other? Because I wasn’t finding them.
That experience further connected me to the outdoors and after teaching for a few years I went to get a Masters in Natural Resources & Environment. And the question was, where are the Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations in the environment and the outdoors? Especially those that are not framed solely around environmental justice. It was then that an instructor from the same migrant outdoor program asked, “José, I want to pursue this as a career, who do I talk to? Who do I connect with?” And I didn’t have a great answer for him, I didn’t have a community to connect with. And it made me think of visiting all these state parks and national parks and remembering how awesome they were but how much of a privileged opportunity they were in many ways/cases.
Lastly, I was asking people to tell me where to find this unicorn of an organization and they would tell me, “Great idea, tell us too!” So I thought, well, let’s do it!. Because there are a lot of stories, travelers, and programs that I know are doing great work, but we don’t really exist in a community or are connecting with a shared identity.
Bani: What do y’all do?
José: We center around 4 things. First, the professional community. We want to identify, connect, and amplify the leadership infrastructure of individuals that exist with this identity. They bring their culture on the trailhead and they use it in positive ways to connect their work as conservationists/outdoorspeople with the community. I’ve found many that say, “I’m the only one doing this work…” and I want to say “You’re not, let’s exist and collaborate in community. Let me share with others the awesome stuff you do.”
This community is a precious resource that allows us to get to the other three things. 2) The youth. Beyond just getting youth outdoors, we want to show them that there are role models and possible mentors in this field for them so that they can follow in this work knowing that their culture is an asset and that it’s valued in this field. We’re also finding that youth in their 20’s are the ones that naturally want to connect with Latino Outdoors, that they are looking for ways to have their culture be positively represented in the outdoor experiences they already enjoy.
3) Family. We want to showcase the value of family and community-oriented outdoor experiences because it connects parents with their kids and it naturally taps into how many other communities like to enjoy the outdoors beyond the solitary backpacker. We do this through day hikes, outings, and other events partnering with parks and conservation orgs.
4) Storytelling – we wrap this all together by finding ways to say, “Yo cuento” – to show what the story looks like as a Latino/a in relation to the outdoors – and how diverse that is in terms of identity and experiences. We have “Xicano in the Wilderness,” “Chicano in the Cascadias,” “Chasquimom,” and so forth – people identifying in many ways but highlighting their culture in the outdoors. We’re doing this through interviews, narratives, social media, and just starting with video.
Bani: Awesome. What are some strategies you’ve found effective in inspiring urban-dwelling Latinos to care about conservation issues and to also get out into the outdoors?
José: Good question. The “urban Latino millennial” is one demographic that is high on many lists for parks and open spaces. Which is no surprise, since they like to be out in a group with a social experience. It can be shared through social media or at least documented with a smart phone. But we know that it’s also a matter of how the outdoors in your community is viewed and supported. How your local park is a connection to outdoors farther way.
People can identify with a well-known national park farther away and not know they have a fantastic national wildlife refuge nearby. So one thing is to just go, let the place speak for itself and show each other how accessible all these places are. Then once we’re there, we have the programming be flexible so that we learn as much from the community as we want to share. So it’s a not a lecture about the outdoors or a class in conservation.
I may say it’s like learning English if you only know Spanish. We don’t want you to not know or use Spanish and have it be replaced by English. Same with the outdoors. What is the language you already know about these experiences? Tell us! and we’ll share “new words” to add to that. It makes it challenging, exciting, fun, and so rewarding.
Bani: That’s amazing. Using that analogy of language-learning, I think that it’s more like remembering a language that we were taught to forget. For me, communities of color being separated from nature is a part of the process of colonialism.
José: Exactamente! That can be hard for many people and there is a lot of anger and hurt that sometimes comes out, but I keep my hand out to people to say, I understand. Especially if you are “Latino” and you have a history of colonizer and colonized. Many public lands in the Southwest used to be land grants that were taken away from Hispanos and Chicanos. But those lands themselves were carved up from indigenous communities.
Bani: I wonder how Latinos in the U.S. can connect to the outdoors while also confronting our place as both settlers on indigenous land and displaced mestizos from our own lands across Latin America.
José: It’s both a complex and simple process but it takes time and understanding. I find that people, and especially young people love to connect to their culture. Especially in college when they take a Chicano studies class or the like and they say, “Wait, how come nobody told me about this?!” I use that frame to share how there are many reasons to be proud of our history, and especially with our traditions and heritage of conservation and the outdoors.
We have it, but often need to rediscover it, and much of it comes from our indigenous roots. So we elevate that as much as it was torn from us or as it has been forgotten. But a reality is that so many of us are mestizo and that has been a process too. Indigenismo did not just happen. People looked into their history and said, wait, there is a lot to culture and tradition here that we tried to get away from thinking that just European values were the way to civilization.
Bani: Yup, it goes back to education. We’re kind of forced in this country to adhere to the popular immigrant narrative – we came here for a better life, etc. – instead of learning how we were really, a lot of the times, displaced politically and ecologically.
José: So I say, are you proud to be Mexica? Did you know they strived to be a zero-waste society? Yeah.
Bani: You came up with this word, “culturaleza.”
José: Yeah, that’s another example of mestizaje. Connecting cultura and naturaleza to show that the separation of people and environment is one frame and often one that alienates many of the communities that many conservation organizations want to reach. One perfect example is food. Food is a cultural trait that is with us all the time from when mom and grandma made tamales and nopales at home and when we’re looking for the right taqueria.
So if we’re having an outing in the outdoors, instead of me just saying “I’ll bring the sandwiches, or let me run to Trader Joe’s” (which I do anyways, jaja) we try to ask people to make it a potluck and they love bringing something they like and want to share. Some favorite memories of mine are having nopales, tostadas, and mole in the sequoias with moms that love to cook that at home.
Bani: That’s what’s up.
José: People have asked, why “Latino Outdoors”? Isn’t that exclusive? Or, isn’t that giving in to a colonized identity? I say that I intend for it to be an INCLUSIVE starting connective point. It’s to bring in communities and people that maybe we haven’t reached out to let alone just expect them to join in and be valued in this space. And we are open to all “shades” of Latino including those that stress nationality, or being Chicano, Hispano, and so forth. Because one thing that can connect us besides often having shared Spanish/Spanglish language is that we also have a connection to land and space in our roots, and that is important.
José: Ah, and to make sure we are kind to each other, because in some of these beautiful spaces are ugly human experiences. Very short: while visiting Grand Tetons National Park, we once stopped at a small town for ice cream and I was given one of the worst looks of “You’re not welcome here” that sticks to me to this day. So yeah.
Bani: I know that look very well. Our presence in natural spaces is radical.
José: Bien dicho.
My latest for Paste Travel is a mad important resource for those of y’all (most of us) who are sadly unacquainted with travel lit by POC. Hopefully this list will serve as an intro for folks to get into it more. Read it here (and share the shit out of it!)
Happy New Year folks! Let’s start it off with this interview Mary Ann Thomas did with me about working in travel writing as a person of mixed identities. Check it:
Bani Amor: Writing Her Own Story
Originally published on Where’s MAT on November 10, 2014
For a long time, I have found it hard to read work by self-proclaimed travel writers whose writing serves to marginalize the people and places where they travel. I found myself scouring the internet and bookshelves for reading to inspire me, but just found myself angry. I was first introduced to the work of Quito-based Bani Amor through Daniel, who linked me to her piece entitled Travel Is Not A White Boys Club (And Never Has Been) Dispatch: Moving Black. Bani’s site, titled Everywhere All The Time, showcases her own travel writing as a queer, mestiza, poor traveler. Here, she also showcases conversations with writers of color who share their experiences in ways I had personally never seen before. From the bicyclist, Erick Cedeño, who recently biked from New Orleans to Niagra Falls on the Underground Railroad Route, to Thy Tran, who shines some light onto how food, travel, and power play with each other in the media, Bani is able to access topics that are often swept under the rug in the travel writing world. While she’s extremely busy and on another continent, I got a chance to learn a little about Bani’s world.
Of your work, I am most familiar with Everywhere All The Time. How did this come to be?
It’s the name I give my blog, zine and social media handles. I was a luddite for a long time, resisting cell phones, laptops and even mp3 players back in the day, so I pushed back against the notion that you had to be uber-connected to be a travel writer. I just wanted a simple website where an editor could see what my work was all about. But I eventually got with it and expanded Everywhere All The Time to become a platform for decolonial travel media, something that doesn’t really exist out there.
How do you describe yourself, to yourself? (Or, what identifiers do you use and why?)
A lot: I’m loud about being queer because cisheteronormative society blows, open about being mestiza because being part indigenous and part Spanish says a lot about my journey as a part of a collective identity, pointed about describing myself as a travel writer because it’s a big fuck you to the powers that be who have been running travel media for centuries that I’m this megamarginalized kid writing my own story instead of letting these tourists do it, and I think that being a poor Latinx from the ghetto connecting to the Earth and making cross-cultural connections with other outliers is pretty radical. You’ll notice that these identities speak to simultaneity and duality. That’s where I belong.
Being able to pay the bills. Most editors in travel writing are white and publishing petty fluff and there’s a lot of competition out there so you’ve got to make sure you angle is tight and storytelling skills on point. It’s slim pickings out there for good well-paying outlets that dig more “controversial” and literary shit. Then I see other travel writers of color writing about vacations and I’m like that’s great, you do you, but it feeds back into that colonialist mentality and I don’t want to align myself with that. All writers complain about shitty pay but the gap is wider when you’re female, of color, born in a poor zip code and writing about things we as a culture would rather not discuss.
One of the best and most recent experiences that helped me develop as a travel writer was being able to attend VONA/Voices, an annual multi-genre workshop for writers of color held in Berkeley. I got to be a part of the inaugural travel writing class with folks who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as travel writers; I’ve always held on to the notion that travel writing could be about anything and everything – we all move through places that shape us in myriad ways – and the more expansive and inclusive the genre is, the better.
Who do you ideally surround yourself with?
Artists, immigrants, travelers and queer people of color. There’s a lot of overlap there. I can count my white friends and straight friends on one hand. Other queer artists and travelers of color usually understand my struggle – that big financial one – they understand the otherness, they understand what it’s like to try to live on your art when you’re coming from a poor background. I carry my working-class, immigrant – and to an extant, ghetto – background on my sleeve so if people can get down with that, awesome.
Hey folks! Things have been quiet around here ’cause I’m busy fighting the Disabled Industrial Complex in Ecuador and I’m working on some new exciting writing projects. Have no fear – #Dispatches: Conversations with Travel Writer of Color will be back and be BOMB in 2k15. In the meantimes, check out my latest piece, A Confluence which was just published over on Amy Gigi Alexander’s stunning site as part of her Stories of Good series. It’s the heartfelt story of a 24 year-old bipolar Bani Amor on the edge of a manic attack in the city of Montreal. Highlights include: queer adventures, daydrinking, weed smoking. Read on!
Hola beloved community,
I’m raising some emergency funds for my healthcare. If you could donate or share my story please do! I’m not asking for much, just a few bucks will honestly go a long way. Below are the deets. Make a secure donation by clicking here.
I moved back to Quito, Ecuador seven months ago to have access to affordable healthcare so that I could address my different disabilities, which doctors are still trying to diagnose. But insurance payments, co-pays and medication (not covered by my insurance) all add up, in addition to having to pay extra for tests (cat scans, X-rays, echos) for my pre-existing conditions. Yesterday, my doctor sent me to buy a brace for my right hand, but I can’t afford it. I’m a struggling writer and don’t have the funds to cover these medical costs, so if you could just donate a few bucks, it would go a long way. Donate here.
Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer, and broadcast journalist interested in issues of Afro-European identity. He won a Decibel Penguin Prize for a short story included in the ‘The Map of Me'; a Penguin books anthology about mixed-race identity. He recently collaborated with author Caryl Phillips on a photographic essay for the BBC and Arts Council England dealing with London and immigration, and curates the online journal Afropean.com, for which he received the 2013 ENAR foundation (European Network Against Racism) award for a contribution to a racism free Europe. He currently hosts a youth travel show for the BBC and recently finished the first draft of a travel narrative about a five month trip through ‘Black Europe’, due to be released in 2015. email@example.com
Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work and the impetus behind it?
John: Well, I hold American and British passports, I was raised between London and Sheffield, in the UK. My Father is black, my mother is white, and I was born on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, so even my star sign dual! So I identify with W.E.B DuBois’ double consciousness stuff. I feel as though I kind of grew up in that liminal terrain between cultures, races and spaces, and I suppose my work is all about trying to find some kind of coherence in that liminal space. Instead of seeing myself as half-this or mixed-that, I try to solidify the cultural ground I walk on as something whole. And that is where this term ‘Afropean’ comes in.
It is a platform to engage with-and acknowledge the duality of- my influences, whilst bringing them together as something new. I didn’t create the term Afropean, so in a way I’m working off the backs of a Generation X who came of age in the 90’s. People like Neneh Cherry, Zap Mama, Stephen Simmonds, Les Nubians…artists and musicians who brought forth new aesthetics that were a mix of African and European influences. The word was being used, but it hadn’t really entered the popular lexicon, so I snapped up afropean.com and tried to create a community around that. See if there was a way for Afro-Europeans to get a sense of themselves in the same way I feel African Americans did.
Bani: Do people use the word in real life? I mean, outside the internet.
John: I’m hearing it more and more. They seem to be most comfortable using it France. To be honest, though, I don’t necessarily use it in on a day to day basis. It’s more an inclusive platform from which we can all engage in the idea of a Europe more in tune with its multi-cultural, multi-racial population. I’m seeing it online more and more though and, in a way, for better or worse, the line between ‘real life’ and our digital lives is getting ever blurrier.
Bani: Of course.
John: So to see it growing online, must be to see it growing on the streets, and in people’s minds. Our community on Facebook and the subscribers to the website is growing exponentially.
Bani: Which speaks to a great need for this type of platform.
John: I think so. It’s weird – growing up in the 90’s, as a young black person, there were very few celebrations of black culture. At least, it never entered the mainstream really. Anything mainstream that could be called ‘black’ came from the States. It’s still that way now, to a certain extent, but things are changing. I think Afropean is one of many outlets taking advantage of this wild-west era of the internet, where we have the opportunity to cut out the people controlling the media, and tell our own stories.
Bani: Which is a main obstacle in trying to build (cross-cultural) community – the representation in media (or lack thereof) sends a message to marginalized people that they don’t exist, or do, but in limited, stereotypical ways.
John: Exactly! I work in TV, and also as a writer, and the classic thing you hear is ‘oh, we already did a show or book about black people 15 years ago, we don’t need another one…”
Bani: Because a black person can’t tell a story in the mainstream without it being an “identity narrative”.
John: Exactly, and as you know, it isn’t just ethnicity, but also gender, sexual orientation and so on.
Bani: The default narrator is a straight white male.
John: For sure. And within the sphere of ‘black culture’ it can sometimes feel that the default narrator is African American. Something that I’d like to make clear though, is that I don’t really see myself being part of that whole African American hegemony argument. So often you’ll see a division at black-consciousness conferences between African Americans and Afro-Europeans. Afropean is about being inclusive, and encouraging dialogue, and even though there was/is more room made for black American culture in Europe than black-European culture, I think the contribution of African Americans is certainly valuable and, at times, even a template to how we might be able to get a bit more unity and exposure in the afro-European community.
Bani: Word. I mean that it’s interesting to me that black-American history tends to overshadow Afropean “consciousness” but more so that in other regions (Asia, Latin America) black-American “culture” has been commodified and exported like a lifestyle that can be bought and sold. Yet when we look to local movements to progress black communities, it’s like, a completely divorced thought.
John: Yes. One of the funny things I noticed on my voyage through ‘black Europe’ is that very often you’d find Ghanaians or Nigerians talking and dressing like parodies of African Americans because it’s more culturally acceptable to be African American around the world, and especially in Europe, than it is to be African. And they tend to assume that very commodified and exported idea African American culture you’re talking about.
Bani: About your travels, you took a five month trip through “black Europe” to document Afropean culture across the continent, is that right?
John: Exactly. After seeing these interesting Afropean images creep through the stereotypical black images in the media…in places like Trace magazine, and in some of the great Afropean soul and Hip-Hop, I wanted to see where this stuff was born…was there a community to liaise with? What does it mean to be Afropean? Is there any point in trying to bring the black European diaspora together, or are we all too different? These were some of the questions I sought to answer on my travels.
Bani: What were the results? I’m sure it’s too long and nuanced to answer here (that’s why you have a book-type project in the works, no?) but did you feel a sense of collective identity? Were there communities to liaise with?
John: Yes, it is complicated, but ultimately I did find commonality through people living life on the margins. We were similar by virtue of facing the same problems: old, stubborn European countries clinging on to outdated self-images and national identities. That’s the thing about Europe – it is so old, and obviously its colonial history heavily shaped the way many European countries view themselves and ‘the other’. And it’s a case of teaching an old dog new tricks.
Bani: Do people create problems for you in reading your identity outside of Europe? As in assuming you’re not from there? Does that happen within Europe too?
John: I had an interesting chat with a black British friend living in New York recently and he told me that I’d have no problem with white people in America at all, as soon as they heard my accent. Because when they heard me speak with a British voice, the blackness disappears. It is a blackness that Americans don’t have a shared history with, so they feel more relaxed. I thought that was interesting, and during the many times I’ve been to America, I’ve never been victim to any overt racism.
Because of my background, which actually also has Scottish, Irish and Cherokee America roots, I find that half the world actually looks like me. When I was in Fiji, they thought I was Fijian, when I was in Morocco, they thought I was Berber, when I was in Japan, people even thought I was part Japanese.
John: But I would say that there is a certain ‘Afropean’ sensibility. Look at and listen to Sade, Les Nubians, Zap Mama, Seal, Stephen Simmonds, Baloji, Joy Denalane and you get a sense of it. I very much feel Afro-European and I think people sense that more and more – the way I talk, act, dress…it is all connected to blackness and Europe. Or, rather, a response to being black in Europe.
Bani: Was there something you learned about the diaspora that you hadn’t known/realized before your trip?
John: So many things, but because I’m not a historian, it was finding out about people like Severus Septemius, the African Roman Emperor, and, in racist Russia, learning that possibly the most famous Russian, and the Godfather of Russian literature, Alexandr Pushkin, was an Afropean, and even wrote a book about his great black grand father entitled Peter The Great’s Negro. So many stories I wasn’t taught at my British school, which led me to believe black people’s contribution to history was slavery and the Blues.
John: So it was that the diaspora isn’t some new phenomenon. Immigration isn’t new. The Moors practically created Southern Europe.
Bani: Right, how can people express their identity when they’re taught it doesn’t really exist. Schooling + media = erasure.
John: Exactly. I often say that my identity is something I’m constantly in the process of inventing. Maybe it is a human condition, but it isn’t made easy when you’re told you have no history or place, really, in the country you call home.
Bani: It’s funny. On Facebook, some folks and I shared a link for a round-up on the best being Latino-in-New York movies and one of us lamented on how we gotta make an Ecuadorian-NY film ’cause none exist! Yet there are a zillion Ecuadorians in NYC. Anyway, that’s just my background.
John: But it’s true. You need to do it! I’d watch for sure! Ha!
Bani: It would be epic! And I never use that word
John: Ha! It’s interesting, I literally just came off the phone with Angelique Kidjo before this interview and she said that she loved New York because the whole world is there. I don’t mean to make light of the struggle of people in New York but the whole world is in London too. In fact, I think a recent census said that more languages were spoken in London than anywhere else on earth.
Bani: I came from that background, of being in the most diverse town in the world, and not seeing reflections of that anywhere. That shit is internalized.
John: But here is the problem – London still exports this image of itself – the Queen, Big Ben, London guards. The UK isn’t a democracy. We still have hereditary peers in the house of lords. 1/6th of hereditary peers are required to be male. That shit still exists here! NY has the advantage of being relatively new so it is a little easier to shape in one’s own image.
But London is still controlled by a small elite, who are often aristocracy, often went to the same private schools, the same universities. They are the people who don’t just control the country, but also the very idea of what it means to be from that country. Most of Europe is the same. It is an old, stubborn class-based continent.
Europe has been written about so much, but travelling through the continent and looking with new eyes really shed light on new landscapes…new stories. We think the world is small, but it is only small if you look at it with one pair of eyes. I would love to read the story of a Guarani travelling to Norway, or an Eskimo journeying to Brazil. If you feel that you are living on the margins of society, it’s your duty to help edge your story onto the pages of the narrative, and turn what society calls niche, into something everyone can understand. Travel and tell your story, whatever your background. Oh, and checkout afropean.com! :)
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