NYC: Let’s Talk Tourism in Literature

Hey people. It’s been a minute ’cause I’m trying to keep up with this bitch called Life in 2017. I just wanted to pop in to invite those of y’all in NYC to this dope event on tourism in literature this Thursday, October 12th at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, a space I love!

Travel writing is a genre rife with fantasies of escape, luxury, and finding oneself through an experience in an unfamiliar place—in other words, colonial tropes. Is it possible to write about travel while decolonizing the narrative? What can contemporary literature tell us about the relationship between tourists and service workers, and can it provide more authentic ways of knowing places that have been branded to Western tourists as pleasure zones? Join us for a reading with Canadian writer Farzana Doctor, who joins us for the US launch of All Inclusive, her book written from the perspective of a worker at a Mexican resort, queer travel writer and activist Bani Amor, writer and professor Tiphanie Yanique, whose debut novel, Land and Love of Drowning chronicles the changes in the US Virgin Islands over the 20th century and who recently wrote “Americans in a Battered Paradise” about the devastation of Hurricane Irma in The New York Times. They will be joined by Julia Hori, a graduate student who researches the colonial underpinnings of tourism in the Caribbean.

We’ll all be reading then taking part in a Q & A with the audience. It’s free ($5 suggested!) but it would be helpful if you reserved your seat through Eventbrite or Facebook. Come over and say hi; you’re likely to find me drinking in a corner.

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Resisting Coloniality in Travel Writing with Faith Adiele

Travel writing [is] a particularly colonized genre desperately in need of a full-frontal attack. Not only do we have to fight against the master travel narrative—an extension of the colonial project—and redefine the definition of travel, but we spend a lot of time educating POC about what travel literature is. Folks weren’t valuing their journeys as the stuff of literature, and they were letting the white gaze determine and define the world. As I always say, POC are the most traveled people on the planet; every time we leave our houses, we travel.

  • Faith Adiele
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    Photo by Jackie Graves

    Hey people! I’m excited to finally share my talk with the one and only Faith Adiele. She’s the award-winning author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun and The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems, and teaches what I’m 99.9% sure is the only travel writing workshop exclusive to people of color at the VONA/Voices workshop, which I’ve written about here, here, and here. A bite:

Travel memoirs in the hands of women and nonbinary writers of color in particular can be a revolutionary thing. While traditional story structures often fail to accommodate the ample stories of hyphenated people with “complicated” identities, it also provides an opportunity to complicate the project of memoir in new and exciting ways. It’s what Faith Adiele calls a “superpower.”

Click pic to read the interview in full

For my series of interviews with WOC authors of travel-ish books for On She Goes, Faith and I talked about writing against the trope of Westerners seeking spiritual enlightenment in the East, finding relief abroad from the racialized binary of the US, and why teaching travel writing to people of color is such vital work. When I asked her about writing her first book, Meeting Faith, (which we read in the POC Travel Book Club!) she said:

I see POC and others trying to cram themselves into the old structures that don’t represent the way we view time, the multiple codes we speak, the shapes of our families and lives. I knew that one of the reasons I had ended up shattered in northern Thailand is the pressure I experienced at college to choose between being female (a white project) or black (a male project), which felt like a choice between my arm or my eye, so I certainly wasn’t going to let narrative rules do the same kind of damage.

Every Spring, I press folks I know, readers who reach out to me, and strangers on the street, that if they are of color and interested in writing travel, to apply to work with Faith at the VONA/Voices writing workshop. It will change your life! Read our talk in full here.

[Header image by Sailor Holladay.]

My Favorite Black-Owned Restaurants in Brooklyn

Y’all might have heard of that restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that boasted about the bullet holes in their walls (which turned out to be fake) and sold 40oz bottles of Rosé in brown paper bags, because it’s a new low for gentrifiers, and a lot of people rightly got pissed. I used to live in that neighborhood, on its edge at least, and today, find it unrecognizable. But this isn’t about the politics of uninvited guests, it’s about good food! And supporting Black-owned businesses whose food cultures are under threat! But also, food!

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Via OnSheGoes.com Oh, and that’s Soleil Ho’s article in the corner, go read that too!

I highlighted some places I drop by whenever I’m in that borough, and, as is often the case with food writing, was salivating as I wrote it. Check out the guide in full here.

Unsettling Tourism: On the Colonial and Patriarchal Gaze of Travel Media

Hey people, I’m still settling into my new base in Montréal – the land of pâté, poutine, and other things I’ll never understand. Popping in between the cat emergencies and Facebook pleas for free furniture to share my latest essay for Bitch Magazine for their series on Fragility.

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Illustration by Subin Yang

The use of women’s bodies—and specifically, the promise of sex—to sell any and everything under the sun has long been the subject of beef between feminists and the advertising world, but what happens when the product being sold is a place? The marketing of women’s bodies, namely, those of color, as destinations to be consumed, lands to be penetrated, or as accessories to the (masculine) tourist experience has remained a largely uncontested norm in travel ads, from vintage depictions of the Hawaiian feminine to the mainstream pimping of Brazilian women’s bodies from brands like Adidas and Kia Motors during the 2014 World Cup.

In this long-ass (I believe the proper term is ‘longform’) piece, I attempt to answer the questions:

  • What does tourism’s dehumanization of women of color tell us about the fragility of the western traveler?
  • What role does patriarchy play in selling place? And,
  • What does—or doesn’t—constitute a feminist travel narrative?

There are a ton of sources mentioned within the essay for folks to follow-up on, from academic shout-outs to literary ones. (I go into a lil’ more depth on these sources in this Twitter thread.)  But this line from Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other gets to the root of it all:

It is as if everywhere we go, we become someone’s private zoo.

Read the essay in full here.

The Empire Travels Back: Troubling the Travel Genre with Shailja Patel

If and when colonialism is acknowledged in mainstream narratives it is often done in the past tense, exposing one of its key functions: forgetting. But more and more, women and nonbinary writers of color are telling stories that disclose the colonial trauma that moves with us from generation to generation, from place to place. Migritude, by Shailja Patel, is one of those stories.

Hey people! Thanks for being patient with me while I moved from NYC to Ecuador to NYC to Montreal. I’m settling in Montreal with my four-legged twelve year-old and tryna catch up with my huge life and workload. If I owe you a message, please be patient! #TravelingWhileDisabled is hell on the body, mind, and spirit.  

The above quote is the lede to my talk with Kenyan poet, performer, and activist Shailja Patel for my series of interviews with women of color authors of travel-ish tomes on On She Goes. Her book, Migritude, is the first one we read in the POC Travel Book Club! (We just wrapped up our talk on I Wonder as I Wander by Langston Hughes, if you’re on the fence about joining…) Our talk touches on so much of what I’m fascinated by and trying to do with my work, so I’ll highlight just two more bites before you go and read the interview in full. [TW: Sexual abuse.]

In your performance of Chapter 10, “The Sky Has Not Changed Colour,” on the Maasai rape victims of British soldiers in military training, you rip out pages from a tourist photo book of the Maasai and hand them to the audience as you say, “They are the noble savages, staring out from coffee table books. Africa Adorned. The Last Nomads. Backdrops and extras for Vogue fashion shoots. Stock ingredients for tourist brochures. The Maasai are a global brand.” What are you asking of the audience in handing them all of this?

First, I’m breaking theater’s fourth wall—the wall between the stage and the audience. That makes them a part of the piece, no longer just spectators. Second, I’m making them complicit in the commodification of a people—by having them consume the images. They’re holding the brand, in their hands. It’s a visual, material object. What are they going to do with it?

Travel media may be getting more ‘diverse,’ but it ain’t getting any less colonial. Here’s where the title of this post originated from:

What do you think would be different about travel writing if more migrant narratives like yours were given space within the genre?

The phrase that comes to mind is “The Empire Travels Back.” I think it would trouble the genre, as it needs to be troubled, by creating critical discomfort in readers and writers, in publishers, reviewers, booksellers. It would force us all to think harder about the economics and geopolitics of what we call “travel”: who gets to define it, to pursue it, to write about it, and how.

Let us trouble what needs to be troubled.

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Here, Queer, Going Everywhere: #FlyingWhileTrans and Remembering #Pulse One Year Later

Hey people. I hope that, wherever you are, you’re being extra gay, whether you’re gay or not. (Yes it DOES make sense.) Today I wanna share two works of mine that went live last week. The lighter one is an up-to-date, well-researched, comprehensive guide to navigating air travel across different trans identities. Save a trans person some stress and share this one with ’em.

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Via Cheapflights.com

The other piece is a personal essay reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the #Pulse massacre that I wrote for Bitch Magazine. I traveled back to the times in my youth that I spent in Orlando and mused on safety, solidarity, queer Latinidad, loss and mourning, and the importance of the LGBTQIA+ movement.

Silence can only be used as a tool for survival in the short term, elsewise you’ll get gangrene of the throat. I had chosen sanctuary over blood, to live unapologetically like the other sociocultural rejects who paved the way before me, even if it meant living under attack—at the end of the day I could return to a home of my own, even when that meant no home at all.

Give it a read, share it if you’re into it, and most importantly, understand, uplift, and join the radical efforts taking place by POC and trans+ folks in pride marches across the country this June, like the #NoJusticeNoPride protest in DC last week. Corporate, mainstream, pro-police prides belie the history of Stonewall and oppress people under attack by those powers today, and they have no place in our movement.

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I’ll be back Monday to share an interview I did with the one and only Shailja Patel. ‘Til then, take care of each other and raise hell. They’re not mutually exclusive!

We Belong Here: Women of Color Write Travel

Hey people. So last week, a new travel platform for women and nonbinary people of color launched called On She Goes, and I’ll have a recurring column up there on travel books authored by women of color. A lil background on the series:

People who look like us are often relegated to the backdrops of travel narratives as smiling spiritual guides on the white woman’s journey, or as nameless bodies warming the beds of the heroic, white, male adventurer, which makes taking up space in travel writing a radical act for women and gender-nonconforming folks of color. This series will speak to writers of color about their novels and memoirs of navigating lands, languages, and themselves—and most of all—about taking up space everywhere we go.

My first talk is with Nia Hampton, author of Cicatrizes, a book about a young Black woman leaving Baltimore for Brazil at the height of the Baltimore Uprising. About the book, Nia says:

I would describe Cicatrizes as an offering. It’s a book of poetry, prose, essays, pictures, and even a spell. It’s something whimsical at times and unbearably heavy at other times. It’s an experience, really, of what moving to Salvador from Baltimore was like for me as a young Black girl.

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Cicatrizes cover art by Maya Rodriguez/image courtesy of Nia Hampton

Read our talk in full here. Full disclosure: I edited this book! Working on a blog post, essay, narrative, or manuscript and looking for feedback or an editor? Check my Services page and get in touch.

decolonizing travel culture

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