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.